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Zulgad: Draft experts not catching on to path Vikings are likely to take

By Judd Zulgad

The NFL season still has three games left and the draft remains more than three months away, but these small facts haven’t slowed the mock draft season from opening.

Mel Kiper and Todd McShay of ESPN; Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBS Sports; and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com are among those who already have taken their best guess as to how the first round will unfold on April 28.

Because so much will change in the coming weeks, and because the Vikings won’t select until the 23rd pick in the opening round, it’s certain the speculation about general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer’s pick will change numerous times.

One thing at least three of these gentlemen might want to reconsider is their feeling that the Vikings will select a wide receiver. Kiper has Minnesota taking TCU’s Josh Doctson, while Brugler speculates it will be Baylor’s Corey Coleman and Jeremiah goes with Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell.

Coming to the conclusion that Spielman will grab a wide receiver in order to help quarterback Teddy Bridgewater isn’t surprising.

Mike Wallace, who was acquired in a trade with Miami last offseason, did not provide the expected production in 2015 and, unless he wants to redo his contract, there is no way the Vikings are going to bring him back and absorb an $11.5 million salary-cap hit next season.

Subtract Wallace from the equation and the Vikings’ depth chart at receiver heading into 2016 would include Stefon Diggs, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patterson’s failure to develop as a wide receiver means that unless something changes drastically, Zimmer sees him as a kick returner and nothing more. Johnson’s role is a mystery at this point, considering he went from 31 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games last season to only nine catches for 127 yards and no touchdowns in 11 games this season.

Johnson had injury issues early this season, but it’s uncertain why he could not get back on the field. Part of the reason might have been Wallace’s presence.

Diggs was inactive for the first three games of the season, but ended up catching a team-leading 52 passes for 720 yards and four touchdowns. Wright had 34 receptions for 442 yards, and Thielen contributed only 12 catches but remained an important contributor on special teams.

So why wouldn’t the Vikings want to add a receiver to the mix with their first-round pick? Diggs, Wright and even Patterson might help answer that question.

Diggs was the only receiver the Vikings selected in last year’s draft, but he was not taken until he had fallen into the fifth round. Wright was a fourth-round pick in 2012, and Patterson went in the first round in 2013, after the Vikings made a trade with New England that sent second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks to the Patriots.

Johnson, who was considered an important part of the roster last year at this time, was signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad in September 2014.

See the pattern here?

The Vikings have proven that they can find a receiver in the mid to late rounds of the draft or on the roster of another team. The fact Patterson cost so much and has flopped as a receiver, or that Wallace produced far less than expected (39 catches, 473 yards, two touchdowns), doesn’t go unnoticed at Winter Park.

Spielman and Co., will add help at wide receiver this offseason. They are almost certain to draft one or two and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings looked to free agency, as they did in 2013 when they signed Greg Jennings to a five-year, contract that contained $18 million in guarantees. (He was released after two years).

McShay and Rang both predict the Vikings will take outside linebacker Darron Lee from Ohio State. Considering Chad Greenway is now a role player, and near the end of his career, adding a linebacker to join Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks actually would be a solid move.

But if the Vikings are serious about helping Bridgewater, and making him better, the first place they might want to look in the draft is at the offensive line. Center John Sullivan (back) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (Achilles’) missed the season because of injuries and there is no guarantee either will return.

Brandon Fusco struggled in his first season at left guard, veteran Joe Berger played well at center has been a backup for much of his career, right guard Mike Harris is going to be a free agent and right tackle T.J. Clemmings struggled after being taken in the fourth round last spring.

Since 2010, the Vikings have drafted only one offensive lineman in the first three rounds and that was left tackle Matt Kalil, who was taken fourth overall in 2012. Kalil had a very good rookie season, but has been inconsistent since and the Vikings have to be holding their breath that he will return to Pro Bowl form at some point.

Creating some stability wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Drafting a top-notch receiver would give Bridgewater an added option, but it’s not going to do this offense any good if the quarterback continues to have to rush his throws because of the pressure being applied by opposing teams.

The post Zulgad: Draft experts not catching on to path Vikings are likely to take appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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