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3 biggest Minnesota Vikings team needs after free agency

We’ve seen the Minnesota Vikings cast off multiple players from their roster this offseason and have added a few defensive starters to offset many of these losses, but like everyone else, they still have several needs to address.

Still facing a tight budget with the fewest cap space in the NFL at just $1.3 million below the 2023 spending limit, without further contract restructures or pay reductions, the Vikings will have to turn their attention to improving their roster via the 2023 NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, second-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s hands are a bit tied heading into the draft process as well, with just five out of the typical seven draft selections available in April due to previous trades.

One draft chart even suggests the Vikings are set to enter the annual player-selection process with the fifth-fewest amount of draft capital in the NFL. Barring a trade that sends out current players for draft compensation, the Vikings have what they have, and the front office will need to make the most of their limited opportunities.

But there are still needs to address for this team to even come close to matching their 13-win total from a season ago. Chances are, no one inside the Vikings’ organization at Twin Cities Orthopedics Center has any plans of missing the playoffs a year after winning the NFC North. If so, they’ll want to address these three needs either in free agency or through the draft.

Related: 5 losers of NFL free agency 2023: Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens take hits

Wide receiver

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Late last season, we saw T.J. Hockenson emerge as the second-best offensive threat behind Justin Jefferson. Yet, even once the Vikings got to the playoffs in the Wild Card round, Jefferson mustered just 47 yards, while Hock went off for 129. Despite this offensive explosion by the Vikings’ tight end, they couldn’t outgain the New York Giants, who won the yardage battle 431-332.

This all happened with Adam Thielen included in the mix. Now, the two-time Pro Bowl receiver is with the Carolina Panthers, leaving K.J. Osborn as the next logical replacement. But if the Vikings weren’t able to score more than 24 points with all of these skill position players, what makes them think 2023 will be any better, now that Thielen isn’t even on the team?

There isn’t a surefire backup ready to take over his workload, with Jalen Reagor still being unreliable and second-year pro Jalen Nailor being an unproven commodity. This means the Vikings still need to find either their No. 2 or No. 3 receiver.

In some senses, this isn’t a huge need since Hockenson is the team’s true No. 2 option, but Kirk Cousins needs another playmaker capable of turning short throws into large gains. That won’t come from Osborn either.

If the Vikings want to come back with a top-notch offense that ranks in the top five of scoring instead of settling for eighth as they did in 2022, or possibly worse, finding a receiver capable of either filling the starting role or emerging as the team’s third wide receiver would be wise this offseason.

This could still potentially happen in free agency, but the options are dwindling daily. Odell Beckham Jr. may be the only player left who can immediately be relied upon. Otherwise, it’s trying to land a contributor with either the 23rd or 87th pick, which may be tough to do, with other, more pressing needs to address.

Related: Minnesota Vikings seeking to clear cap space: 3 possible moves

Defensive line

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Even though it isn’t a premier position in a 3-4 base defense, the Vikings’ biggest needs may actually be along the defensive line. As of now, they have one, maybe two, surefire starters with Harrison Phillips on the nose and Dean Lowry filling another down-lineman spot. But like we saw last year, the third and final starting role remains up in the air.

Dalvin Tomlinson is gone, signing a contract worth an annual average value of $14 million. But even when the Vikings had the strong, smart defender, they ranked 20th in rushing defense, indicating Tomlinson may not be worth that salary figure, at least in Minnesota.

But perhaps that’s part of a bigger problem. In Cleveland, Tomlinson will benefit from playing alongside Myles Garrett, who’s a tried and true gamewrecker. The Vikings have Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, and now Marcus Davenport, but they’re not on Garrett’s level.

In fact, the Vikings don’t have any elite talents among their defensive line, with both Smith and Hunter considered linebackers or edge rushers in a 3-4 scheme. While Phillips and Lowry may have a high floor, they’ve reached their ceiling. Which is why the Vikings need to inject more youth who can develop into a Pro Bowl caliber player.

Khyiris Tonga may prove to be a good find, and there are other late round picks who could earn a role, such as James Lynch or Esezi Otomewo, but there isn’t a blue-chip talent on this line. It’s time to fix that, possibly with their first round pick. If so, players like Clemson’s Bryan Bresee or Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey could make sense, as both would be capable of generating more pressure from the interior.

Related: See where Kirk Cousins stacks up in our NFL QB rankings

Cornerback

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Minnesota Vikings have a problem at the cornerback position. Yeah, we know. It’s been an issue, arguably their biggest one, for several seasons now. Despite having invested two firsts, a second, a third, two fourths, a fifth, and a seventh-round pick all on cornerbacks in the past five years, the Vikings have zero proven starters from that bunch at the cornerback position.

The only way the Vikings have found a starter is by signing them in free agency, from Patrick Peterson to Bashaud Breeland, to Byron Murphy Jr., but these are all short-term solutions. Not a single one of their draft picks turned out. While some may feel like that means the front office either isn’t capable of identifying talent in the draft or possibly even that the coaching staff can’t develop what they’re given, it doesn’t mean they should stop trying to land a top corner in the draft.

Murphy is a starter. Second-year pro Andrew Booth could develop into another one, but we don’t know that for sure. Based on their track record, assuming the former second-round pick can develop into a reliable option isn’t wise. There’s also Cam Bynum, who is a hybrid safety/corner, but his best position thus far seems to be at safety.

Still, that’s just two to three players. Teams frequently run three or four corners, which means the Vikings are far behind when it comes to filling out their cornerback depth chart for 2023. Free agency is mostly picked over, aside from maybe adding Byron Jones, who has experience playing for defensive coordinator Brian Flores, but otherwise, the Vikings need to add a cornerback with one of their top two draft picks.

Related: NFL mock draft 2023: Latest Round 1 projection for 2023 NFL Draft

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