Don't look now, but it seems the 2021 NFL Draft is right around the corner.
This year's draft is scheduled to kick off on April 29 in Cleveland. In countdown to the event, CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso is looking at the top five picks taken at every spot in the first round. He delved into pick No. 29 on Tuesday, and two Vikings made the exclusive cut.
Topping the group was Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, whom Minnesota drafted 29th overall in the 1961 NFL Draft, which marked the Vikings inaugural season. Trapasso wrote:
Tarkenton's NFL debut foreshadowed a Hall of Fame career – he came off the bench, threw four touchdowns and scored one on the ground in a comeback win over the Chicago Bears. While the Vikings had typical expansion-franchise struggles early in Tarkenton's career, he asserted himself as one of the league's most compelling players to watch because of his scrambling mastery. He made the Pro Bowl in 1964 and 1965 in Minnesota.
View photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton.
Tarkenton was traded to the Giants in 1966 but in 1971 was traded back to the Vikings under Head Coach Bud Grant.
In 1973, Minnesota rode a steady Tarkenton season to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Miami Dolphins. Tarkenton made the Pro Bowl in 1974, and the Vikings again made a trip to the Super Bowl but were beaten, this time by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1975, Tarkenton finished with the most passing touchdowns in the NFL (25) and won league MVP along with the Offensive Player of the Year award. That marvelous campaign catapulted the Minnesota to yet another ultimately unsuccessful Super Bowl appearance.
The creative improvisational passer had his most productive passing-yard season as a 38-year-old, his final year in the NFL. He led the league with 3,468 yards but tossed 32 interceptions to 25 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement, Tarkenton was the NFL's leader in every major category – attempts, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and, yes, interceptions.
Behind Tarkenton on Trapasso's list came former Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski (1989 NFL Draft), former Jets center Nick Mangold (2006) and former 49ers linebacker Dave Wilcox (1964).
And the fifth-best player to ever be drafted 29th overall? Trapasso pointed to All-Pro safety Harrison Smith, whom the Vikings snagged in 2012.
He had five interceptions in his first two seasons despite missing the final eight contests of the 2013 campaign due to injury. Then in 2014, Smith had five more picks while breaking up nine passes to go along with 92 tackles. He was a Pro Bowler from 2015-19 and a first-team All-Pro in 2017 when he again registered five interception with 12 pass breakups and seven tackles for loss.
Since the 2016 season, when he didn't snag a pick, Smith has 16 interceptions and 39 defended passes. At 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds with high-level athleticism, he's also stalwart against the run.
ESPN highlights Vikings 'marquee signings,' biggest question remaining
The Vikings have been busy this offseason, having made a number of moves in the first two weeks of the new league year.
ESPN recently took a look at all 32 teams and highlighted their "marquee" signings, offseason goals and "biggest question to be answered." Courtney Cronin pointed to key defensive additions for Minnesota, specifically spotlighting DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, S Xavier Woods and CB Mackensie Alexander, who is returning to the Vikings after a season away.
Cronin delved into Minnesota's offseason goals, writing the following:
A year after ranking 29thin points and 27thin yards allowed, the Vikings went all-in on defense to shore up their biggest issues. Minnesota's secondary went from an inexperienced unit without much depth to a defensive backfield that has flexibility and options at multiple positions with the additions of Peterson, Alexander (who was previously Minnesota's starting nickel corner) and Woods, a promising young safety with upside. [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer addressed his team's biggest weakness in order to get them back to the playoffs in 2021, believing that the offense (minus a couple of pieces here and there) will be able to stand pat if the defense can pull its weight.
With free agents remaining on the market and the NFL Draft fast-approaching, what is the biggest question to be answered for the Vikings?
Cronin is keeping her eyes glued to the offensive side of the ball now.
Minnesota struggled with its interior pass protection last season and won't be able to fix those issues by relying on backup-caliber players to fill important roles. The Vikings need to draft a starting-caliber left tackle (or guard) unless they believe Rashod Hill and Mason Cole are capable of starting. Minnesota also needs to find a No. 3 wide receiver in the draft. Because the team went so heavy on defense in free agency, offense should be the priority in April.