The 2018 NFL Draft begins three weeks from today, and it will provide teams with the chance to add an infusion of talent and depth to their rosters.
The hope of every general manager, head coach and front office staff is to add a player who makes an immediate impact but is also a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Someone like Vikings safety Harrison Smith.
A panel of ESPN writers recently released their list of each team's top pick over the last 10 years, and the versatile Smith was the pick for Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin.
The 29th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, Smith has been a foundation piece in Minnesota's secondary since his rookie year. Widely considered not only the best safety, but one of the best players in the NFL, Smith put together perhaps his best season in 2017. Smith earns this designation because he is without a doubt an irreplaceable piece of Mike Zimmer's vaunted defense.
Smith recorded 93 total tackles with 10 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks during a 2017 season in which he earned All-Pro honors. He also tied a career-high with five interceptions.
Smith was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his Week 16 performance in Green Bay when he nabbed a pair of interceptions to go along with seven total tackles as the Vikings shut out the Packers.
The former Notre Dame standout has appeared in three straight Pro Bowls, although he was snubbed initially last year.
Vikings among handful of NFC teams with lofty goals
The Vikings are coming off a 13-3 season in which they reached the NFC title game and have put together a noteworthy offseason by adding quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, among others.
That means Minnesota has lofty goals entering the 2018 season, the fifth under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
But the Vikings aren't the only team in the conference who has eyes on a deep postseason run, as Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune wrote in a recent article.
Goessling noted that Minnesota will be among a handful of challengers in the NFC.
They won't be alone, however, in thinking they've made the moves to get over the top.
The Vikings, to be sure, are part of the NFC's new power class, along with the four other teams (Eagles, Saints, Rams and Panthers) that made the playoffs in 2017 after missing them in 2016. The moves several of those teams made in the offseason, though, coupled with the improvement of a handful of younger clubs and the return of injured star players, figures to make the NFC as competitive as it's been in some time (at least on paper) in 2018.
Goessling listed 10 teams in the conference who he believes have a shot to make some noise if they get into the playoffs, including Green Bay and Chicago.
Goessling said Zimmer will be tasked with the challenge of keeping his team focused as the Vikings begin their voluntary offseason workout program on April 16.
The Vikings absolutely are among the NFC's early favorites, and the moves they've made suggest both confidence they're ready to take the final step and an urgency borne of the fact that windows in the NFL don't last forever. But Coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL owners meetings he intends to greet his returning team this month with a reminder that last season's success means nothing now.
"I've been with teams that have been really good and don't play good, for whatever reasons — everybody's telling them how great they are," Zimmer said. "The Philly game [in the NFC Championship] might be a perfect example of that. All week long, human nature, everybody's telling us how great we are. It's the greatest play ever, and we don't come off the field for two hours after the game, whatever. And now [Stefon] Diggs is a celebrity. That's really not who our team is; they're not a bunch of celebrity kind of guys. But it's hard to do. I understand how hard it is to [win a Super Bowl] and I think our players understand.
"I'm not going to change. The first time I have a chance to a have a meeting with the players, I'll talk to them about all those things, just about, 'You want to say you're as good as your last game? OK, let's put the tape on. This is who we are; this is what we've done.' No one gets to start at 13-3 or 14-4, whatever it was. We get to start at 0-0 just like everybody else. We're going to have all kinds of adversity we have to overcome throughout the next season, just like we do every other season. It's all about how we prepare and how we go about our business, and usually, the team's pretty good about that."