Projected depth chart and draft needs for the Vikings offense
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Less than a week before the draft, let's review the Minnesota Vikings' depth chart situation on offense. We'll provide a brief breakdown of the defense on Sunday, followed by position previews of draft prospects on Monday (QB), Tuesday (LB) and Wednesday (DB).
Projected starter: Matt Cassel
On the team: Christian Ponder
Near the cut: ----------
Level of need: HIGH (Rounds 1-2)
Breakdown: Pending a breakout star in training camp, Matt Cassel is likely the Week 1 starter under center for the Minnesota Vikings after signing a two-year, $10 million deal in March. Cassel went 3-3 in six starts for the Vikings last season, not counting a comeback win on Dec. 1 against the Chicago Bears. The Vikings are one of a handful of teams pegged to draft a quarterback next week, but it's unclear if they'll spend the No. 8 overall pick, trade back or wait until Day 2 to take one in the second or third round. Former 12th-overall pick Christian Ponder did not have his fifth-year option picked up by the Vikings and considering the low risk for a team to do so, it's safely assumed Ponder should serve as a third-string emergency backup all season. We'll provide a detailed draft list of quarterback prospects on Monday.
Projected starters: T Matt Kalil, G Charlie Johnson, C John Sullivan, G Brandon Fusco, T Phil Loadholt
On the team: G/C Joe Berger, G/C Jeff Baca
Near the cut: T/G Vlad Ducasse, T Kevin Murphy, T Mike Remmers, G Josh Samuda
Level of need: MODERATE (Rounds 3-7)
Breakdown: The Vikings return their entire starting offensive line for the third consecutive season in 2014. Guard Charlie Johnson re-signed with a two-year, $5 million deal and should command the starting spot at left guard again unless second-year guard Jeff Baca makes a push this summer. Guard Brandon Fusco enters the final year of his rookie deal after a breakout season along the right side in 2013. He'll look to keep that trajectory upward before offseason contract negotiations.
General Manager Rick Spielman said in March the Vikings would look to the draft for depth at guard, but their swing tackle situation is also a need. The Vikings tried to add depth with the signings of Vlad Ducasse and Josh Samuda, but unless Ducasse can try his hand at tackle (like he did at UMass), the Vikings are stuck with Kevin Murphy as the third tackle after last year's failed experiment with J'Marcus Webb.
Breakdown: Toby Gerhart moved on and the Minnesota Vikings are now in the market for a backup to Adrian Peterson. There are too many other areas of need for the Vikings to spend a second round draft pick like they did with Gerhart in 2010. Look for a Day 3 pick somewhere in rounds four through seven for the Vikings to supplement Peterson and jockey with Matt Asiata for the No. 2 role. Keep an eye on guys like Wisconsin's James White or Stanford's Tyler Gaffney, who are both projected as late-round picks.
Breakdown: "I think a lot of what's happening in football now is the field is being spread a lot more. The fullback still has got a role, but it's not as big a role in this league. You like to have that physical presence. Sometimes you get that out of a tight end, sometimes you get that out of a pure fullback," -- Norv Turner in his introductory press conference with the Cleveland Browns in January 2013. That all still rings true for fullbacks as NFL teams adopt a no-huddle, vertical-passing approach that is more conducive to stretching the field than lining up 10 in the box. Even after Jerome Felton returned from his three-game suspension last season, the Vikings only used him 35.7 percent of snaps (per ProFootballFocus.com). Turner's variations of the "Air Coryell" offense he runs still uses bruisers, but that can come in the form of a Rhett Ellison-type H-back, which provides a fullback-sized player that can play receiver, tight end, fullback and running back. I believe Zach Line eventually makes the cut in his second year because of his catch-and-run ability, possibly molding him into another H-back.
Projected starters: Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings
On the team: Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson
Near the cut: Lestar Jean, Kamar Jorden, Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen
Level of need: LOW (Rounds 5-7)
Breakdown: Jerome Simpson could face a possible suspension to open the season, like Felton did last year, due to his arrest last November. In his second year, Cordarrelle Patterson should leap into the starting split end spot ahead of Simpson to go along with Greg Jennings at the "Z" or flanker position. Jarius Wright is one of the better deals in the league as a solid slot receiver the Vikings picked up in the fourth round in 2012. Rodney Smith showed flashes in last year's preseason and could be a possible fifth option on the gameday roster after spending last year on both the active roster and practice squad. There's very little need in the draft outside of a late Day 3 pickup in the fourth through seventh round.
Breakdown: Entering the final year of his rookie deal, tight end Kyle Rudolph is one candidate for a breakout season with tight-end friendly Norv Turner on the offensive controls. Rudolph has yet to top 500 receiving yards in a season or catch for more than 100 yards in a single game. Turner, with a dose of reliability from Cassel, should help turn around Rudolph's fortunes if he can stay healthy after breaking two bones in his foot last November. Rhett Ellison, who changed his number from 40 to 85 this offseason, should stick with his utility at the H-back position while Chase Ford and Allen Reisner compete for the third spot above the cut.