Minnesota Vikings Team Needs: Draft Wrap Up
The Minnesota Vikings are coming off an 11-5 season in which they won the NFC North, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. They have the talent to do some damage in 2016, but here are the positions that still have some question marks.
Harrison Smith has been one of the best safeties in the league since he was drafted in 2012, but he has not good safeties paired next to him (Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo). Before free agency began, coach Mike Zimmer talked about Smith and said he would be even better and would have more opportunities to be versatile if he had a good safety next to him.
The Vikings signed Michael Griffin this offseason. Griffin made it to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2010, but has been on the decline the past few seasons. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray was the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator from 2011-2013, so he is familiar with Griffin. He may be in for a good year though given he is back with Gray, has a great defensive coach in Zimmer and will be surrounded by plenty of playmakers on defense, but at age 31 he is clearly not the long-term answer.
Sendejo was re-signed to a four-deal, but is not the answer either. He is a good special teams player and brings depth, but is not starting material. If Griffin can even be a slight upgrade over him, it will be huge for a defense that was no.5 in points allowed.
The Vikings used their final draft choice on Clemson safety Jayron Kearse. He may contribute on special teams this season, but is not expected to lineup much, if at all, at safety.
The Vikings offensive line has been their weakest link the past two seasons. They made good moves during free agency by signing guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith. Both should make the unit better, but is the line going to like down the road. Smith was signed to a one year. Phil Loadholt missed all of last season due to an Achilles injury and is only re-signed for this season. Tackle Matt Kalil is also in the last year of his rookie contract and has slipped since his Pro Bowl rookie year in 2012. At center, John Sullivan is back after missing all of last season due to back injuries, but will be 31 year old when the season begins. Last season’s starter Joe Berger will be 34 this season.
Western Michigan’s Willie Beavers was drafted in the fourth round (121st overall) by Vikings. He played left tackle in college, but could be moved to guard. With Boone penciled in at left guard and either Mike Harris or Brandon Fusco on the right side, Beavers could be a candidate for the practice squad.
Jeff Locke has been the team’s punter since 2013, but that could very well change. The Vikings brought undrafted punters Taylor Symmank (Texas Tech) and Nick O’Toole (West Virginia) to rookie minicamp last week. If Locke is brought back, he should at the very least get some competition, which looks like will be the case.
The Vikings were dead last in 2015 with a 41.6 yard per punt average and 29th in net punting with an average of 39.3. They have not fared any better than 20th in either category since Locke’s arrival.
Football is a game of inches, so even having the opponents’ starting field position go back even two or three yards would be beneficial, especially for a team that has a very good defense like the Vikings.
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