With the Combine and free-agency back-to-back starting February 28th, let’s take a look at some acquisition targets that make sense for the Vikings given their roster, draft and salary cap situation - and assuming they release Adrian Peterson in the coming days.
I did a write-up a couple weeks ago outlining existing players to re-sign (or not), so I won’t repeat that here. Beyond that, let’s look first at some draft prospects that fill a need on the Vikings roster and could be available beginning in the 2nd round, where the Vikings have their first pick. To be honest, I think this may be the worst draft class since 2013, and maybe worse than that one. Time will tell, but it’s difficult to get too excited about a lot of draft prospects this year- as good a year as any to have given up a first-round pick- I suspect a lot of players will get over-drafted in the first round because it’s such a weak draft class.
Draft Acquisition Targets
Hopefully one of those is not Pat Elflien (Elf-line), center/guard out of Ohio State.
Elflien could potentially start at either guard or center for the Vikings, but may ultimately be best suited directing the offensive line at center. He gets great reviews from scouts, with comparisons to guys like Travis Frederick and Nick Mangold- which is to say the best centers in the league in recent years.
The other reason I like Elflien is his leadership ability. It’s not really talked about, but the Vikings’ offensive line lost it’s leader when John Sullivan went down a couple years ago, and nobody has emerged since then to really lead that group. Elflien has the ability to take on that role and be a solid center of the Vikings’ line for many years.
Given his draft grades, it’s plausible that Elflien could be there for the Vikings in the 2nd round, or possibly the earlier 3rd round pick. Spielman could also move around in the draft as need be if Elflien is high on the Vikings board.
Keeping on the offensive line need, there are a couple other guys that could be there in the 3rd or 4th round, where the Vikings have a total of 4 picks.
Zach Banner is a mammoth of a man at 6’8”, 360 lbs. out of USC. He’s been as heavy as 385 lbs., and as light as 345 lbs. over the past couple years, and weight is the big issue with him. If he can keep his weight down around 350 lbs., he could prove to be a Phil Loadholt-type right-tackle for the Vikings. Banner’s strength is as a road-grading run-blocker, but needs to improve his footwork and quickness in pass-blocking- something losing a few pounds could help. He’s got good bloodlines too- his father is Lincoln Kennedy, who was a pro-bowl right-tackle for the Raiders in the 1990s.
Speaking of bloodlines, another OL prospect is Isaac Asiata, Matt’s cousin.
He’s 6’3”, 325lbs. out of Utah, and projects most likely as a guard, where he’s played on both sides at Utah. Last year, the defensive linemen of the PAC-12 voted him the best offensive lineman in the conference.
Asiata is described as a hard worker, and plays with a lot of aggression and tenacity, and best suited for a power scheme. His weak spots are described as being a bit too much with the hand fighting, rather than securing the block, and not as good at down-field blocks. Asiata is also 24 - older than most draft picks as he took part in a LDS mission in 2011-12.
Moving on now from offensive line prospects, one guy that could possibly be there as a mid-round pick is Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama. Tomlinson’s strength appears to be as a run-stopper, which the Vikings could use at the 3-technique spot, and has the talent and skills to work into the rotation right away, should the Vikings decide to part ways with Sharrif Floyd.
“A little ball of aggression. Able to play on all three downs. Has experience as ball carrier, pass catcher, pass protector and lead blocker. Can block from multiple sets and formations. Consistently productive for three consecutive years. Low center of gravity provides additional power as a runner. Carries good acceleration and knee bend to his target. Viable play-action pass catching fullback. Gives good effort as a blocker. Able to stuff and seal on down blocks from wingback spot.”
To me that sounds like a more versatile upgrade over Zach Line and Matt Asiata, and a pounder that goes with McKinnon as a slasher. The fact that Rogers can block is a big plus, along with his ability to catch out of the backfield. Beyond that, Rogers has the ability to be a solid special teamer as well.
On the developmental side, there is Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado. He’s 6’3”, 190lbs. He’s got the length you like, but is still somewhat raw, and needs to add about 10 pounds of muscle. But hopefully the Vikings will be able to re-sign a couple veterans at CB, which would allow Witherspoon a couple years to develop before seeing much playing time.
That’s a total of six picks, and the Vikings have eight altogether. However, depending on how the draft plays out, Rick Spielman may need to spend a later round pick or two to move up a bit to get all these guys. Given the Vikings fairly deep roster at most positions, there is more of a need for quality over quantity in this draft, particularly if the Vikings are a bit more aggressive in free agency and re-signing their own free agents.
