The draft fever that is capturing most NFL cities seems to be a bit lacking in Minnesota because, without a pick in the middle of the first round, there isn’t the speculation of what acknowledged top-10 projection will drop to them.
The Minnesota Vikings are looking at the bigger picture coming into the draft because their scouting staff is already on the clock. They need to hit on the second two days of the draft. Every team finds a golden nugget from time to time, but when you don’t have the focus of fickle fans on the first-rounder you’re touting as the next big thing, you need more hits than misses if the team is going to succeed.
The Vikings likely aren’t going to draft a franchise player in 2017. What they need is five players already on the roster who didn’t make a big (if any) contribution to the 2016 team that will be critical to the overall success of the 2017 Vikings. Given the level of a front office/coaching staff belief in them, there are five critical players to determining how the Vikings stack their draft board with what they perceive as needs – not the rest of the outside world.
Latavius Murray – It’s never easy to replace a legend like Murray is being asked to do. Adrian Peterson is gone and recently visited the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, leaving both without a deal in place. Murray is going to be asked to be the between-the-tackles runner who can finish off drives and finish off games when the team has a lead – something Peterson was adept at during his career. Replacing a Hall of Famer is never easy, but somebody always has to be the first in a post-superstar era and that onus falls on Murray.
Laquon Treadwell – He came to the Vikings last year in a flurry of wide receivers coming off the board in the middle of the first round in 2016 – the fourth of the Big Four receivers from the Class of 2016. But, after not getting caught up to speed on the offensive playbook, Treadwell spent his rookie season mired on the bench, finishing with just one reception – the same number as quarterback Sam Bradford. With bigger needs elsewhere, it’s unlikely that the Vikings are going to use a high pick on a wide receiver, so it’s Treadwell or bust.
The Vikings already have a pair of productive receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and a veteran in Jarius Wright, but if Treadwell can up his game and become the force he was at Ole Miss, the Vikings pass offense could be formidable without investing another high draft pick in a wide receiver.
Mackensie Alexander – When the Vikings drafted Alexander in the second round of last year, the plan seemed clear – he was the heir apparent to Captain Munnerlyn as the primary slot corner. A year later, Munnerlyn is gone and the apprentice will be given the chance to inherit the throne. If he plays big, the Vikings defense has the potential to get even stronger.
Nick Easton – He’s a wild card in that the Vikings still have a hole on the right side of center and Joe Berger came to Minnesota to play guard, not center, and wouldn’t be a step backward if he moved back to right guard. It all depends on the faith the coaching staff has in Easton. He held up well when asked to start last season – one of the numerous unexpected line combinations the Vikings put on the field. If they’re convinced he can be the starter at center Day 1, it changes a lot in terms of the O-line depth chart heading into the draft.
The linebacker that replaces Chad Greenway's role – This isn’t a thing yet, but it will be. There were initial questions being thrown around as to whether the plan is to slide Eric Kendricks outside and give Kentrell Brothers the chance to get in the lineup in the middle, but Mike Zimmer has tended to deflect that hypothesis by saying it’s hard to move your leading tackler out of his spot. The third starting linebacker may already be on the roster, but just as likely he may not. Right now, it appears up to Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson to replace Greenway, but it should surprise no one if the Vikings draft their competition early.
If the Vikings are going to rise back to power in 2017, they’re going to need a lot from their established core stars. But, if they’re going to get back to the playoffs, these may be the five players prior to the draft that have the most impact on what draft direction the Vikings take.