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Lunchbreak: ESPN Projects Vikings to Seek out QB, CB & DT in NFL Draft

We're into April, which means the 2024 NFL Draft will arrive before we know it.

The Vikings have been active in free agency, adding a number of defensive pieces to the roster, as well as signing quarterback Sam Darnold and former division foe Aaron Jones.

And Minnesota has more chances to add new talent during the three-day event scheduled to kick off April 25. ESPN asked its writers to identify each team’s biggest position needs heading into the draft, and Kevin Seifert pointed to quarterback, cornerback and defensive tackle for the Vikings. He wrote:

The Vikings offseason intent is clear – they want a long-term replacement for former starter Kirk Cousins. This has been a three-year project for [General Manager] Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and [Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell, loosely targeted at the 2024 class. Newly acquired Sam Darnold is best viewed as a bridge despite his youth and potential upside.

Meanwhile, O'Connell has said he hopes to see more man coverage in [Defensive Coordinator] Brian Flores' scheme after primarily using zone in 2023. That'll require some reinforcements in addition to the acquisition of free agent cornerback [Shaq] Griffin. Finally, the team is hoping to reduce the heavy snap counts for defensive linemen Harrison Phillips and Jonathan Bullard after each notched career-high playing time totals.

The Vikings currently have nine draft picks to work with from Rounds 1 through 7.

ESPN's Jordan Reid was asked to identify one prospect outside of Round 1 that could help Minnesota, and he highlighted Duke defensive tackle DeWayne Carter. Reid wrote:

Carter is an explosive interior defender who has the upside to develop into a starter down the road. He had 47 tackles and 10 run stops last season.

In looking around the rest of the NFC North, Packers beat reporter Rob Demovsky said Green Bay will likely focus on tackle, linebacker and safety – particularly after releasing Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari last month.

ESPN's Matt Miller suggested former Golden Gopher safety Tyler Nubin as a good fit for the Packers, saying he's an "over-the-top safety with range and ball skills."

Lions beat reporter Eric Woodyard said Detroit should look at cornerback, edge rusher and wide receiver after losing Josh Reynolds (Broncos) in free agency. And in Chicago, Courtney Cronin projected the Bears to find a receiver, edge rusher and tackle – after using the No. 1 overall pick to draft a QB. She wrote:

After the Bears take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick, finding players who can "affect" or "help" that quarterback is the top priority for [Head Coach] Matt Eberflus. At the combine, Eberflus noted how the wide receiver room lacked depth, which could lead Chicago to draft a WR3 to join DJ Moore and Keenan Allen.

Click here to read ESPN's take on all 32 teams' needs heading into the draft.

PFF ranks NFL's 'most productive' 2023 rookie classes

While looking ahead to the draft, it's also natural to reflect on last year's draft and which players made the most impact in their first pro season.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently ranked teams by the productivity of their 2023 rookie classes, and PFF's Timo Riske slotted the Vikings at No. 6 overall.

Riske put just one team, the Texans, in Tier 1 teams who "won the lottery." Tier 2 covered teams who found "multiple impact players and a chance at an elite player," which is where the Vikings fell along with four other teams.

Riske noted that Vikings rookies played 2,335 snaps in 2023. He listed cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (71.8 PFF coverage grade), receiver Jordan Addison (69.7 PFF receiving grade) and linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr. (77.1 PFF coverage grade) as Minnesota's most notable rookies. It's worth noting that Pace was signed as an undrafted free agent. Riske wrote:

Jordan Addison wasn't super efficient on a per-route basis, but he stepped up in Justin Jefferson's absence and was one of two rookies to catch double-digit touchdown passes.

Ivan Pace, Jr. turned out to be the perfect linebacker for Brian Flores, and Mekhi Blackmon had a solid rookie season.

Riske also included the Seahawks, Lions, Rams and Packers in Tier 2.