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NFL Draft Preview: Vikings can fortify Bridgewater’s cast

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has done enough this offseason to guard against having to reach for a player based strictly on positional need.

He upgraded the receiver position by adding Mike Wallace, a deep threat. He presented another option at left cornerback by signing Terence Newman, a longtime trusty ally of head coach Mike Zimmer. He re-signed multi-positional veteran backup Joe Berger as an acceptable worst-case scenario to replace castoff Charlie Johnson at left guard.

And, oh yeah, he’s sticking to his guns when it comes to the team’s desire to keep Adrian Peterson and reincorporate him into an emerging team with an improved defense and a long-awaited sense of direction at quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater. Peterson has a contract as the league’s highest-paid running back, but has expressed a desire to leave through his veiled comments and the not-so-veiled comments of his agent, Ben Dogra.

With the 11th overall pick, the Vikings should be in position to take the best defensive back available – Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes — and could be in prime position for the best offensive lineman – Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff, who could play guard as well. They also could join the early run on the highly-regarded receiver class, with DeVante Parker, a former Louisville teammate of Bridgewater’s, being the most likely of the top three wideouts to still be available.

A defensive end to serve as backup and heir apparent to 31-year-old Brian Robison is a possibility if the Vikings deem one of the members of the deep and talented edge rushers too good to pass up. Zimmer tried to lure Bucs castoff Michael Johnson, whom he coached in Cincinnati, to Minnesota to replace backup Corey Wootton, who wasn’t re-signed. But Johnson chose to return to Cincinnati instead, leaving the Vikings with an opening in their defensive line rotation.

Linebacker also is a need the team couldn’t address in a weak free-agent class. They let two-down thumper Jasper Brinkley leave because he was too limited and played less than 40 percent of the snaps as the starting middle linebacker.

Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is a player the Vikings have been studying. Taking him at No. 11 might be too high, so the team could explore a trade to move down and acquire more picks while pairing Thompson with 2014 standout first-round linebacker Anthony Barr.

Thompson has the versatility to play inside, but also could move outside and replace 10-year veteran Chad Greenway, who took a pay cut for the second straight year to remain with the team. Greenway also could remain as a starter but surrender his inside role in the nickel to a younger linebacker such as Thompson.

Spielman likes that he has options based on the holes he addressed leading up to the draft. He also likes that it’s not exactly easy to pin down what the Vikings will do in this year’s draft.

“There will be a number of surprises in this draft because so many guys are so close in talent,” Spielman said. “I know just reading through some of the mock drafts, there are some names we’re considering at No. 11 that haven’t even been mentioned. And then there are names attached to us that I don’t think we’d even consider at 11.”

2014 Record: 7-9, 3rd in NFC North

First Draft Pick: #11 Overall

BEST FIT: OL Brandon Scherff, Iowa

Left guard is the biggest hole in the Vikings’ roster since Charlie Johnson was dumped. An elite player is needed to mesh with struggling left tackle Matt Kalil while having the possible flexibility to eventually replace Kalil or right tackle Phil Loadholt should they falter in 2015.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Left guard: A top-shelf left guard would fill a giant hole while helping second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater develop behind an offensive line that has been underachieving to downright awful.

2. Defensive back: Half of the starting secondary – free safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes – is manned by potential All-Pros. The other half is in need of an upgrade. The top cornerback will be hard to pass on at No. 11.

3. Wide receiver: Bridgewater’s arsenal was so thin last season that even adding Mike Wallace as an upgrade over Greg Jennings doesn’t mean that the Vikings won’t also reach into the draft’s deep pool of talented and polished receivers.


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