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NFC North Draft Needs: Vikings

NFL DRAFT NEEDS: NFC NORTH Bears | Lions | Packers OVERVIEW

The Minnesota Vikings will be strong Super Bowl contenders in 2010. With very few pressing needs, they're already poised to make a run at football's ultimate prize. The key to the Vikings' championship hopes will be the status of Brett Favre. The veteran quarterback put the Vikings over the top last year and led them to a runner-up finish in the NFC.

Most expect Favre to return and Minnesota more than likely will draft with that belief in mind. But that shouldn't stop the Vikings from looking for a young quarterback to groom. Favre is literally a grandpa and might not be back next season let alone beyond that. The time to start planning for the post-Favre era is now.

The Vikings will have eight selections come draft day, with choices in every round including a compensatory fifth-rounder. They currently hold picks 30, 62, 93, 128, 161, 167, 199 and 237.

The top priority should be finding youth and depth on defense, starting at cornerback. Antoine Winfield will be 33 in June. Winfield missed six games after suffering a broken foot in October and wasn't the same player when he returned. Cedric Griffin is the starter opposite Winfield, but suffered a torn ACL in the NFC title game and may not be back in time for the start of the season. Benny Sapp filled in for Winfield and was re-signed in the offseason. Asher Allen is another young cornerback who has a lot of skill and could compete for more playing time. But Minnesota will likely look to grab a standout corner early in the draft that can play immediately.

Behind the cornerbacks, Minnesota hasn't gotten the same production out of the safety position since Darren Sharper left for New Orleans a year ago. A talented group of safeties in this class should allow the Vikings to address this need later in the draft.

E.J. Henderson suffered a broken leg and missed significant time for the second-straight season. Rookie Jasper Brinkley did a decent job of filling in, but some extra depth could be needed as insurance for the often-injured Henderson.

Along the defensive front, the Vikings boast arguably the NFL's best unit. Jared Allen is one of the elite players at his position and posted his third-straight season with 14 or more sacks. Ray Edwards is nice compliment opposite Allen and is coming off his most productive season. Kevin and Pat Williams continue to be an impenetrable wall in the middle. Fred Evans and Jimmy Kennedy are both slated to return and form a solid pair of reserves at defensive tackle. However, Pat Williams will be 38 in October and the Vikings are talented enough to bypass some of their early needs and opt for the luxury pick in a defensive tackle.

On the offensive side of the ball, Minnesota would benefit from selecting a young running back to spell Adrian Peterson. Chester Taylor left in free agency and Albert Young is the only other tailback left on the roster. Young was a rookie last year and carried a total of 12 times. The Vikings should look to for a third-down back that can work himself into a similar role as Taylor catching the ball out of the backfield. Last season, Taylor caught 44 passes for 389 yards.

OFFSEASON REPORT

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DT Jimmy Kennedy (re-signed for two-years at a max of $6 million), WR Greg Lewis (re-signed for one-year), G Artis Hicks (was not re-signed, signed with Washnington, RB Chester Taylor (was not re-signed, signed with Chicago), CB Benny Sapp (re-signed for two-years at $4.2 million)

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Ray Edwards (received first-round tender at $2.521 million), DT Fred Evans (received second-round tender at $1.759 million and signed offer sheet), QB Tavaris Jackson (received original-round tender at $1.176 million), FB Naufahu Tahi (received right of first refusal tender at $1.101 million and signed offer sheet), S Eric Frampton (received original-round tender at $1.101 million and signed offer sheet), OL Ryan Cook (received original-round tender at $1.176 million and signed offer sheet), CB Karl Paymah (was not tendered, signed with San Francisco)

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DT Jimmy Kennedy, WR Greg Lewis, CB Benny Sapp, DT Fred Evans, FB Naufahu Tahi, S Eric Frampton, OL Ryan Cook

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Mike Montgomery, K Rhys Lloyd

PLAYERS LOST: G Artis Hicks, RB Chester Taylor, CB Karl Paymah

DRAFT NEEDS

CORNERBACK -- With the start of Cedric Griffin's season facing uncertainty and 32-year old Antoine Winfield beginning to wear down, the Vikings should look for a cornerback that can contribute immediately. Expect Minnesota to address this need in the first or second round. Two possibilities include Patrick Robinson of Florida State and Chris Cook of Virginia, both of whom have visited the Vikings.

SAFETY -- Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson were the starters in 2009 and combined to intercept just one pass. The team hasn't gotten great production out of its safeties since Darren Sharper left a year ago. Jamarca Sanford, a seventh-round pick last April, figures to be in the mix but Minnesota could still use some depth. The team reportedly brought Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis in for a pre-draft visit. Lewis is a big, physical player who projects to safety at the next level.

QUARTERBACK -- This would easily be the top need if Brett Favre didn't return, but Minnesota will likely draft under the assumption that the 40-year old quarterback will be back. Still, Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels are the backups to Favre and neither is a capable starter. The Vikings should plan for the post-Favre era sooner rather than later.

RUNNING BACK -- Albert Young is the only current running back on the roster behind Adrian Peterson. The Vikings are going to have to replace the production of Chester Taylor, who caught 44 passes for 389 yards last season and played an important role as a third-down back. Minnesota should look for another running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield to spell Peterson.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- Pat Williams will be 38-years old in October and won't last forever. The Vikings already have two serviceable backups in Fred Evans and Jimmy Kennedy, but this team is so talented they could go with the luxury pick and select their defensive tackle of the future early in the draft.

INSIDE LINEBACKER -- E.J. Henderson is been injury prone and has missed significant time over the past two seasons. Rookie Jasper Brinkley did a decent job filling in last season, but struggles against the pass and had to be replaced by Ben Leber in nickel packages. Some added depth at the position would be a nice insurance policy.