Minnesota Vikings GM, Rick Spielman
(Scott Takushi, Pioneer Press)

 

In the 2017 draft, the Minnesota Vikings did not have a first round pick due to the Sam Bradford trade. Bradford had a decent 2016 season, but the Vikings stumbled to an 8-8 record despite starting the year 5-0. However,  their General Manager, Rick Spielman, added to his list of good draft selections by taking running back Dalvin Cook in the 2nd round. Unfortunately, we only saw Cook for a little over three games. After a hot start, Cook tore his ACL against the Lions in week four and missed the rest of the season. The aforementioned Bradford played one of the best games of his career in the season opener against New Orleans, but played one half of football the rest of the year due to another knee injury.

Everything mentioned above sounds like a team that, at best, repeated their 8-8 season. But, Minnesota proved to be one of the most well-built rosters in the NFL as they finished the regular season at 13-3 and made the NFC championship game. In addition to having one of the very best defenses in the league, Minnesota also received a career year from quarterback Case Keenum, had an improved offensive line, two outstanding receivers, and great coaching. Even though their season ended with a disappointing blowout loss in Philadelphia, there is not denying 2017 was an enormous success for the Vikings.

No team has been in the headlines more than Minnesota this off-season. They were able to lure prized free agent Kirk Cousins to the Twin Cities with a historical fully guaranteed contract. The Cousins signing led to former quarterbacks Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater departing for other opportunities. With a good amount of available cap space, Minnesota also improved their defensive line by signing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. If the Vikings aren’t the best roster in the league, they are a close second to Philadelphia. Minnesota has a first round pick this time around, so they are likely to improve even more before the 2018 season kicks off. Let’s take a look at who the Vikings could add with their first three picks in the draft.

 

Minnesota draft spots:

 

1st round, 30th pick (#30 overall)

2nd round, 30th pick (#62 overall)

3rd round, 30th pick (#94 overall)

 

First Round

 

The biggest needs for Minnesota is still offensive line. Even though it was better last year, it could use improvement at tackle, an injection of youth, and more depth. There are lesser needs in other spots such as defensive end, nickel corner, an inside linebacker to play alongside Eric Kendrick, and possibly an upgrade at the safety spot opposite all-pro Harrison Smith. I expect them to take an impact player at one of those positions with the 30th pick. But, having a fantastic roster with very few holes gives the Vikings more freedom to draft best available instead of feeling pressure to reach just to fill a need.

 

Most of the names tossed around in connection with the Vikings first round pick are offensive linemen. Centers Billy Price and James Daniels have been popular picks in mock drafts, along with guard Will Hernandez and tackles Mike McGlinchey, Kolton Miller, and possibly Connor Williams. For this exercise, I’m giving the Vikings James Daniels. I think the center from Iowa in the best center prospect in the draft and will start from day one. Drafting Daniels would allow Pat Elflein to slide over to guard after starting 15 games at center in his rookie season before an ankle injury in week 16 ended his season. Elflein is probably better at guard and the combination of these two guys solidifies the interior of the offensive line. Lastly, Daniels and Elflein are only 20 and 23 years old, respectively.

 

The Pick: James Daniels, C, Iowa

 

Second Round

 

It goes without saying that attempting to predict who will be available at the end of the second round is difficult. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be good players that can help right away left to draft. As I mentioned earlier, Dalvin Cook was a steal in the second round last year. There are a number of directions they could go here. Maybe the Vikings add a talented tight end like Mike Gesicki or Mark Andrews. Maybe they address one of the other positions mentioned as first round possibilities by taking James Daniels teammate at Iowa, Josey Jewell to help at linebacker. Maybe they take a possible long term option at defensive tackle in Taven Bryant of Florida or Harrison Phillips of Stanford.

 

I am going with tight end for the Vikings in the second round. No, this is not one of the biggest positions of need for Minnesota. Rick Spielman has proven he is not afraid to go with the best available, though. I like the idea of Minnesota strengthening their already good passing game and taking Mark Andrews of Oklahoma. The Mackey Award winner shined at Oklahoma with 62 catches for over 900 yards and 8 touchdowns in his last season. At 6’5 and 260 pounds, Andrews has the size of a typical NFL tight end. He also showed some nice speed at the combine by running a 4.67 in the forty. Andrews will have to learn how the position is played at the next level and improve his blocking ability. But he won’t be forced to do things he isn’t ready to do with Kyle Rudolph still having the starting spot.

 

The Pick: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma

 

Third Round

 

Even though many NFL fans lose interest by this point in the draft, the third round provides many good players. Minnesota has scored on third round picks in the last few years by landing Danielle Hunter and Pat Elflein. As I’ve said, Minnesota has the luxury of really focusing on best available. Adding depth to the front seven would probably be the top priority at this point. Josey Jewell is a name to watch here for Minnesota. Jewell could very well be gone by this point in the third round, but he’s a guy the Vikings will surely have their eye on. Jewell was a star at Iowa and contributed for in four seasons as a Hawkeye. Jewell has excellent instincts and a great football IQ. He isn’t the most athletic linebacker, but I see him as a guy that can jump right in and play for many teams immediately. Jewell can fill the hole next to Eric Kendricks and shore up an already great Vikings defense.

 

The Pick: Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa