Minnesota Vikings Team Needs
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows how to draft talent. In the past four years, he's taken eight players in the first round, and all have become solid contributors for an up-and-coming Minnesota team. But it's his work in the middle-to-late rounds that's made Spielman's reign at the top of the organization so successful. Players like Stefon Diggs (5th), Danielle Hunter (3rd), and Rhett Ellison (4th) are all cogs at their respective positions, all without being featured on the first day of draft coverage.
Still, Spielman has work to do this offseason. The Vikings finished 11-5 in 2015 and snatched back the NFC North title from the Green Bay Packers, but fell just short of winning their first playoff game since 2009. We won't look back on a certain missed field goal; instead, we'll gaze into the future and address the team's most pressing needs and largest roster holes. It can be argued that the Vikings lost because of their offensive line, a unit that gave up 45 sacks over the course of the season. But the depth chart's deficiencies, no matter how minute, must be addressed this offseason if Spielman wants to bring the Vikings their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
1. Offensive Line
The offensive line was never good enough for the Vikings in 2015. Despite opening holes for rushing title champion Adrian Peterson, the unit struggled mightily in pass protection. Pro Football Focus ranked Minnesota's line as the 14th-best in the league, praising individuals like Mike Harris and Joe Berger for their consistent play over the course of the season. But Harris is set to become a free agent, and Berger was filling in for injured started John Sullivan at center. With Sullivan set to return, as well as injured right tackle Phil Loadholt, the line is due for a shuffle. And if Spielman decides to part ways with the two veterans, the offensive line becomes a position of ultimate need in either free agency or the draft.
Last year's fourth-round draft pick T.J. Clemmings started all 16 games for the Vikings in 2015, but he looked like a rookie in over his head. Still, Mike Zimmer and his staff have invested their time and coaching into Clemmings as the team's future starter, and it'd be a surprise to see him on the bench this coming season. The real question mark surrounds Matt Kalil, who was recently reported as a strong candidate for release at the start of the league year. Minnesota invested a first round pick in the left tackle, who carries an $11 million cap hit in 2016 and has failed to meet expectations. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Kalil gone and a new tackle in his place after the draft in April.
2. Wide Receiver
On paper, Minnesota's wide receiver corps is one of the fastest in the league. And on paper, names like Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson give the team a diverse set of weapons for Teddy Bridgewater. But on the field, the unit as a whole was lackluster, and Minnesota needs to add a big-bodied pass catcher this offseason, especially if they want to expedite Bridgewater's development. The problems of the unit can be tied back to the struggles of the offensive line, but as a whole, Vikings wide receivers underperformed in 2015.
Outside of Stefon Diggs, the receivers were lackluster at best. They have the speed, but they lack the size needed to win battles in the red zone, haul in 50-50 balls, and make contested catches down the field. Fortunately for Spielman, this year's draft class is loaded with players who can do just that. The first name is Laquon Treadwell, a Dez Bryant-esque player who may be available when the Vikings select 23rd-overall in the draft.
3. Strong Safety
Harrison Smith can't do it all on his own, no matter how good he may be. Pro Football Focus's top-ranked safety needs a partner-in-crime on the backend, and the Vikings have needed to fill this position for years. Antone Exum was supposed to be that player coming out of Virginia Tech, but he hasn't clicked in Mike Zimmer's defense. The team has options like Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris, but neither has done enough to claim their spot when given the opportunity. Whether they address the need through free agency or the draft, it's crucial they give Smith a deserving complement in the secondary.