After the Minnesota Vikings‘ most recent lackluster showing, this time against the putrid Cleveland Browns, needs other than quarterback are presenting themselves in a most abundant fashion, thus making their 2014 NFL Draft a crucial one again.
Sure, QB is their biggest priority right now. Christian Ponder clearly isn’t the guy, even though he’s been playing with more weapons from a year ago and is almost exclusively playing against eight-man defensive fronts (thank you, Adrian Peterson). Besides weekly fielding one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, the Vikes have also been plagued by inconsistency and poor play along the offensive line and secondary.
The offensive line won’t be a high priority for the Vikings in the 2014 Draft. Matt Kalil is still the franchise left tackle. John Sullivan is still one of the best centers in the league. Phil Loadholt is still one of the best run-blockers in the league. The guards? Sure, they’re certainly the weak link along the line, but Charlie Johnson is at least serviceable and the staff still seems pretty high on second-year man Brandon Fusco.
Bottom line? This line just needs to play better, and they don’t necessarily need to use a high pick on a guard, unless someone like Cyril Richardson (Baylor) or Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State) somehow slip to early second round. Notre Dame product Zack Martin could also be a target in the second and third round range, especially considering the Vikes’ affinity for South Bend prospects.
Yet still, the secondary poses the biggest threat to this franchise. This, besides finding a franchise quarterback, is the Vikings’ biggest weakness, and it was quite evident against the Browns.
This was supposed to be the week the Vikes turned things around. After all, the Browns were already bad, then they traded their No. 3 overall pick from last year’s draft (RB Trent Richardson) and were benching their starting QB (and fellow first round pick from last year) in Brandon Weeden.
The cherry on top was that the Browns weren’t even bothering to send in their backup QB, Jason Campbell. No, they went with their third string QB, Brian Hoyer. What does the third string QB do with no ground game against a 10-win team from the year prior? 321 yards passing and three touchdowns. Ho hum. Yea, I’d say the Vikes’ secondary just might be a priority in the next draft.
Sure, the Vikes drafted a heck of a cornerback prospect in the first round last year with Xavier Rhodes. And they took a future star strong safety in the first round the year before that (Harrison Smith). So what the heck is the problem?
Inconsistency and injuries. Oh, and a total lack of talent outside of Rhodes and Smith.
Rhodes is almost strictly playing nickel back thus far, and that will likely continue. The staff has indicated they want to take things slowly with him and let him mature properly. He looks like the real deal, though, and once he gets fully acclimated to the pro game, his size will play dividends when he goes against Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall four times a year.
Smith has been battling minor injuries all year which have hampered his play. He’s still the future of the position for the team, though. Chris Cook, the team’s top cornerback, has never played a full season due to injuries, and it looks like his days with the team are numbered. Fellow CBs A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson are role players at best, also not long-term answers. Oh, and free safety Jamarca Sanford? This marks year four the Vikings are supposed to have found a more reliable solution than him and still nothing. He’s a special teams demon but should not be starting in the NFL.
So the Vikings’ draft strategy will probably probably resemble this: quarterback, cornerback, free safety, cornerback, middle linebacker, guard, and then close with another defensive back, probably someone who can play both safety and corner. And that’s not even counting the fact that the Vikes still don’t have a future at nose to play alongside Kevin Williams‘ heir apparent, Sharrif Floyd.
Once again, this will be another critical draft in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.