General Manager Rick Spielman enters the NFL Draft armed with 11 picks and ample opportunities to make his second draft as the Minnesota Vikings' final decision-maker as productive as the first one.
A year ago, the Vikings used the first round to land left tackle Matt Kalil and free safety Harrison Smith, two starters who will be franchise cornerstones for years to come. Unlike last year, when Spielman had to trade a second-rounder to get back into the first round to take Smith, the Vikings already come armed with two first-rounders thanks to the trade that sent disgruntled receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for first- and seventh-round picks this year and a third-rounder next year.
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This year's first-round picks -- Nos. 23 and 25 -- are expected to produce two more starters at positions of serious need. Ideally, the Vikings would like to head into Day 2 of the draft with a new middle linebacker and an elite receiver to pair with free-agent acquisition Greg Jennings. Currently, the Vikings are woefully thin at receiver, which is particularly bad during a year in which Christian Ponder needs all the weapons he can get to prove once and for all that he's the long-term answer at quarterback, and Minnesota has absolutely no one of note at middle linebacker.
If they target middle linebacker at No. 23, receiver would be the aim at No. 25. If West Virginia's Tavon Austin is gone, as expected, the Vikings could still have several options such as Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, a great athlete who needs some polish; Southern Cal's Robert Woods; and another Tennessee product, Justin Hunter, a speed prospect with height (6-4) and long arms. Cal's Keenan Allen also could be a possibility, either in the first round or perhaps in the second if the Vikings feel like he'll drop to No. 52.
Since it's not always an ideal world on draft day, the Vikings might go off script in the first round and take higher-rated players at cornerback, where the team weakened itself by releasing Antoine Winfield rather than pay him $7.25 million, or defensive tackle, where soon-to-be 33-year-old Kevin Williams has shown signs of age.
North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams would be a high-value pick who would fit the under tackle role in the Vikings' defense. At corner, options probably would include a couple of big corners in Desmond Trufant of Washington and Xavier Rhodes of Florida State.
A year ago, the Vikings also made strides on Days 2 and 3. They got Josh Robinson, a speedy corner who could start this year, in the third round. They selected Jarius Wright, a promising slot receiver who will play a lot with Harvin gone, in the fourth round. They also stole the league's reigning All-Pro kicker (Blair Walsh) in the sixth round; a nice No. 2 tight end/H-back (Rhett Ellison) in the fourth round; a potential future starting strong safety (Robert Blanton) in the fifth round and a special-teamer/backup middle linebacker (Audie Cole) in the seventh round.
This year, the Vikings will use the lower part of the draft on the best player available, unless that player is a tight end or a quarterback. The team is set at tight end and believes it has all that it needs -- for now, at least -- at quarterback in Ponder, Matt Cassel and either Joe Webb or McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Less pressing needs that can be addressed lower in the draft include running back, where backup Toby Gerhart is entering the final year of his contract; offensive line depth across the board; defensive end, where the team's top three players (Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen) all enter the final year of their contracts; and returner, where the Vikings lose Harvin, one of the league's premier kickoff returners.
Courtesy of team reports published by The Sports Xchange.
Minnesota Vikings' 2013 draft picks: 23, 25, 52, 83, 102, 120, 155, 189, 213, 214, 229
Primary Needs: MLB, WR, CB
General Manager: Rick Spielman
Five recent draft picks that clicked:
--PK Blair Walsh, 175th overall, 2012
--S Harrison Smith, 29th overall, 2012
--LT Matt Kalil, 4th overall, 2012
--TE Kyle Rudolph, 43rd overall, 2011
--DE Everson Griffen, 100th overall, 2010
Five players who should be on the Minnesota Vikings' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame (31, 1)
Te'o is a player Spielman hopes is available at No. 23. Despite the humiliating Internet girlfriend hoax that entangled him, Te'o is a good fit in the Vikings' 4-3 Tampa-2 scheme. Spielman loves Te'o's instincts, passion for the game and his Fighting Irish pedigree. The Vikings already have five Notre Dame guys, including three of Te'o's former teammates in Smith, Rudolph and defensive back Robert Blanton.
Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal (26, 3)
Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson could slip to the Vikings at No. 23 or 25, but Woods is a better fit for helping continue Ponder's growth in 2013. Woods is an excellent route-runner and could step in immediately opposite Jennings. The Vikings are extremely thin beyond Jennings. Wright has shown potential, but Jerome Simpson never got untracked last season and Burton and injured Greg Childs are the only other receivers currently on the roster.
David Amerson, CB, NC State (53, 6)
Amerson decided to test the NFL waters despite a disappointing junior season. He has excellent size at 6-1, 205, with good length and was an All-American in 2011 with a school-record 13 interceptions. However, his lack of elite speed makes it difficult to envision Amerson being successful playing off coverage in the NFL. The Vikings failed to re-sign Antoine Winfield and need to increase depth at the position behind Chris Cook and Josh Robinson, who could move inside in nickel packages if Amerson is able to handle the duties on the outside.
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama (45, 6)
Kevin Williams took a recent pay cut after showing signs of slowing down in 2012. There isn't much in the way of a long-term replacement on the current roster. Jesse Williams played nose tackle at Alabama and is ideal for a 3-4 scheme at 6-4, 323 pounds. But Vikings fans recall that suffocating run defense the team used to have with the massive Pat Williams playing next to Kevin Williams inside. Another Williams duo in the offing? Jesse isn't likely to fall to No. 52, so Spielman would have to make a move.
Marquis Goodwin, WR, Texas (80, 10)
Let's see, an undersized speedster the coaching staff can be creative with in finding ways to get the ball in his hands while also letting him rip off big plays on special teams. Sound familiar? Goodwin lacks Harvin's strong college resume, but the 5-9, 183-pounder has Olympic speed and can help replace the dynamic element the Vikings lost when Harvin was dealt to Seattle.