Sunday slant: Vikes draft has to be flexible

Despite strong opinions from draftniks and fans, the Vikings have to be flexible with their draft plan to allow for movement and value meeting need wherever they end up picking.

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman entered the offseason with his list: Eight positions needed.

What isn’t clear from that list was how many of those were starting spots, the priorities on those positions or how to best address them. What is clear now is that not much of that has been taken care of through free agency.

If replacing Greg Jennings with a deep threat, like they did with Mike Wallace, was one of them, consider that checked off the list. Still, it’s unlikely the Vikings would back away from choosing a receiver in the first two days of the draft just because of the Wallace-for-Jennings swap, but with a draft deep at that position, the Vikings aren’t forced to pick one of the top three receivers – Amari Cooper, Kevin White or DeVante Parker – at No. 11.

If finding another veteran cornerback to compete with Josh Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn for that outside spot was on the list, they got that Terence Newman. Still, it’s unlikely the Vikings will shy away from selecting a cornerback in the first two days of the draft because of Newman’s age (he’ll be 37 during the season), Robinson’s inconsistency and the feeling that ideally Munnerlyn is best working against slot receivers.

Fact is, the Vikings have taken a methodically, calculated and, by most standards, conservative approach to free agency, as Spielman predicted and as witnessed by’s listing of free agent signings by team.

The Wallace move isn’t listed there because it came via trade instead of free agency, but there isn’t one player on the Minnesota signing list whho is a surefire starter. Spielman is in full implementation mode of what he has said ever since being named general manager: the draft is the primary place to build winning, sustainable teams.

However, because their offseason list of eight positions to fill is still left mostly vacant, their options are many in the draft and the positions that could be upgraded early give them a lot of flexibility, including the possibility of trading down in the first round if the right offer emerges.

The research end of the scouting season is essentially wrapped up. The college all-star games have been attended en masse by the scouting and coaching departments. Despite the lists emerging of who the Vikings visited with at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, fans should know the Vikings interview nearly every player in attendance at those games. It’s hardly an indication of who they will select; instead, it’s merely part of Spielman’s meticulous records on each draft prospect.

Combine interviews could be a bit more telling, since teams are limited to 60 formal interviews in Indianapolis, but even some of those are executed to fill in missing pieces of information on background, character, personality and leadership qualities. Predraft visits offer some insight since those are further limited to 30 prospects outside of the region. And private workouts, which are less publicized, might be even more important when piecing together the covert predraft operations, but there are plenty of examples of players selected by the Vikings who never had a workout or visit with the team.

Ultimately, the needs are enough and the prospects plentiful that the Vikings don’t have to be pigeonholed at any one position at any point in the draft. After trades with Buffalo (Matt Cassel) and Miami (Wallace), the Vikings are left with seven draft picks. Spielman always prefers that number to be around 10 by the end of the draft, so expect more movement this year, whether that’s in the first round or not.

At No. 11, wide receiver, cornerback and pass-rushing defenders seem to be the best value, and matching immediate needs to those values has led the vast majority of mock drafts to pair the Vikings with cornerback Trae Waynes or one of the top three receivers. But if Spielman is taking into account the depth of those positions later in the draft, which he often does, Waynes makes the most sense. Of course, if the team’s final reports on those players project Waynes to be an average starter in three years and one of those wide receivers as a Pro Bowl player, then Spielman leans toward the best player available from his needs.

But the positions that could be upgraded are many: guard, receiver and (if Adrian Peterson leaves) running back on offense, and pass rusher, middle linebacker, cornerback and safety on defense.

Certainly, the Vikings won’t be able to fill eight positions with starters in the draft, but their varied needs allow them flexibility throughout. Find a good trade partner to move down in the first? Sure, then players like Brandon Scherff or La’el Collins could fill the currently most pressing need on offense: guard.

Got an extra second-round pick? Now players like middle linebackers Stephone Anthony, Denzel Perryman or Paul Dawson could be value fits; or cornerbacks like P.J. Williams, Jalen Collins or Byron Jones.

Find a deal that sends Adrian Peterson somewhere and need a running back to add to a young stable? Todd Gurley would be great replacement with a late first-round pick, or there are numerous intriguing options on the second day: David Johnson, Jay Ajayi and Tevin Coleman among them.

The Vikings will be honing in on their draft plan in the coming weeks, but until everything starts unfolding on April 30, it’s difficult to nail down the best option because we can’t even be sure they will stay at No. 11, but, with needs at numerous positions, their plan can remain flexible this year.


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