Free Agency Targets
Speaking of free agency, it begins with the “legal tampering period” March 7-9, followed by the official start of the league year (and free agency) at 4pm March 9th.
My hope is that the Vikings will be able to re-sign Cordarrelle Patterson, Terence Newman, and Captain Munnerlyn. Beyond that there are a few others worth re-signing, but these three are more in-doubt (Newman only because of the possibility of him retiring). I also hope the Vikings find trading partners for Sharrif Floyd and Jarius Wright. But in terms of free-agent acquisitions from other teams, these players should be high on the Vikings target list:
Ricky Wagner, RT, Baltimore. The Ravens have some choices to make, as they have more free agents than cap space. Spotrac has a market value of $6.9m/year on Wagner, which seems about right, so he wouldn’t come cheap. He’s been solid in both run blocking and pass protection, and could hold down the right side for at least a few years at age 27.
Kevin Zeitler, RG, Cincinnati. Zeitler is probably the top guard prospect in free agency, so the Vikings will have to cough up around $11-12m/year to land Zeitler. He’s been consistent as a top RG since he entered the league, and at 26 has a lot of prime years left. I’m not sure the Vikings are willing to pay that much for a RG, though.
A less expensive option at RG is Larry Warford from Detroit. Spotrac estimates his market value at $6.2m/year, which seems a lot more reasonable for a RG nearly as good as Zeitler, and the Vikings will be more familiar with him as a division rival. Warford is a big guard at 6’3” 333lbs, and grades equally well in run blocking and pass blocking (82 & 81 respectively by PFF last year).
Another possibility that goes along with Alex Boone possibly moving out to LT is Ron Leary, LG, Dallas. Leary has been a solid LG in Dallas, but given the depth and salary cap the Cowboys have on their OL, he’s being let go. Leary is 27, and is listed as 6’3”, 317lbs. He’s got a fairly high market value according to Spotrac, at $9.1m - which is almost $2.5m more than the Vikings paid for Boone last year. Leary is solid at LG, and more evenly balanced between pass and run blocking than Boone, with a better overall rating too, but that’s not a cheap price-tag.
Also under consideration is Andrew Whitworth, who has been an elite LT over the past 4 years with an overall PFF rating averaging over 90 during that stretch. The problem is he’s 35 and likely not much more than an expensive (@ $10m) one-year rental. Certainly a good patch for a trouble spot on the Vikings line, but far from a long-term solution.
Beyond Whitworth, the available LTs drop considerably in quality, with Riley Reiff perhaps the next best on the list. But Reiff is average at best, and more often below-average. Reiff would be about half as expensive as Whitworth, but you get what you pay for- and locking in mediocrity (or worse) isn’t all that appealing.
Trouble is, there isn’t likely to be any decent LTs in the draft for the Vikings picking mid-way into the 2nd round and lower. Given all that, and the prospect of Alex Boone moving to LT, having him do so seems the best option. Boone played LT in college and initially in the NFL, and may well be better suited to LT than LG, given his 6’8” 300lbs frame, which is a bit undersized for a guard, but good length for a LT. Boone has always been a better pass protector than run blocker, so having him at LT makes sense for that reason too.
It certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Vikings were able to:
- Move Alex Boone to LT
- Acquire Larry Warford at RG
- Acquire Ricky Wagner at RT
- Draft Pat Elflien at C
- Have Joe Berger play LG
- Draft Isaac Asiata to back-up Berger at LG (Asiata has played all 3 interior positions, BTW)
- Keep Sirles, Clemmings, and Easton as primary backups.
Overall that would give the Vikings a long-term solution at every position along the offensive line, not break the salary cap bank at the position group, have proven, solid vets at 3 of the 5 positions, and have a top center draft pick in the middle, and a solid veteran in Boone at LT.
Depending on how Boone does at LT, the Vikings could also spend a high draft pick next year on an LT, and ultimately trade or release Boone if he proved to be an upgrade. Boone can be released (or traded) with no dead cap hit this year and beyond.
At the end of the day, assuming the Vikings release Adrian Peterson and perhaps trade/release Jarius Wright and Sharrif Floyd as well, they’ll still likely have only enough salary cap to sign two top-tier offensive linemen. But if the Vikings could land, say, Warford and Wagner, then draft Elflien and Asiata, they’d be in pretty good shape. There are a few mix-and-match possibilities for the Vikings if they struggle to make more than one top-tier OL acquisition, but I would think the Vikings’ stable franchise and ability to compete for a Super Bowl would give them an advantage over many other teams that offer the same money.