Middle linebacker the unfulfilled priority

The Vikings addressed three glaring needs in the first round, but that left them without filling perhaps their biggest need of all – middle linebacker.

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the Vikings' bold moves Thursday in the draft, as the team made three first-round picks for the first time in the modern era of the franchise. Draft analysts universally applauded the Vikings for the success they enjoyed Thursday, but that success came at a price. With the team unlikely to make any picks in today's portion of the draft – they might have to trade the rest of their draft to move up into the third round – the most glaring positional need on the roster, middle linebacker, remains unaddressed.

In the weeks prior to the draft, as part of the analysis process of the draft, it seemed clear that there were four front-burner needs on the roster. Three of those – cornerback, wide receiver and defensive tackle – were addressed (in a big way) by the Vikings, but the one need that was viewed as the most glaring was ignored in all the excitement of Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson falling to the Vikings.

By the simple nature of the draft, prioritizing the needs the team has against the talent pool available would leave at least one of those four positions unfilled early in the draft. With two first-round picks entering the draft, it was clear that at least two needs would have to wait. When the team addressed defensive tackle and cornerback with their first two picks, it was obvious that wide receiver and middle linebacker weren't going to get the blue-chip attention they deserved. With the subsequent trade with New England, not only did the Vikings address wide receiver in a big way, but, by giving up their second-, third- and a fourth-round pick to get back into the first round, the problem at middle linebacker will remain an issue.

General manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier said that the current plan is to focus on middle linebacker in tomorrow's final day of the draft, where the Vikings still have five picks remaining. They are viewing it more as delaying the selection, not eliminating the addition of competition for the starting job with the players already under contract – those options could include moving Erin Henderson to middle linebacker, getting a free agent or seeing what Audie Cole could do.

"We've got some guys on our roster, but the draft is not over," Frazier said. "I can probably answer that a little bit better on Sunday or Monday, but we have some guys on our roster that will compete for the position and we still have some time maybe bring in a young guy as well."

Spielman all but conceded that the Vikings won't be active in the draft today – to get into the end of the third round, the Vikings would essentially have to trade all of their remaining 2013 picks or trade a pick in next year's draft, something Spielman has been hesitant to do in his draft history. He views draft picks as currency and hasn't been willing to trade away future draft picks and, in light of the Randy Moss debacle, wouldn't likely be inclined to do so now.

As things currently stand, the Vikings are hoping that Friday's portion of the draft will be centered on drafting players at positions other than middle linebackers. With a glut of quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers that weren't taken in the first round expected to pop off the board en masse Friday, every pick made at any other position gets the Vikings one pick closer to getting back on the clock, which, at this point, is pretty much all the Vikings can do.

"We will continue to look at linebackers and we'll look through the draft because there is some value as we go through on the third day, but we'll continue to monitor what's out there," Spielman said. "Our roster is not going to be done on Sunday. It will continually build."

Given the 1,000 or so draft scenarios Spielman envisioned in the preparation prior to the draft, several of those had to include not addressing MLB until the third or fourth round. Now those scenarios have to be front and center and, while they may not be making any picks today, the Vikings will be working hard trying to find a way to address the one need position that wasn't covered Thursday. The Vikings aren't panicking. They've picked their poison and one position had to suffer. The way the draft fell, that position turned out to be linebacker, but, as both Spielman and Frazier stressed, the draft only took a hiatus Thursday night. It didn't end.

"We've thought about some different scenarios, how we would address it, but we still have some time to maybe find a guy," Frazier said. "There are still a lot of linebackers on the board, so we'll have to see how it unfolds. But we do have an idea of what direction we go if doesn't work out in the draft."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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