That sort of outlook makes it sounds like the Vikings are further away than ever from contending for anything significant, but the view here is that is just head coach Mike Zimmer going all perfectionist on the future. In truth, every team has weaknesses to fill from year to year, even the Super Bowl champions. But, with that as a backdrop and free agency and draft evaluations in full swing, we present our top eight positions the Vikings need to address, either at the starter’s level or simply for depth.
1. Cornerback: Sure, we’ve heard all the cries for upgrades at the receiver position, the offensive line, linebacker and safety. But the reality is the Vikings need to stop the pass in an NFC North that has plenty of “arm talent” at quarterback. They went a long way to curing some of those ills with Zimmer taking over the defense, Xavier Rhodes coming on strong and Captain Munnerlyn improving the nickel position. But adding a guy like Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes opposite Rhodes and allowing Munnerlyn to play his anticipated position of nickel cornerback on a full-time basis could take the pass defense to a new level of success.
2. Wide receiver: Cordarrelle Patterson had his starting job taken from him. Greg Jennings’ contract may not be suitable long-term, and Charles Johnson showed some real potential. But there are too many question marks at the position to let it slide idly by without upgrading. Patterson admitting this was the “most important offseason of my life,” and he’s right. It’s put-up-or-shut-up time in his quest for consistency. In the meantime, competition is needed if Jennings returns, and an outright replacement if he doesn’t.
3 and 4. Linebackers: Whether it’s outside linebacker as Chad Greenway’s eventual replacement or middle linebacker, both positions need an upgrade for the future or present. Maybe Gerald Hodges is that guy on the outside, but it’s too early to know. Middle linebacker has become a bit devalued with less playing time in a pass-trending league, but the Vikings could use a rock in the middle making adept calls for years to come.
5. Left guard: The Vikings finally cut the cord with Charlie Johnson. While a terrific locker room presence, his age was showing and getting a capable pass protector next to Matt Kalil should help him look better, too. It would solidify a line that had its issue last year.
6. Running back: Whether Adrian Peterson returns or not, an eventual full-time guy is needed. Jerick McKinnon proved he is more than a third-down back, but they can’t rely solely on him. Even if Peterson returns, they need to start planning for his replacement and the draft is loaded with possibilities in the top four rounds. This is the year to do it.
7. Safety: As much as Harrison Smith likes fellow Notre Dame alumnus Robert Blanton, Blanton’s starting job was usurped by Andrew Sendejo, who is best on a special teams and backup duty at safety. Teaming Smith with another versatile safety is sure to keep offenses guessing at what’s coming next from the mind of Zimmer.
8. Defensive end: Brian Robison can’t play forever, and getting him and Everson Griffen some rotational help is a must. Scott Crichton barely saw the field last year and Corey Wootton was serviceable, but serviceable doesn’t create havoc in the offensive backfield, and Robison and Griffen could use more plays off.
The Vikings’ building blocks appear to be there. They believe they have their quarterback for years to come; now it’s about building the bricks around Teddy Bridgewater on both sides of the ball to get the Vikings back to championship glory behind a head coach that appears very capable of producing it.
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