Don’t forget ‘D’ in Vikings draft discussions

Many have the Vikings targeting a wide receiver in the draft, but if they are going to limit the quarterbacks of the NFC North, defense will still need to be a priority.

The chatter has begun as to where the Vikings will go with their first-round draft pick if they stay at No. 11 in the draft. The initial buzz was surrounding wide receiver, where the potential that Amari Cooper, Kevin White and/or DeVante Parker might be available. When the team released guard Charlie Johnson, the talk turned to the potential of Iowa’s Brandon Scherff landing in Minnesota.

But there are three reasons why the Vikings may well be looking at a defensive player with the 11th pick – Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.

It can be argued that, with the ascent of Teddy Bridgewater last year, that the quarterbacks in the NFC North are as good top to bottom as any division in the league. All four teams enter free agency and the draft process with needs on both sides of the ball, but one thing that is certain is that none of the four teams will be in the market for a starting quarterback in the first two days of the draft. They’re all pretty much set.

When it comes to building a playoff contender, the first objective is to win games within your own division. You don’t get home playoff games unless you win your division and, in recent years, that has been the private domain of the Packers, due in no small part to Rodgers’ rise to the top of the quarterback charts. The Lions and Bears have both been playoff contenders as well, thanks to having stability at the quarterback position.

The Vikings likely hired Mike Zimmer as their head coach last season for just that reason. If you’re going to knock off the teams ahead of you in the standings, it starts by addressing their strength and, in each of the three cases of the teams in front of them, quarterback is at the top of the list of what those teams do well. Cutler and Stafford haven’t reached the heights the Rodgers has, but they’re all in the mix when it comes to the discussion of elite quarterbacks in the NFC.

Building up on one side of the ball is nothing new. Perhaps the best example of the arms buildup phenomenon came when the Vikings drafted Randy Moss in 1998. For the next several years, the Packers drafted defensive backs in the first three rounds and the Lions consistently used free agency to bolster the position. The Bears didn’t and paid for it again and again and again when Moss routinely lit them up for catches, yards and touchdowns.

The rationale of drafting an elite edge rusher or a cornerback makes sense for the Vikings because none of the three quarterbacks from the other teams in the division are going anywhere any time soon. Rodgers is the reigning MVP of the league. Stafford is at the prime of his career and, like his sideline demeanor or not, the Bears offense is built around the strong arm of Cutler.

In the coming weeks, the name Trae Waynes will be coming up often. The way things are currently shaking out, the top 10 picks are likely to include two quarterbacks, potentially a handful of edge rush specialists, a couple of offensive linemen and perhaps a wide receiver or two. What is conspicuously missing from that list is a defensive back that can be a difference-maker.

As things stack up right now, the Vikings likely will have their choice of defensive backs at No. 11 if they hold onto that pick. There are several cornerbacks and Alabama safety Landon Collins that are possibilities for the Vikings to take a long look at. We saw last year that if Zimmer is infatuated with a defender that fits his system, he won’t be shy about jumping on him. Many draft analysts thought the Vikings jumped a little early on grabbing Anthony Barr with the ninth pick in the draft. Nobody is doubting Zimmer’s decision now.

The NFL is a game is reaction and correction. Two years ago, the Vikings had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They worked hard to correct those deficiencies in the hiring of Zimmer, attacking free agency to land players like Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn, Jasper Brinkley and Tom Johnson and drafting Barr in the first round – despite pressing needs on offense. If you’re going to take down the teams at the top of the mountain, you need to attack them at their strengths. At this point, those strengths would center around their veteran quarterbacks.

The chatter over the next few weeks as players take part in their college pro days is that the Vikings will be looking to give Bridgewater more weapons with which to excel. While that may remain a distinct possibility, don’t be surprised if the Vikings focus remains on defense because a good offense can stymie a good offense. The Vikings made a lot of progress in that direction last year. This year’s draft may help finish the job as the they look to rise to the top of the very competitive NFC North.

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