Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer brought years of experience as a defensive coordinator to Minnesota in 2014, and the team has used high draft picks to bolster the defense the past two years.
Since Zimmer's hire, the Vikings have tabbed linebacker Anthony Barr at No. 9 in 2014 and cornerback Trae Waynes 11th overall last year.
General Manager Rick Spielman also aggressively traded back into the first round in 2014 to nab quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, then followed the Waynes pick in 2015 with linebacker Eric Kendricks in the second round and defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third.
The Vikings have made eight selections (five defenders, three offensive players) in the first rounds of the past four NFL Drafts.
Scheduled to pick from the 23rd overall*spot on Thursday during the opening night of this year's annual player selection meeting, many experts have mocked* Minnesota ending a three-year streak of selecting a defender with its first pick by going for a wide receiver.
NFL Media analyst Charles Davis told Vikings.com on Wednesday that the pundit discussions at receiver have been focused "ad nauseam" to the point of thinking it's the route the Vikings will take, but that's not necessarily the case.
"[Zimmer] wouldn't mind going ahead and continuing to increase that defense," Davis said. "Depending on who is going to be there, I don't know what their grade would be on a Noah Spence, but he fits the profile of what Mike Zimmer likes in terms of a player: long, lean." (Visit Prospect Profiles for more on Spence and 49 other prospects.)
Davis mentioned the selection of Hunter, who ranked second among NFL rookies with 6.0 sacks in his debut campaign after his selection at the 88th overall spot. The former safety said Minnesota also could look at supplementing its secondary, despite the presence of first-round picks Waynes, Rhodes and re-signed veteran Terence Newman at corner.
"I'm not sure you can ever have enough, so if you have a guy that's highly rated, or a safety because that's your next thing," Davis said.
The Vikings re-signed Andrew Sendejo, who started all 13 games he played in 2015 alongside 2012 first-rounder Harrison Smith, and brought in Michael Griffin, a first-round choice by Tennessee in 2007, during free agency.
"I think [Andrew] Sendejo does a fine job," Davis said. "Is a Karl Joseph worth it for you at that pick? Is a Vonn Bell worth it at that pick? My guess is they come back to it later."
NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks also explored the possibility of the Vikings going defense early.
"When you think about the top pick or top two picks, defensively the Vikings pretty much have everything in place," Brooks said. "They need a playmaking linebacker, someone that can eventually replace Chad Greenway, a guy like Deion Jones in the second round or day two could be a fit. Darron Lee, if he happens to fall to them, he can certainly play on the second level.
"Outside of that, they really have the bases covered," Brooks added. "Maybe they could take a safety. I know they signed Michael Griffin, but maybe a young safety they can pair with Harrison Smith and allow him to do some things."
The Vikings lead the NFL in retention of draft picks since Spielman's first draft with Minnesota in 2007. The team currently has 34 of the 75 players selected in that time span on the roster of 71 players.
"They've killed it in the draft, and that's the big thing," Brooks said. "If you want to be a team that's a perennial contender, you have to do it through the draft because it's the most cost-effective way to keep your team together. … They have a core and nucleus in place that should allow them to be very good."
View images of Lousiana State LB Deion Jones.