Rick Spielman isn't about to publicly proclaim the biggest areas of need for the Minnesota Vikings, but it is clear that some of the team needs meet up with the deepest positions in this year's draft.
The Vikings' general manager has spent significant time over the last 45 days examining the team's roster, finding its areas of need and trying to analyze whether those needs are best filled in free agency or in the draft.
Like many draft analysts, Spielman sees a few positions that are strong in the April 25-27 draft.
"There's so many. … Defensive linemen, there's some good offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds when you get through, as you develop your board and how they come off," Spielman said. "It will be a very exciting draft because I think there's going to be a lot of depth and a lot of value throughout the draft that you're going to be able to get some pretty good players that can come in and help your ball club."
Despite a change of procedure in how teams interviewed players at the Senior Bowl in January, making it harder for NFL teams to talk to draft prospects on their own terms, Spielman said the Vikings are ahead of schedule in the evaluation process.
"I think we're ahead, just on the amount of looks we have already," he said. "Just finalizing everything through our process. But I'm probably farther ahead on the juniors than I have been in the past."
A record number of underclassmen, 74, declared for the NFL draft, making the evaluation process a little more daunting. But it also increases the potential for better depth at a number of positions.
"Offensively, there's going to be some good offensive linemen. I think there's a pretty good group of receivers. I think those are probably going to be the two strongest positions," Spielman said.
Others agree with his assessment on receivers. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes receivers and defensive linemen hold the greatest depth in this year's draft. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock also likes the depth at receiver, although he said he only has a first-round grade on two receivers, Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee and Keenan Allen of Cal.
Receiver is at the top of the wish list for most Vikings fans, even if they don't trade Percy Harvin.
"There's a lot of guys that are athletic guys that can stretch the field. There's some guys that are smaller but very unique. There's some guys that are maybe not as fast but have some unique catching skills that make them good players," Spielman said. "So there's a wide variety of guys in this draft."
While Spielman said he doesn't intermix his draft board with a free-agent board to assess the overall talent options – free agency holds other dynamics like salary and age that make it difficult to intertwine with the draft – he said his assessment of the deepest positions in the draft will influence his free-agent decisions. In other words, despite need at certain positions, if one of those positions is deep in the draft, the Vikings could opt for a passive approach with that position in free agency.
"It's huge," Spielman said about overlapping his draft and free-agent assessments. "It's huge, because if I know there is a potential we can pick a need out of the draft, I'm always going to lean that way. I always believe in we have to build this thing through the draft, and that's what we have to rely on to stay competitive year-in and year-out."
Early returns say the Vikings had one of their best drafts last year, when they picked Pro Bowlers Matt Kalil at left tackle and Blair Walsh at kicker, and also had another high-end 16-game starter in safety Harrison Smith.
So what did the general manager learn from last year's success?
"I think the biggest thing is identifying the type of players we want," Spielman said. "I think with us, the personnel, the scouts and the coaches working together a lot more closely and everybody being on the same page and identifying exactly what we're looking for, both on and off the field as well, I think it really honed in and cleaned up and we want to still stick to that same philosophy.
"Everybody is very excited about building on what we were able to accomplish last year."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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