All the waiting is finally coming to a close, and the 2016 NFL Draft will kick off with the first round tomorrow night. Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer put together a breakdown Wednesday that addressed draft needs for the eight teams in the AFC North and NFC North divisions. Farmer said the Vikings highest priority on draft night should be wide receiver.
Because Minnesota didn't address its need for a No. 1 receiver in free agency, the *Vikings might look to do that with the 23rd pick. They are looking for another player who can stretch the field and catch the deep ball. The Vikings hit it big last season by finding talented receiver Stefon Diggs in the fifth round.*
Farmer said the Lions need to bolster their offensive line to provide better protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was sacked 44 times in 2015, including seven by Minnesota in Detroit. According to Farmer's predictions, Detroit will target a tackle with the 16th overall pick.
For the Bears, Farmer said they should look to add defensive strength and could grab either a linebacker or an interior defensive lineman at No. 11.
Lastly, Farmer addressed the Packers, whom the Vikings dethroned as NFC North division champs last season.
Defensive help is on the way for Green Bay, which has the 27th pick. The Packers are looking for a three-down inside linebacker who can stay on the field in passing situations, particularly with Clay Matthews moving back outside. The Packers might look for a tight end, and Hunter Henry of Arkansas didn't drop any passes last season, which Aaron Rodgers has to appreciate.
Will Vikings target safety in 2016 NFL Draft?
As part of a series leading up to draft night, the Star Tribune put together an analysis of each position on the current Vikings roster. Mark Craig addressed the defensive backs Tuesday.
At cornerback, Craig said the Vikings are in a good place after drafting Trae Waynes 11th overall in 2015 and giving him time to develop behind veteran cornerback Trae Waynes.
Safety is another story. Strong safety is the one position that's been in perpetual patchwork mode since [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014. He hasn't been content with anyone who has played there, although there is high respect for Andrew Sendejo's effort and toughness.
Craig said Michael Griffin, whom the Vikings acquired as a free agent from the Titans, might be a fit opposite Harrison Smith, but that has yet to be seen. Craig wrote the following about other options:
The Vikings have other intriguing possibilities as the Vikings search for what Zimmer has called "the right guy" to play next to free safety Harrison Smith. Anthony Harris stepped up as an undrafted rookie a year ago. And Antone Exum Jr. has been the preferred candidate for a while, although he'll lose that title if the Vikings invest a high pick in a safety this week.
Craig said Minnesota's need at cornerback is "moderate," while he sees the need at safety as "high."
The need at receiver and the inability to address it in any way in free agency will steer the Vikings in that direction in the first round. But the second round is where the safety market will heat up for the Vikings. There could be some good value there. In his three-round mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Vikings could take LSU safety Jalen Mills in the second round.
Goessling won't be surprised if Vikings draft defensive lineman
Position breakdowns continue as the Vikings are in the final countdown to the draft. ESPN's Ben Goessling honed in on Minnesota's defensive line and said he won't be surprised if the Vikings draft for that position, even though all the 2015 linemen are returning.
*Though this might be the deepest position group on the Vikings' defense, there's an argument to be made for reinforcements in the 2016 draft. [Brian] Robison turns 33 on Wednesday, and though he enjoyed a strong 2015 season, he could cede playing time to [Danielle] Hunter in 2016. The Vikings could also use depth at defensive tackle, where [Linval] Joseph is returning from turf toe, [Shamar] Stephen is coming back from knee surgery, [Sharrif] Floyd has dealt with knee and ankle injuries and [Tom] Johnson will be 32 before the start of the season. *
Goessling said that Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings – who was ranked 25th by NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah on his top-50 prospects list – could pose some interest for the Vikings. Goessling wrote the following of Billings:
He's got heavy hands thanks to his weightlifting background, moves remarkably well for a big man and spends an impressive amount of time in the backfield.