Projecting the draft: Minnesota Vikings

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

The Vikings' greatest offseason question has nothing to do with the draft.

The franchise centerpiece, running back Adrian Peterson, is the main worry in Minnesota. He's diligently rehabbing from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee and all hopes for a Vikings renaissance center around his rapid recovery to return healthy at or near the start of the season.

Without Peterson, who was injured on Christmas Eve in the Vikings 33-26 win over the Redskins, the development of second-year QB Christian Ponder is in doubt.

Minnesota won't draft to replace Peterson -- eliminate Trent Richardson of Alabama from the list of options with the third overall pick -- but instead must complement him to help advance a roster with a modest overall talent level.

With many needs -- offensive tackle, wide receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety -- that don't account for poor overall depth, GM Rick Spielman has shopped the third overall pick in hopes of netting a bounty of draft choices that could help advance the team's turnaround from a deflating 3-13 season.

If he has no takers for that pick, Spielman still has options aplenty. With the QB position filled by Ponder, who did show promise after replacing Donovan McNabb, the Vikings are set up to select the best non-quarterbacks available in the draft pool after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III come off the board, in some order, at 1-2.

Five players Spielman and the Vikings should consider on draft day:

WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State ( overall ranking: 6)

Percy Harvin needs help, and Michael Jenkins doesn't offer enough of it. Harvin isn't the typical No. 1 receiver and would benefit from having a big, physical and fast target to take some of the coverage focus away from him. The Vikings might not make this move with USC's Matt Kalil, widely endorsed as a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle, on the board at a priority position that matches a desperate team need. It comes down to whether Spielman believes he's protecting Ponder's development by giving him more weapons, or if he believes that can only be done by adding literal protection -- O-line help. The Vikings have interest, with coach Leslie Frazier spending time with Blackmon in Stillwater and the team sending a strong contingent to Blackmon's pro day.

OT Matt Kalil, Southern California ( overall ranking: 3)

Kalil is a good athlete with the feet and long arms to thrive, even in a division with Clay Matthews (Packers), Julius Peppers (Bears) and multiple talented pass rushers in Detroit (Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh). That's priceless piece of mind for a franchise heavily invested in Ponder's success. Charlie Johnson was a mere stopgap on the left side last season and is best at guard, where he can play now that Steve Hutchinson has moved on.

CB Morris Claiborne, LSU ( overall ranking: 5)

Sources continue to inform that Claiborne is 1A to the No. 1 player expected to be on the board at No. 3, Matt Kalil. That's beyond sensible, considering the revolving door at cornerback for the Vikings last season, which left the team in the predicament of signing cornerbacks as street free agents to start the week and getting them ready for game assignments days later. They cut ties with Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield, scrappy and professional, might be breaking down after being bothered by a neck issue much of the 2011 season, limiting him to five games. He turns 35 in June and Claiborne has the ball skills and height to hold up if he can add and maintain weight.

DT Jared Crick, Nebraska ( overall ranking: 58)

A try-hard overachiever who could wreak havoc in a rotation with Brian Robison at left end or play alongside Kevin Williams before eventually replacing the three-technique. Crick has power, but also good explosion off the snap for an interior lineman. Crick loves the game and is fully recovered from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2011 season in October. It might seem like oversupplying in that Crick has some of the skills that has the team excited about former fourth-rounder Everson Griffen, but he'd fit right in with Jared Allen and Robison up front but isn't the beefy block-occupying nose tackle the Vikings missed with Pat Williams out of the lineup, and that position would still need to be addressed.

CB Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska ( overall ranking: 56)

Dennard has been regularly compared to Antoine Winfield. He's a press corner eager to support against the run and could develop quickly if Winfield and Chris Cook, who was found innocent of a series of domestic charges, come back as starters in 2012. Dennard makes up for modest size and speed with heady play and clingy coverage off the line.

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