The Minnesota Vikings are going to have to upgrade their offensive line in the NFL Draft this week, and it needs to start in the first round.
The Vikings have the No. 14 pick in the first round, and while their need at offensive tackle is quite strong – keyed by the loss of Riley Reiff due to the salary cap – they also need plenty of help on the interior. The Vikings have a need for depth at the guard position, because the combination of Dakota Dozier and newly acquired Mason Cole are not threats to make the Pro Bowl in the foreseeable future.
The Vikings have hit home runs with three of their last four first picks, and general manager Rick Spielman has clearly been productive with his selections.
The selection of Justin Jefferson with the 22nd pick in the first round last year could not have worked out better. The Vikings had a major need at the position after trading wideout Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, and the idea that Adam Thielen would have to carry the load at wide receiver was simply not palatable. Thielen is one of the best route runners in the league, but he is not a speed burner and he was coming off an injury-plagued 2019 season that saw him miss six games.
Jefferson had been a brilliant wide receiver for the national champion Louisiana State Tigers during the 2019 season, coming through with eye-catching numbers that included 111 receptions, 1,540 yards and 18 touchdown catches.
Big numbers in college don’t always equate to success in the NFL, but Jefferson’s superior productivity was keyed by the combination of his route-running and tremendous hands. When a receiver can get off the line of scrimmage with consistency, he is always going to have his quarterback’s attention.
That was certainly the case in 2020 as Jefferson found his stride early and had a remarkable rookie season. He caught 88 passes for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns, and he was one of the primary reasons that quarterback Kirk Cousins was able to raise his status last year. The quarterback has not answered all questions with the Vikings, but he came through in a road victory over the Green Bay Packers last year and also won a Monday night game for the first time in his career.
Jefferson was the best rookie receiver in the NFL last year, and he will continue to improve and become even more of an impact player in 2021 as long as he can stay healthy.
The Vikings drafted center Garrett Bradbury from North Carolina State with the No. 18 pick in the first round in 2019. The pick has to be considered a success because Bradbury is the team’s starting center and has been in the lineup for all 32 games during his first two seasons with the team.
However, Bradbury may have the intelligence and athleticism to remain in the lineup for the foreseeable future, but there are questions about his overall strength. The 6-3, 305-pound Bradbury has an issue with bigger and more powerful interior defensive linemen, and he seems to absorb more punishment that he dishes out at his position.
Bradbury is certainly good enough to be in the lineup again this year, but if he can’t find a way to show some improvement, the Vikings could be looking at a center in next year’s draft or through free agency.
The Vikings had the 30th pick in the first round of the 2018 draft, and drafted cornerback Mike Hughes from Central Florida. Injuries have clearly had a negative impact to this point in his career and he has started just seven games in three years. He has done very little with his opportunities, and almost nothing since his decent rookie year.
The Vikings did not have a first-round pick in 2017, but they hit a massive home run when they selected running back Dalvin Cook with the 41st overall pick in the second round. Cook has clearly become the Vikings’ best offensive player, as he combines make-you-miss moves with explosive speed and game-changing vision.
After a brilliant season in 2019 in which he rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns, he was even better last season with 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Cook was second in the NFL in rushing to Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, who rushed for 2,027 yards. However, Cook has an excellent chance to move into the No. 1 spot in 2021 or 2022. That’s because Henry is bruising power back, and while he has been dishing out more punishment than he absorbs, it is difficult to see that continuing for much longer.
Cook is surging, and the Vikings are likely to improve on the offensive line in this draft. If the Vikings can pick up a starting left tackle and depth on the interior, Cook may turn out to be the biggest beneficiary.