With the loss of several free agents as pointed out on the previous slide, the Minnesota Vikings will need to plug some holes and address some deficiencies at key positions in 2014.
The importance by position is:
- Defensive end
- Offensive guard
Even though the offense finished in the upper half of the NFL with a scoring average of 24.4 points per game, it was 23rd in passing offense. The Vikings need to settle on one quarterback, ending the revolving door that plagued the them last season. They need to find a franchise quarterback, and soon, if they wish to take advantage of running back Adrian Peterson to provide a balanced offensive attack.
If a top quarterback is available to the Vikings with the eighth pick in the draft, they will not hesitate to add him to the roster. However, if Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are all off the draft board, then the Vikings will look to the defense, addressing the quarterback position in the second round.
A quick scan of 11 different 2014 NFL mock drafts has the Vikings taking a quarterback with the eighth pick in nine of them. The most projected player taken by the Vikings is Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. In the other two mocks, the Vikings select linebacker Khalil Mack from Buffalo University.
As pointed out previously, the Minnesota Vikings' passing defense was terrible in 2013. On the bright side, it should be easy for the new coaching staff to make improvements—statistically, there's only one direction to go.
Before the start of the 2013 season, cornerback Chris Cook wanted to cover the opposing team's top receiver, per Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com—that didn't work out too well for him in 2013. This was most evident in a Week 13 matchup against the Chicago Bears.
In the overtime win, Cook was matched up for most of the game against Alshon Jefferey, while rookie Xavier Rhodes covered Brandon Marshall. Jefferey finished with 12 catches for a Chicago franchise record of 249 yards and two touchdowns. Rhodes limited Marshall to only four catches and 45 yards.
The Vikings used seven different cornerbacks this season, eight if you include Robert Blanton, who started three games this season as the cornerback position, due to being decimated with injuries. Only Blanton and backup cornerback Marcus Sherels were available for all 16 games. Cook led the way, making 11 starts, with second-year player Josh Robinson making 10 starts.
Sherels, A.J. Jefferson and Shaun Prater combined to make six starts this season combined for three interceptions, the only interceptions made by cornerbacks in 2013.
The Vikings need to upgrade the talent level at the position, as well as find some depth. As pointed out on the previous slide, it's not likely that Cook, an impending free agent, will remain with the team.
That could change if the new coaching staff sees some value in Cook, who is 6'2" and 212 pounds. His best bet on staying with the club would be as a backup as the teams looks to find an upgrade to start with Rhodes.
Along with selecting another cornerback in either the second or third round of the draft, the Vikings might attempt an upgrade through free agency.
According to WalterFootball.com, four of the top five free-agent cornerbacks are all under the age of 27. Vontae Davis (26) from Indianapolis, Captain Munnerlyn (26) from Carolina, Sam Shields (26) from Green Bay and Alterrnaun Verner (25) from Tennessee are all rated at least three-and-a-half stars out of four.
With the pending loss of Jared Allen and the top backup of Everson Griffen, an argument could be made that defensive end is more important than cornerback. With Allen leading the team with 11.5 sacks, the Vikings finished 13th in the league with 41 sacks—33 of them coming from the defensive line.
The top three sack producers were defensive ends, Allen, Brian Robison (nine) and Griffen (5.5). Allen has led the Vikings since he joined the team in 2008, averaging 14.25 sacks per season. As the main backup, Griffen has 17.5 sacks in four years with only one start under his belt.
The previous coaching staff was so high on Griffen, that they tried to find a position for him and attempted to move him to outside linebacker—another position of need for the Vikings.
If the Vikings don't retain either Allen or Griffen, they will need to find someone that has the potential to contribute double-digit sacks this season. Outside of quarterbacks, the players most often predicted to be drafted by the Vikings with the eighth pick are linebackers Mack and Anthony Barr—who finished with 10.5 and 10 sacks last season. Both could become pass rushing specialists in the NFL.
The Vikings had almost as many problems with a revolving door at linebacker as they did at quarterback. Only strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway, started all 16 games last season. The Vikings had four players start at least one game at linebacker.
They opened the season, moving weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson to the middle linebacker position and starting veteran backup Marvin Mitchell at the weak side. Before last season, Mitchell had made only one start is six seasons.
The Vikings signed Desmond Bishop from Green Bay as a free agent before the season. He missed the entire 2012 season with a hamstring injury that required surgery. Just as Bishop broke into the starting lineup, displacing Mitchell, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 6 against Carolina.
After Henderson was arrested and charged for a suspected DWI in November, he was demoted to backup, allowing Audie Cole to start at middle linebacker. Cole made his first start of the season in Week 12 against the Packers—15 days after the team had waived him and then re-signed him to the roster. In that game, Cole led the Vikings with 11 tackles.
An injury prevented Cole from playing in the final game against Detroit, allowing Henderson to start once again.
Unfortunately for Henderson, he was arrested for a second time on New Year's Day for suspicion of a DUI when he was involved in a one-car accident. His days could be numbered as the Vikings await the opportunity to waive him after the Super Bowl.
With the instability at linebacker, and the fact that Greenway turned 31 last month, the Vikings desperately need to find a couple of starters. They return second-year linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, who played together at Penn State, but they will need to find a playmaker that can make an immediate impact on defense in 2014.
The Vikings opened the 2013 season with the same five starters on the offensive line from 2012—but the results were not quite the same.
A lot of the differences are due to three different starting quarterbacks, and from having to play from behind in many games.
In 2012, the offensive line remained intact for all 16 game. In 2013 three players missed one game—right guard Charlie Johnson, left guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt.
Johnson, who is a pending free agent, is the oldest player on the offensive line. He turns 30 this May. The Vikings selected a couple of guards as his potential replacement in last year's draft, taking Jeff Baca out of UCLA in the sixth round and Travis Bond from North Carolina in the seventh. Baca made the active roster as a backup, but the Vikings lost Bond in November, when the Carolina Panthers signed him.
The Vikings will need to find a capable guard to take over for Johnson, and if Baca is the man, then they will need to find some depth. Since the end of the 2013 season, the Vikings have signed two offensive linemen to reserves/futures contracts.
Hopefully, the team will have some consistency at quarterback, and a healthy Adrian Peterson in the backfield to help stabilize the offensive line play.