The Minnesota Vikings are heading into this week’s draft with the expectation they will address the offensive line with their first pick because of need.
Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman is finalizing his board for this week’s NFL draft and, as always, fans are trying to determine what players will be available when the Vikings are on the clock and what position the they will target.
Just about anyone who takes a deep-dive look at the Vikings roster would note that offensive line is an issue after losing Joe Berger to retirement, Jeremiah Sirles to free agency and having two of their starting linemen (Nick Easton and Pat Elflein) coming off of broken ankles that required surgery.
The wait is long to get to No. 30 and there is a wild disparity on what players will be targeted early beyond the initial, anticipated quarterback feeding frenzy. A half-dozen names of tackles, guards and positional swingmen have been identified as potentially landing in Minnesota, but it’s hard to find a mock draft that doesn’t have an offensive lineman ending up as the newest Vikings first-round pick.
The answer is actually quite simple. Spielman has drafted the Vikings’ most obvious, draft-anticipated need in the first round every year since 2011.
The way Spielman stacks his board is horizontal. At any given time, he could have a quarterback, offensive guard, linebacker and safety all with nearly identical overall grades, but at four different positions. When that happens, the need at a position tends to win out.
It isn’t merely a coincidence.
In 2011, the Brett Favre era was officially over and the Vikings had to find a franchise quarterback. Sitting with the 12th pick, the consensus opinion was that the Vikings were going to take a quarterback. They did.
Cam Newton went with the first selection and it wasn’t clear if the Vikings would have their choice of the second QB option or not, because it was a stacked draft class at several positions – producing Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt in the first 11 picks. The top-rated non-Newton QBs, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, were gone. Yet, the Vikings still picked a player, Christian Ponder, at a position most pundits had them targeting.
In 2012, the Vikings had the third pick in the draft and, with two quarterbacks (Andrew Luckand Robert Griffin III) locked into the first two picks, the Vikings had the de facto first pick of the draft. Just about everyone projected offensive tackle Matt Kalil coming to the Vikings. He did – even though the Vikings traded down one spot with a team that had Joe Thomas in his prime and wasn’t going to take a left tackle. In true Cleveland fashion they moved up to take RB Trent Richardson. The Vikings took Kalil, a pick everyone thought was destined to them.
In 2013, the Vikings were coming off a playoff season and trading Percy Harvin. Just about everyone had the Vikings targeting a wide receiver. When Minnesota used those two picks on DT Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes, it seemed as though Spielman was going to break his trend of drafting the perceived top need. That was, until the Vikings traded out of Day 2 of the draft to get back into the first round and select WR Cordarrelle Patterson.
In 2014, sitting with the ninth pick, quarterback was viewed as the top area of need. But, with Anthony Barr, a player both Spielman and new head coach Mike Zimmer coveted, still on the board, he was too good to pass up – despite trading down again with the Browns to allow them to make CB Justin Gilbert the next Trent Richardson. It seemed as though the prediction of a QB landing in Minnesota was gone, until the New England Patriots traded them the 32nd pick of the draft to take Teddy Bridgewater – the QB most linked to the Vikings by those who do mock drafts prior to the real draft.
In 2015, the first year Zimmer was innately involved in the draft process alongside Spielman, the head coach was adding his input to the players he felt could fit ideally in his system. The position most associated with the Vikings was cornerback and it appeared that, as the board laid out, Minnesota would have their choice of corners. The biggest question was which one would they want most – Trae Waynes, Marcus Peters, Kevin Johnson or Byron Jones? Waynes became the pick.
In 2016, the Vikings had given up on Patterson being an impact wide receiver and there was a draft class loaded at the top of intriguing wide receiver prospects. The issue facing the Vikings was that, while there wasn’t going to be a top-10 pick made at wide receiver, there were teams with needs at WR directly in front of them – Washington and Houston. Sitting at No. 23, the Vikings didn’t see one of the players viewed as the legitimate first-round wide receivers in the draft – Corey Coleman – come off the board to Cleveland. As it turned out, the Redskins and Texans cut a trade to flip-flop picks directly in front of Minnesota – Houston taking Will Fuller and Washington selecting Josh Doctson. That left the Vikings with Laquon Treadwell, viewed as the top wide receiver prospect in the draft and a player many mock draft types thought would be off the board by the time Minnesota was on the clock. Once again, there was a marriage of need and first-round pick.
In 2017, the Vikings didn’t have a first-round pick, but in the first year of the post-Adrian Peterson era, a lot of people linked running back to the Vikings first pick. The Vikings traded up in the second round to land Dalvin Cook, a player (along with Joe Mixon), being linked to Minnesota in the second round of the draft.
Since the NFL lockout in 2011, every year the Vikings have addressed the need most obvious to outsiders looking in at their draft process. This year, there is almost a unanimous consensus that the Vikings are going to look offensive line in the first round. Spielman’s history would tell us that, one way or another, when the Vikings start making picks – at No. 30 or later – offensive line will be the first position addressed.