The Minnesota Vikings have treated the offensive line a bit like they did the third round of the NFL draft on Friday.
When it came time for the Vikings to pick in the third round — with pick No. 81 overall — general manager Rick Spielman decided to trade back to spot No. 88. No problem, that’s what Spielman does, acquires more draft picks.
Then he traded back again. And again. And yet again.
After four trades the Vikings finally had the final pick in the third round, and picked running back Alexander Mattison from Boise State.
While he acquired a fifth and a bunch of picks in the sixth and seventh rounds, Spielman seemed to be passing on a lot of good players. It was slightly annoying. Mattison might have been a reach at that spot, and a player who probably could have been picked a round later.
That snafu aside, the Vikings went into this year’s draft with glaring needs along the offensive line. Guards, tackles, centers, you name it and the Vikings could probably use an upgrade.
The team’s brain trust has made an effort to improve their maulers up front in recent drafts, taking Pat Elflein in the third round in 2017 and Brian O’Neill in the second round in 2018.
Free-agent pickups have been spotty at best, however.
But like the third round Friday, the Vikings always seemed to keep delaying their upgrades along the line.
That changed this time.
STARTED IN ROUND 1
The Vikings picked center Garrett Bradbury in the first round with pick No. 18 overall and he should step in an start immediately. In the fourth round, the Vikings traded up and nabbed guard Dru Sambia, who could also push for a starting spot in training camp. The Vikings new offensive line could feature four starters picked in the last three drafts.
The Vikings had not selected an offensive lineman in the first round since 2012 (Matt Kalil) and had picked just two in the opening round in the past 23 drafts. They also took offensive tackle Olisamemeka Udoh in the sixth round in what they hope is a draft that solidifies the line and gives quarterback Kirk Cousins time to throw.
This draft added depth up front and created competition that wasn’t there over the past couple of seasons.
“I think that’s why we drafted them,” Spielman said. “We wanted to come in and try to improve that area. I think the guys we drafted were very specific to what we’re going to do from a schematic standpoint, and that’s what we want to do is make sure that we’re matching up the traits of the players to the scheme that we’re going to run.”
The Vikings entered the draft with eight picks. With all of Spielman’s wheeling and dealing they ended up with a whopping 12 picks, with three coming in the sixth round and four more in the seventh round.
“Again, I thought it was a very deep class, and some of these players that we were able to get in the later rounds we felt were going to be options for us as we come down and make the 53-man roster,” Spielman said.
On paper, it appears the Vikings had a very solid draft. And with their salary cap concerns, the Vikings have to be counting on a number of the late draft choices making the team this season.
The Vikings currently do not have enough cap space to sign all of their draft picks.
That means that a veteran player will have to restructure their contract, be traded or even released.
With tight end Irv Smith picked in the second round, Kyle Rudolph could be asked to restructure his contract.
SALARY CAP CONCERNS
The Vikings have a number of highly paid players on their roster.
That makes it all the more important for a lot of close-to-the-minimum salaried players to play their way onto the 53-man roster.
Drafted players such as linebacker Cameron Smith (fifth round), safety Marcus Epps (sixth round), cornerback Kris Boyd (seventh round), wide receivers Dillon Mitchell (seventh round) and Olabisi Johnson (seventh round) along with long snapper Austin Cutting (seventh round) will all be given a chance to make an impact on special teams and as backups, and replace more highly paid veterans.
Mitchell or Johnson could be a candidate to return punts, replacing Rochester’s Marcus Sherels, who signed with New Orleans in the offseason.
“We looked at that as punt return, too, I know losing Marcus Sherels, we’re going to have a couple candidates on our roster right now, but that’s another reason why they had some value for us,” Spielman said.
And while adding talent and depth to the roster is important, this draft will be a success if the offensive linemen selected turn the line into an asset rather an a liability.