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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings Positions of Focus & Early Draft Chatter

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Most of the pieces are there, but we need to get healthy. We need a stud guard, a defensive tackle that demands double teams, and a QB prospect. What do you think?

— Gerald Goblirsch

Thanks for starting us off, Gerald. No doubt there are areas of optimism heading into 2021 — hello, Justin Jefferson — but it's also apparent that some areas need to be looked at.

Let's break down each of the three position groups you referenced, starting with the guard spot.

For reference, Dakota Dozier played all 16 games and all 1,082 offensive snaps at left guard in 2020. Rookie Ezra Cleveland became the primary right guard (nine starts) after injuries sidelined Pat Elflein and Dru Samia. When Cleveland was sidelined in Weeks 11 and 12, Minnesota turned to Brett Jones.

A big factor on who plays guard depends on how the rest of the line shakes out, especially at left tackle with Riley Reiff. Brian O'Neill (right tackle) and Garrett Bradbury (center) will be back in those spots in 2021.

But if the Vikings want to move Cleveland to left tackle, where he played in college, does Reiff move to left guard? Is he on the roster at all? All of that will be figured out in the coming weeks. And since Dozier struggled in his first full season as a starter, maybe that leads the Vikings to adding more offensive line depth in the draft or free agency?

At defensive tackle, Michael Pierce's presumptive return should help matters. But this is also a spot that could be addressed in either free agency or the draft. Jaleel Johnson, who started all 16 games, is scheduled to be a free agent.

Perhaps that group is led by Pierce in 2021, with a focus on youngsters such as Armon Watts and James Lynch, along with a possible addition or two from the outside.

The quarterback spot goes to Kirk Cousins, especially for how he played overall in 2020 … and because he signed a multi-year extension almost a year ago.

The focus should be on the spot(s) behind him. Will Sean Mannion be back again as the backup? Or did Jake Browning and Nate Stanley — young players who spent all of 2020 on the practice squad — do enough to make a move to the 53-man roster going forward?

All of this will get sorted out in the upcoming weeks and months.

With all of the extra picks we've picked up this year, and will get for compensatory, etc, what are the odds that we actually trade UP in the draft? What was it, six trade backs to pick up a couple extra players that either aren't on the team or are buried on the practice squad from the 2020 NFL Draft? At minimum we have to get into the second round at least once. I'd love for us to find a way back into the bottom of the first to nab a lineman (offense or defense, both need a lot of help).

— Immanuel in Janesville, Minnesota

Our first question about the 2021 NFL Draft is here. And I'll guess this won't be the last one, either. For reference, here is Minnesota's current crop of 2021 picks, not including comp picks, which haven't been decided yet:

First-Round Pick, 14th overall

Third-Round Pick

Third-Round Pick (from Ravens)

Fourth-Round Pick

Fourth-Round Pick (from Bears)

Fourth-Round Pick (from Bills)

Fifth-Round Pick

Fifth-Round Pick (from Steelers)

Sixth-Round Pick

Seventh-Round Pick

If we've learned anything over the years, it's that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman likes to wheel and deal, and trade his way up and down the board. In 2020, that was mostly down, with multiple deals during the draft that allowed the Vikings to amass extra picks last year and this year while moving down.

Who knows if Spielman and the Vikings front office will have the same approach this spring? But with 10 picks as of now, there certainly is the draft capital to trade up if they so choose. And with Minnesota currently without a second-round pick, perhaps the Vikings make a move to get at least one selection in each of the first three rounds.

As always, there will be plenty of draft coverage on — including mock drafts — as the offseason unfolds.

Now that the 2020 season is done, two questions looking ahead to 2021:

1. Will we see someone replacing Dan Bailey at kicker?

2. Is Mike Zimmer on the hot seat for 2021?

— Michael Kappos in Elkhart, Iowa

The answer to your first question is up in the air. Yes, Bailey struggled in 2020, especially in the final month of the season. Overall, he was 15-for-22 on field goal attempts, and 37-for-43 on extra point tries.

Personally, I expect Bailey to remain on the roster throughout the offseason, with the possibility of a kicking competition in training camp. But with the Vikings looking to hire a special teams coordinator this offseason, perhaps that coach will have some input on which direction the team goes.

As for Zimmer, I think coaches always have pressure on them to win. Even if a coach wins a Super Bowl, the expectation automatically shifts to getting back there.

There's no doubt Zimmer was frustrated and disappointed with how 2020 played out, especially on defense, where he calls the plays and heavily influences all of what the Vikings do.

But given the Vikings recent track record of success and playoff appearances in odd years (NFC North titles in 2015 and 2017; and a Wild Card berth in 2019), I expect Zimmer to regroup this offseason and get the Vikings back into the playoff mix in 2021.