When a team finishes 3-13 like the Minnesota Vikings did in 2011, you know the roster had to be weak.
Indeed. That team needed a talent infusion at just about every position in 2012 and Vikings general manager Rick Spielman went about adding it through free agency and the college draft. The problem was, Vikings had so many holes there was no way Spielman could plug them all in one offseason.
With the NFL's free agency period about three weeks away, and the draft roughly two months away, the Vikings will continue the process of restocking the roster with talent. Here are three positions that are extremely thin in capable talent if the starters go down with injuries for an extended period in 2013. However, because the Vikings have a few other pressing needs at positions where they don't even have capable starters in the fold, I'm not sure depth at some of the positions mentioned below will be addressed this offseason. Dare to dream, I guess.
Last season Kyle Rudolph was able to play all 16 games and rarely left the field. That's good because a) he's a big target with great size and hands and is the Vikings lone red zone threat; and b) the Vikings other tight ends - John Carlson and Rhett Ellison caught 15 passes between them in 2012. Rudolph became a vital cog in a piss poor Vikings passing game last year. Now he needs some help. If he were out for any length of time next season, I'm not sure who Christian Ponder throws to (although we can assume the Vikings will do something to upgrade the wide receiving unit). Carlson looked like he was toast in 2012 and Ellison blocks well, but probably will never be more than a 20 or 30-catch guy. If the Vikings don't sign a veteran tight end during free agency or draft one in April (very likely), the team better hope Rudolph can stay injury-free again in 2013. They've got little pass-catching talent behind him.
Let's be real - there is no backup who is going to replace left tackle Matt Kalil if 2012's #4 overall draft pick can't play because he's injured. And even if his false start penalties drove you nuts last year, Phil Loadholt is a solid and durable right tackle. Behind them on the Vikings depth chart currently are, well, no one. If Kalil goes down, I guess you could kick starting left guard Charlie Johnson to left tackle - but nobody wants to see that happen after watching him struggle there in 2011. Loadholt is a free agent, who I think will resign with Minnesota. But assuming he does, and then gets seriously injured, do the Vikings move reserve guard Troy Kropog to right tackle? Or DeMarcus Love - who was on the injured reserve all last year? Or call up a guy on the practice squad like Kevin Murphy? There are lots of questions at the tackle spots right now. Unfortunately there are not many answers.
Of the three positions mentioned in this post, linebacker is the one most Vikings fans expect the team will address - and perhaps multiple times - during the NFL draft. Starters Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson did not have good years and at least one of them may not be back in 2013. Chad Greenway has started every game since 2007 and seems due to get banged up in 2013. Backing up these players are a bunch of special teams players - Larry Dean, Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie and Audie Cole. Linebackers are often core members of special team coverage units because they are big, fast and can tackle. But would you feel comfortable if any of the aforementioned special teamers had to play significant snaps on defense in 2013? I think the answer is clearly no.