Minnesota’s track record with the draft has been largely unpredictable. Rick Spielman has frequently gone against expectations with his picks, often taking advantage of top-tier talents slipping. It is hard to question his results; the Vikings’ roster has been fairly strong for several years. But it also makes it difficult to predict his actions without access to his personal draft board.
In accordance with Spielman’s draft style, the only way to predict an unpredictable drafter’s strategy is to be bold in prognostication, while adhering to the drafter’s tendencies. With that in mind, here are four bold(-ish) predictions for the Vikings’ 2019 draft strategy.
Vikings add to secondary early
Minnesota’s lack of depth at safety is obvious right now. They let Andrew Sendejo walk largely because of the excellent play last season from Anthony Harris, who they placed a second-round tender on last month. But behind Harris and All-Pro Harrison Smith, things are a little dicey. Jayron Kearse has been solid in spots, mostly at nickel or on blitzes. In an advanced role, however, it is to be seen how he would perform. So clearly, the Vikings should look to at least add some depth, if not find starting-caliber players through the draft.
Corner is less of a pressing need on the surface. They have two solid starters in Xavier Rhodes and r and emerging impact players in Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes. That said, Waynes and Alexander will be free agents after this season. And given the dearth of free agents at the position, there still exists the possibility someone is moved on or prior to draft day.
Spielman has long excelled at finding secondary talent in the first two days of the draft. He finds guys who not only turn into stars down the road, but they play significant roles right away. It is a bit of a punchline among fans that the Vikings may select a defensive back in round one, despite their abundant needs in other areas. But the need in the defensive backfield is greater than it appears, and the past suggests Spielman knows his stuff with secondary prospects.
Double-dipping on top tight ends
Tight end is probably the Vikings’ second-greatest need on offense, after interior offensive line. Kyle Rudolph may or may not take a pay cut, and may or may not be around for the long haul. Regardless, there is uncertainty abound at the position. Tyler Conklin and David Morgan are fairly limited as receivers, serving more as blockers last year than anything else. Conklin has some nice receiver upside that he flashed from time to time in 2018. But a true difference-making tight end for the future is likely not yet on the roster.
Noah Fant, Jace Sternbgerger and Josh Oliver have all had private top 30 visits with the Vikings. All three of those guys are athletic pass catching tight ends, but they are also pretty raw as blockers. In order to shore up the position for the long haul, and take a little pressure off the rookies in their debut season, look for Spielman to take multiple tight ends in the first few rounds. The Ravens did it last year, finding a dynamic play maker in Mark Andrews and a solid all-around player in Hayden Hurst, and they combined for 47 catches and 700 yards.
Quarterback room expands
To start off, I seriously doubt the Vikings go quarterback on the first two days. Kirk Cousins‘ 2018 season was not nearly disastrous enough to merit competition in year two. However, Minnesota’s backup options are currently Sean Mannion, who has 53 pass attempts in four seasons, and Kyle Sloter, who has zero. Neither projects to have any semblance of starter upside. As such, it would behoove the Vikings to keep their options open behind Cousins, while potentially finding a day three prospect who can add some value, either as trade bait or as a starting prospect.
It is far from rare for mid-round quarterbacks to turn into starters. The Vikings’ current quarterback went in round four, after all. Only one quarterback prospect has had a private meeting with Minnesota: Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, an athletic passer with modest numbers in college. But other guys like Will Grier, Jordan Ta-amu or Ryan Finley should be, and probably will be on the Vikings’ radar, as well.
Exactly one offensive lineman dons purple in first three rounds
For all the meetings with top line prospects, for all the speculation about the Minnesota interior, history tells us that Spielman rarely uses multiple early picks to address the position. He will almost certainly select a lineman in one of the first few rounds, but it is a safe bet to assume that said lineman will be the lone rookie moving to Minnesota on the first two days. After that, I would suspect Spielman will look for depth. But only one rookie lineman is going to be a candidate to start for the Vikings in 2019.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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