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NFL Minnesota Vikings

Five 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Be Instant Starters for the Minnesota Vikings

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Minnesota Vikings: Five 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Start Immediately

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Hannah Foslien- Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings have some talent in place on both sides of the ball, but they are coming off a 5-10-1 season that got head coach Leslie Frazier fired and former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was hired to replace him.

Zimmer’s defensive background looks like a good fit for the Vikings, as they finished 2013 31st in the league against the pass (287.2 yards per game) and allowed a league-high 37 passing touchdowns. Some turnover is coming on the defensive side of the ball, with defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams unlikely to be back while linebacker Erin Henderson was released last week.

A lot of speculation between now and May’s draft will surround when the Vikings will select a potential quarterback of the future, and more specifically who they might take, which is reasonable with Christian Ponder proving not to be a NFL-caliber signal caller after being selected in the first round in 2011. But it can be argued there are more holes to fill defensively, and more picks will likely be used on that side of the ball in an effort to add depth and competition at some key spots.

The Vikings’ 2014 draft class is likely to have a big role in determining the future of the franchise. If some immediate difference makers can be found, a return to the playoffs could come next season and set the table for sustained success over the next few years as the team transitions into a new stadium.

Without further ado, here are five 2014 NFL Draft prospects I think can become instant starters for the Vikings.

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5. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

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Brett Deering- Getty Images

Xavier Rhodes looks like a building block at cornerback for Minnesota after they selected him in the first round last year, but they need to add at least one more starting caliber player at the position. Gilbert tied for second in the country with seven interceptions last season, and his ability to return kickoffs (six touchdowns in his career) could appeal to the Vikings if they want to move Cordarrelle Patterson away from that role.

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4. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

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Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Evans was the only receiver in FBS (formerly known as Division I) to have more than 42 receptions and average more than 20 yards per catch (20.2) last season, and he led the nation with 17 catches of 30-plus yards. Add in his size (6’5”, 225 lbs.) and the Vikings could use him in a prominent role right out of the gate.

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3. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

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Kevin C. Cox- Getty Images

Mosley was a key part of a top-notch Alabama defense over the last two seasons, with over 100 total tackles in both seasons and nine combined pass breakups. He is widely considered a potential top-10 pick in May, so if Minnesota stays at No. 8 overall the 2013 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker could be their pick.

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2. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State

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Jeremy Brevard- USA TODAY Sports

Jackson earned First-Team All-SEC honors as a senior in 2013, which NFL scouts will surely note given the strength of the conference. The guard spots are the clear weak spots along the offensive line for the Vikings, and that was before starting left guard Charlie Johnson’s contract voided last week and he became a free agent.

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1. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

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Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Mack has been rising up draft boards quickly on the heels of a stellar college career at Buffalo that saw him tie the FBS records in tackles for loss (75) and set the record for forced fumbles (16). He also had 28.5 career sacks, including a MAC-leading 10.5 during his senior season, so he is a potential fit for both a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense at the next level. Mack is a versatile talent with excellent playmaking ability, and the Vikings need to add both qualities to their linebacking corp.