(WCCO) — The Minnesota Vikings will be a contender if and when the 2020 NFL season rolls around. They can thank a solid defense, which added nose tackle Michael Pierce, and a strong running game for that. The Vikings also have multiple areas in need of improvement. The offensive line, particularly on passing downs, was already a known issue. Wide receiver, with Stefon Diggs‘ departure, and secondary became issues in free agency.
With two first-round and a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft (not to mention plenty of later-round picks), Minnesota could conceivably address most of their needs by Friday. And with deep draft classes at offensive tackle and wide receiver, they could even wait until Saturday. Waiting can be risky, as other teams have needs too. Still, the point is that the Vikings have options.
WCCO sports director Mike Max reviewed the team’s situation in a recent interview. “The offensive line, which many times they’ve gone to the middle or late rounds to see if they can pluck somebody there. But they would need some immediate help. Cornerback, because they lost so many in the offseason. And wide receiver… Stefon Diggs was traded to Buffalo.”
The Vikings’ passing game should be better than it is. As Max sees it, “they have Adam Thielen, a Pro Bowler, on one side, Kyle Rudolph, a good tight end. And the other side is kind of open. Olabisi Johnson could play there if they don’t draft anybody that beats him out.”
Another option to replace Diggs is ex-Minnesota Gopher Tyler Johnson. “[He] had over 300 yards receiving against Auburn in a bowl game,” Max recalls. “He’s been one of those people that, if they go to the second round, they could get.”
But fixing the passing game is a two-step process. Kirk Cousins needs enough time to get the ball down the field, which means better blocking up front on passing downs. All the talent wide receiver talent in the world won’t matter if they can’t keep pass rushers out of the backfield.
It will be interesting to see how a team on the cusp of breaking through tries to take that next step. Whatever direction they go, there will be more room for error. Assessing talent is already an imperfect science under perfect conditions. With the NFL mandating social distancing for all teams, getting an accurate read on potential draftees becomes that much harder.
As Max points out, “these players, whoever they are, they haven’t been vetted the same way they’ve been in the past. You have to do it through FaceTime, not as many pro days, not as many face-to-face meetings.”
And the problem can’t necessarily be addressed once players sign. “They won’t have the offseason workouts,” Max points out. “This has become about a nine-month-a-year sport, so they’ve always had OTAs, mini-camps and access to facilities that they won’t have this year, no matter what happens in the draft. They won’t have that same access.”
Then again, many players may not need that many reps given how serious they take offseason conditioning. And as Max further speculates, “with these virtual training camps that they’re going to set up, or virtual offseason workouts, at least the mental side of it, they’ll be able to go over it. The players they bring in with their playbooks, they’ll be able to do a lot of the groundwork, the academic work, without the physical work. Is that ideal? No. But I do think in this day and age, there’s a big benefit from technology that we have — Zoom and everything else — the curve won’t be as long as I’ve been in the past for these guys get up to speed.”
The offseason remains a work in progress, and how it will play out remains pure speculation. For now, the Vikings will focus on filling holes along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the secondary. The NFL Draft starts Thursday evening at 7 pm CT. The Vikings have the 22nd and 25th picks.