Projected depth chart and draft needs for the Vikings defense
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Less than a week before the draft, let's project the Minnesota Vikings' defensive depth chart. We'll provide position previews of draft prospects on Monday (QB), Tuesday (LB) and Wednesday (DB) before Thursday's first round is selected.
Here's a similar breakdown for the Vikings offense.
Projected starters: DE Brian Robison, NT Linval Joseph, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Everson Griffen
On the team: DE Corey Wootton, DT Fred Evans, DT Tom Johnson
Near the cut: DE Justin Trattou, DT Chase Baker, DE Spencer Nealy, DT Kheeston Randall
Level of need: MODERATE (rounds 3-7)
Breakdown: As Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen are set to make $6.6 and $8.2 million this season, respectively, both should be key starters along the Vikings defensive line that returns one starter in Brian Robison. Sharrif Floyd's development will be crucial at the three technique spot that Kevin Williams occupied for more than a decade. First-year head coach Mike Zimmer and several players have already vowed that run defense will be a key focus for the Vikings this season. Rightfully so, as Minnesota has not had a top-10 rushing defense since Pat Williams retired in 2010.
The Vikings signed former Chicago Bears defensive end Corey Wootton to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. Wootton started 15 games for the Bears last season and had hip surgery in January. The Vikings also added journeyman Tom Johnson, who should compete with Chase Baker for a final spot in the defensive line rotation. Minnesota could also elect to draft another three-technique in Day 3 of the draft for extra competition.
Projected starters: Audie Cole, Jasper Brinkley, Chad Greenway
On the team: Michael Mauti, Larry Dean, Gerald Hodges
Near the cut: Terrell Manning, Simoni Lawrence
Level of need: HIGH (rounds 1-3)
Breakdown: The Vikings have 20 years of experience for the seven linebackers not named Chad Greenway in this list. It's a very untested and green group that could use a high draft pick to bolster the competition. At the team's pre-draft minicamp, Cole (S), Brinkley (M) and Greenway (W) started with the first-team defense, but that's generally arbitrary as teams install schemes this early in the offseason. Second-year linebacker Michael Mauti impressed on special teams last season and could make a push for a starting role if he can stay healthy, while last year's fourth-round pick in Hodges tries to turn some heads after a quiet rookie season. If Minnesota can't trade No. 8 on Thursday, the obvious decision is to pick up an immediate impact player on defense. Linebackers like Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosley fit the mold.
Projected starters: Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn
On the team: Marcus Sherels, Derek Cox, Josh Robinson
Near the cut: Shaun Prater, Robert Steeples, Kip Edwards
Level of need: MODERATE (rounds 3-7)
Breakdown: Another extremely young position group for the Vikings, cornerback is top-heavy on this squad. Outside of Rhodes and Munnerlyn, the talent level drops off as Derek Cox and Josh Robinson battle for the No. 3 spot along with any rookies. Munnerlyn should solve the team's need in the slot, but the Vikings are likely looking to draft another body somewhere in Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft. Robinson is still young enough to develop, but he seemed to struggle most last year in press coverage, which is one of the staple concepts in Zimmer's coverages. Cornerback Shaun Prater came on strong when he was needed last season, even grabbing an interception against his former team in Philadelphia, but pending a breakout training camp, Zimmer will need more to fix one of the NFL's worst secondaries from last season.
Breakdown: Harrison Smith enters his third year as the only definite starter for the Vikings at safety. Jamarca Sanford already took a paycut this offseason after he split time starting with Andrew Sendejo in Smith's absence last season. Sendejo, a main special teams contributor, could contend for a starting spot, but the Vikings should also be in the market for another safety on draft day, probably Day 3. Robert Blanton had a mixed bag of results for the Vikings at both safety and cornerback last season, while Mistral Raymond is likely on his last training camp to prove himself as he's a free agent in 2015. The Vikings added Coleman this offseason for much-needed depth after Minnesota started four safeties last season.