Four positions besides quarterback Vikings could address at No. 12
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' hole at quarterback will dominate conversation about their No. 12 overall draft pick the next two months, and rightly so.
They have no clear answer at the most important position, free agency appears certain to be delayed by a lockout and roughly two-thirds of the NFL's starting quarterbacks were first-round selections.
But if vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman is to be believed -- can anyone this time of year? -- the Vikings like the depth of the quarterback class into the second and third rounds, too. If the guy they want is off the board or lacks a worthy grade, the Vikings could trade back and/or try to find a quarterback in subsequent rounds.
Not including specialists, the only position groups that can be ruled out with the No. 12 pick are running back, tight end and probably linebacker. In fact, it's possible to build a compelling case for the Vikings to parlay their top asset into help at several spots should they stand pat.
Here's a look at four of those position groups besides quarterback and a dozen names to keep in mind as media availability at the NFL scouting combine comes to a close:
• Receiver: If Sidney Rice re-signs and is healthy, the Vikings have a fine 1-2 punch with him and Percy Harvin. If Rice departs -- a possibility that could hinge on the rules of the next collective-bargaining agreement -- the Vikings would need help, even with coach Leslie Frazier hoping to build around an elite running game. Bernard Berrian is a vertical speed receiver with diminished vertical speed and is due $4 million next season. Greg Camarillo is a physically limited possession guy. The only other receiver on the roster with an NFL catch is Jaymar Johnson, who has one and missed last season with a broken thumb. Emmanuel Arceneaux was a Canadian Football League star, but it's uncertain how his skills will translate. Top prospect A.J. Green of Georgia probably will be off the board, but Alabama's Julio Jones -- who blazed the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds on Sunday -- could be worth a look.
• Offensive line: The Vikings' short-term needs are on the interior, but No. 12 is too valuable a pick to use on such a replaceable position. No guards have been drafted that high since 1997 and no centers since 1976. However, the Vikings also need to develop a long-term plan for replacing left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who remains an above-average starter but is in decline at age 31. Many scouts rate left tackle alongside quarterback as core positions. If a player the Vikings rate as a franchise guy is available, can they afford to pass? There is debate about whether Colorado's Nate Solder, Southern California's Tyron Smith, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi or Boston College's Anthony Castonzo is the best tackle in this class. And there is no certainty any of them will be off the board in the first 11 picks.
• Defensive line: Frazier has made clear he wants to upgrade this unit, and the draft is considered talented and top-heavy, particularly at defensive end. Left end Ray Edwards and nose tackle Pat Williams both appear likely to depart in free agency. It is believed the Vikings will try to bring back backups Brian Robison and Fred Evans, but neither is a starting-caliber option. Letroy Guion could be a candidate to replace Williams, but he's better at penetrating than anchoring against double teams. Jimmy Kennedy and Everson Griffen can't be trusted. Ends Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson and Robert Quinn of North Carolina, as well as defensive tackles Nick Fairley of Auburn and Marcell Dareus of Alabama, are regarded as possible top-five picks. Beyond them, the list of potential high picks suited to 4-3 schemes includes ends Adrian Clayborn of Iowa, J.J. Watt of Wisconsin and Aldon Smith of Missouri; and defensive tackles Muhammad Wilkerson of Temple and Corey Liuget of Illinois.
• Secondary: Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield turns 34 this summer, fellow starter Cedric Griffin has had both knees reconstructed since last January and Chris Cook's rookie season was an injury-riddled wash. The only other experienced cornerback under contract is Asher Allen, who is a subpackage option at best. LSU's Patrick Peterson or Nebraska's Prince Amukamara could be a value pick if they slide, although Peterson likely will be long gone by No. 12. The Vikings also have a question at safety, where Madieu Williams seems unlikely to return for $5.5 million in salary and bonuses. Former second-round pick Tyrell Johnson seems certain to get a crack at the job opposite Husain Abdullah, though, and the draft's top-rated safety -- UCLA's Rahim Moore -- is projected as a late first-round pick at best.