With April upon us, we know what that means – the countdown to the 2016 NFL draft is on.
For the Minnesota Vikings and the other 31 teams, it is a time to start stacking their boards and attempt to determine not only who to take, but when to take them. There are certain positions that annually get just about every team involved – linebackers, wide receivers and cornerbacks leading the way. There are others that only a select number of teams get involved with.
So where are the Vikings and the other NFL teams going to be looking? A five-year look at the draft shows just how the numbers fluctuate, but, whether it’s a first-round blue-chip prospect or a seventh-round camp body fighting for his football life, when broken down position you can get a basic framework of where teams look to find the players of the future.
The numbers following the positions are the number of players drafted at those positions over the last five drafts with the most recent draft first.
QUARTERBACK – 7, 14, 11, 11, 12. Last year was a bit of an anomaly because it wasn’t a very strong draft class, but the numbers clearly show that teams take a quarterback in the draft about once every three years. The Vikings drafted one two years ago (Teddy Bridgewater), so if the numbers hold, it may not be out of the question to think they may look for a project quarterback late in the draft, either this year or next.
RUNNING BACK – 23, 22, 26, 21, 30. The numbers indicate that teams draft running backs two out of every three years. The Vikings have been just the opposite. Since 2011, they’ve drafted just one running back – Jerick McKinnon in 2014. The Vikings are long overdue to draft a running back and with this potentially being Adrian Peterson’s last season with the Vikings given his contract, the time may be right for the Vikings to take the plunge.
WIDE RECEIVER – 34, 33, 28, 33, 28. On average, every team takes a wide receiver per season. The Vikings are no exception. They’ve draft five wide receivers in the last five years, including current players Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Stefon Diggs. With a need at the position, it would be shocking if the Vikings didn’t draft a receiver early … and perhaps again later.
TIGHT END – 18, 10, 16, 11, 12. The numbers fluctuate here but check in right around 40 percent, meaning teams draft a tight end two out of every five years. The Vikings have dipped into the tight end well three of the last five years, drafting Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and MyCole Pruitt. Considering all three of them are still on the roster, the chances of the Vikings looking tight end seem a little remote.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE – 26, 20, 19, 19, 22. This is an interesting one because about two-thirds of teams on average take an offensive tackle in the draft. The Vikings have drafted four in the last five years, with the only impact ones being Matt Kalil and T.J. Clemmings. While the Vikings have a dearth of tackles on the roster, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them take another with Kalil and Phil Loadholt in the last year of their contracts.
GUARD – 16, 15, 19, 21, 13. This is a position that fluctuates from year to year but seems to close in at about 50 percent of teams drafting one. The Vikings have exceeded that number, drafting four, but the only one of those still on the roster is Brandon Fusco. Given their miss rate on guards, it’s no lock that they’ll take one.
CENTER – 5, 10, 4, 4, 6. With the exception of a deep draft class in 2014, only a handful of teams take a center on draft weekend. The Vikings haven’t drafted a center since John Sullivan in 2008, so it should come as no surprise if the Vikings look to draft his replacement at some point in the seven rounds.
DEFENSIVE END – 23, 22, 30, 21, 27. The numbers fluctuate somewhat from one year to the next, but they tend to check in at about two defensive ends drafted every three years per team. The Vikings have drafted four in the last five years, but 2015 rookie Danielle Hunter is the only one who has made an impact. Given the depth of this year’s draft class, the Vikings could well turn there in the draft, perhaps in the early rounds.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE – 25, 20, 19, 23, 17. This one has been a little under two every three years, about 60 percent – which translates to about three every five years. The Vikings have drafted five defensive tackles in the last five years, including first-rounder Sharrif Floyd and seventh-rounder Shamar Stephen. While the Vikings have been well above the average, Mike Zimmer is always looking for impact players and there’s no reason to think that will change. If one he and the staff likes is there, he’ll get picked.
LINEBACKER – 37, 34, 27, 33, 32. This is a position teams take every year. With 4-3 and 3-4 defenses both needing annual replacements, the Vikings are no exception. They have drafted eight in the last five years and, in the two years Zimmer has been the head coach, they’ve drafted four, including Anthony Barr in the first round of 2014 and Eric Kendricks in the second round last year. It would seem as though Zimmer has been linebacker-happy early in the draft.
CORNERBACK – 29, 33, 29, 31, 39. Like linebacker, cornerbacks are selected at a rate of about one a year. The Vikings have been on the par with the rest of the league, taking six in the last five years, including two first-round picks (Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes) in the last three years. At some point, the Vikings will take a cornerback, but don’t expect it early.
SAFETY – 18, 20, 23, 19, 14. The numbers have bounced up and down based on the draft class, but they check in at about 60 percent – three every five years. The Vikings have taken four – Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond and Antone Exum. All of them have contributed, but only two remain, so don’t be surprised if the Vikings stay ahead of the league-wide curve here.
SPECIALISTS – 2, 3, 4, 6, 2. In the span of five years, only 17 kickers, punters and long snappers have been drafted in the NFL. Two of them have been by the Vikings – four times the league average.
When the dust settles on draft weekend 2016, the Vikings are currently scheduled to end up with eight picks. Knowing Rick Spielman, that will likely hit 10 before all is said and done. But, while we don’t know who the Vikings will be taking, the numbers can give us a glimpse at what positions are most likely given the current configuration of their roster.