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Vikings' draft plans: O-line a big concern, but there are other needs

The Minnesota Vikings are on the clock at No. 18 in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft.

Here’s a last-minute look at some of the most pressing questions around positions and draft strategy:

How can the Vikings best upgrade the offensive line?

Most draft analysts believe the Vikings are somewhere between being all-in on selecting an offensive lineman in the first round or taking the best player available if, for example, an elite defensive lineman falls to them at 18. How they handle the second part of that equation is drawn out below, but it’s clear the Vikings need offensive line help and they have to be strategic with how they go after these players.

“Two years ago we had to move up to get Pat Elflein, for example, because there was a run right in there and he was one of the few players left that we liked,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “Last year the run on the offensive linemen went earlier than where we picked. You have to weigh all that out, and you have to be able to react once you see how that board is coming off and where the runs are on positions.”

The Vikings can stay the course and draft whichever tackle/guard/center is highest on their board at 18. The likes of Garrett Bradbury (C/G), Chris Lindstrom (OG) and Erik McCoy (C/G) should all be available to Minnesota at that spot, and if one of the top tackles falls, that’s certainly something to prioritize over the aforementioned players. But if the Vikings believe they can get any of these interior linemen for better value, don’t rule out Spielman trading back in the first round, grabbing more draft capitol and still getting a player who can provide immediate help at guard or center.

The second and third rounds yield a ton of viable talent at the position, with players who could contribute immediately if the Vikings wanted to use their first-round selection in a different way. Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins (C/G) and Charlotte’s Nate Davis (G), Kansas State’s Dalton Risner (listed as a tackle but can play multiple positions), Penn State’s Connor McGovern (G) and Alabama State’s Tytus Howard (tackle) all carry second- or third-round grades and could fill a big need for the Vikings. It might be a stretch to think Minnesota would use its top two picks on the offensive line given other areas of need, but if Spielman drafts an O-lineman in the first three rounds, it will be the third straight year of him addressing that position with high draft capital.

What are the best non-OL options at 18?

Spielman made it clear in his pre-draft news conference that the team is not going to take an offensive lineman at 18 just because it needs help at that position. This defensive line class is loaded and if by some stretch Ed Oliver or Christian Wilkins is available when the Vikings are picking, it’s not difficult to see why they’d draft a potential game-changing defensive lineman. But it has to be that "Pro Bowl-caliber player" Spielman talked about. Another option I could see for Minnesota is drafting a tight end with its first pick. T.J. Hockenson is probably long gone by 18, but his Iowa teammate Noah Fant might be there. The speedy Fant would give Minnesota the athletic complement to Kyle Rudolph as an F-tight end and would provide Cousins a new toy in the passing game.

How do they handle the first-round DL buzz?

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has nine defensive linemen going in the first round. Whether the Vikings cash in on getting a Dexter Lawrence, Jeffery Simmons, Rashan Gary or other elite talent available at 18 remains a mystery until Thursday night. But it’s no secret this team needs to bolster the 3-technique position and provide support next to Linval Joseph.

Minnesota has a substantial supply of edge players and can always address that need in mid-to-late rounds. Drafting a defensive tackle is arguably a top-three need for the Vikings and for good reason. Behind newly re-signed 3-tech DT Shamar Stephen, Minnesota has last year’s fourth-rounder in Jalyn Holmes and rotation 3T/NT Jaleel Johnson in the mix to back up Stephen. The Vikings could use more help for the interior pass rush and also possibly be looking for the player who will eventually replace Joseph at nose tackle.

When do the Vikings address getting Cousins more weapons?

The Vikings have the NFL's best receiving duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t look to snag some pass-catching options toward the end of Day 2 and 3. Tight ends like Irv Smith, Jace Sternberger, Dax Raymond and Dawson Knox would be great options for Minnesota in the second to third round -- an area the Viking haven’t picked a TE since Rudolph in 2011. Cousins would undoubtedly benefit from having a player who can threaten the middle of the field and potentially be a true vertical threat. Most mock drafts have a run on these positions anywhere from the late third to fifth round. If the Vikings can make away with a Terry Godwin, Damarkus Lodge, Hunter Renfrow, etc., they may finally be able to flush out that No. 3 WR role.

Where do the Vikings address their needs in the secondary?

It wouldn’t be a Spielman-Mike Zimmer draft without finding a sixth- or seventh-round defensive back, but I think Minnesota addresses both of these needs higher. Given the shaky situation with their cornerback depth and the fact that they have three safeties with NFL experience (Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse) on the roster, this feels like a need that will be looked at starting on Day 2.

Will the Vikings take a quarterback?

There are a handful of viable options in the later rounds between Gardner Minshew, Jarrett Stidham, Will Grier and Trace McSorley. Minnesota has three QBs on the roster -- Cousins, Sean Mannion and Kyle Sloter. However, it might not be the worst idea to begin planning for the future by bringing in a rookie to compete in the QB room to possibly take over the backup role in a year. The pressure is on Cousins to perform in 2019, so the Vikings will have a better sense of what to do with his contract before next offseason. If he struggles this year, Minnesota would be hard-pressed not to draft a QB in 2020.