Opinion: What Now?

Vikings fans aren't used to thinking about next year this early, but the final three games of the season bring up an interesting contrast -- is it better to win now or gain a better draft position?

Let's say you are a Vikings fan. Your team has been in the playoffs the last five years, and all but one of the last nine. This year's team flops and is slogging around in the bottom third of the league. What do you do for the rest of the season?

We can assume at this point that the team will not make the playoffs. Do you:
A) Hope they win the rest to finish 8-8
B) Hope they at least beat the Packers
C) Hope they lose enough games to draft in the top 10.
D) Enjoy the comic relief laughing at how many times the defense drops the ball when they should intercept a pass.

My wish list is B and C. Some people say that it is better to end the season on a winning streak to set up for next year, but I'm not buying it. This team has won in the past under Denny Green, and I'm confident they can do it again.

I don't think winning next week against Jacksonville is going to do much for next year. Now, if the Vikings needed to win to save Green's job, I would root for that to happen. Some Vikings fans wouldn't. One thing I am sure of is that we would all like to see the Packers lose in two weeks at Lambeau.

If the season ended right now, the Vikings would draft no worse than 11th. Last time they drafted at 11, they took Daunte Culpepper.

The Vikings have had some great picks in recent years and some flops. But they have not had the opportunity to select in the top third of the draft in each round for several years. This is going to be an important draft for the Vikings. The opportunity to draft at, say, 10 and then again at 41 and so on will be a big improvement over the recent draft positions in the 20s that they've had.

The biggest needs I see on this team are nose tackle, offensive tackle, middle linebacker, cornerback and defensive end. There is a good chance that they could fill a few of these needs in the draft with some potentially great players. In the first round, nine of the top eleven players on Mel Kiper's current board are slated at these five positions. Seven are either defensive tackles or ends, so there would be a good chance to get some much- needed help on the D-line.

Another area of concern with this team is the consistently bad defense that they've had under Green. When he took over in '92, they still had a very good defense, but no offense. Green has turned the Vikings into a great offense over the years, but the defense has been sub-par, even terrible at times. Even in the 15-1 season of '98, the defense was just average. If they had been good on defense, they would have held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against Atlanta, but the Falcons came back.

Granted, some defensive players have left through free agency, but there still seems to be a basic toughness and attitude that the Vikings lack on defense. Can Denny Green ever have a tough, physical defense? This team needs to get a great nose tackle to play next to Chris Hovan and a solid middle backer to help stop the run. Once they can do that, the rest of it should fall into place.

On the positive side, some of the young players that are on the team now should benefit from the opportunity to play this year, and be better next year. Michael Bennett, Doug Chapman, Eric Kelly, Patrick Chukwarah, and even Daunte Culpepper will probably be better players next year.

The Vikings are down a little bit, and the people that have been predicting their demise are finally right. But, there is a very thin line between winning and losing in the NFL these days. If the Vikings get their lines upgraded just enough to hold their own in the running game battle, they will be back in contention. All they need is a little maturing of the young talent they have, and one or two impact players in the draft. If they do better than that and have a great draft, look out. The Vikings will be back fighting for the division title next year, mark my words.

Viking Update Top Stories