14. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-9)
LAST SEASON: Minnesota stumbled to a 1-5 start due largely to a deteriorated defense coach Mike Zimmer declared with one week left the worst he’s ever had. Injuries to DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr sidelined two vital players, and departures of the top three CBs from 2019 left a vastly inexperienced group at a critical position. Progress for rookies was made more difficult by the pandemic that prevented teams from practicing in the spring. QB Kirk Cousins had a career-high 35 touchdown passes, but a rash of turnovers in the first six weeks behind a shaky OL played a part in the losing record. Rookie WR Justin Jefferson instantly became one of the NFL’s best playmakers, and RB Dalvin Cook stayed healthy and made the Pro Bowl for a second straight year, helping the Vikings produce the third-highest scoring season in team history.
FREE AGENCY: Lost S Anthony Harris, LB Eric Wilson, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Jaleel Johnson and RB Mike Boone. Released T Riley Reiff, TE Kyle Rudolph, DT Shamar Stephen and K Dan Bailey. Signed DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, S Xavier Woods, DE Stephen Weatherly, CB Mackensie Alexander and LB Nick Vigil. Acquired G Mason Cole via trade from Arizona. Re-signed T Rashod Hill, G Dakota Dozier, RB Ameer Abdullah and WR Chad Beebe.
THEY NEED: G, T, DE, WR, CB.
THEY DON’T NEED: RB, LB, S, TE, C.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Michigan DE Kwity Paye, Miami DE Jaelan Phillips, Miami DE Gregory Rousseau, USC G Alijah Vera-Tucker, Virginia Tech T Christian Darrisaw.
OUTLOOK: After releasing Reiff for salary cap savings, the Vikings must replace their most reliable blocker on a line that has had plenty of room for improvement over the last several seasons. Ezra Cleveland, the 2020 second-round pick, could take one of the bookend spots opposite Brian O’Neill. Hill will be in the mix, too. If Cleveland moves back to his natural position, though, the need at guard becomes even greater. As talented and productive as the WR tandem of Jefferson and Adam Thielen is, Cousins could use a more potent third option. If one of the Alabama WRs, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, happens to be available at No. 14, would GM Rick Spielman take a swing to double down on offense for a instant-impact player like Jefferson was last year? Spielman and Zimmer, with their job status far from secure, could use more play-now rookies than long-range prospects. That’ll be more challenging without a second-round pick, sent to Jacksonville in an ill-fated trade for DE Yannick Ngakoue.
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