The NFC North just got much, much tougher as Jay Cutler enters the divisional war, but the Vikings can't back down on Draft Day. Minnesota went 4-2 in the division, but only beat the Lions by a grand total of six points. Chicago actually has a legitimate quarterback; Green Bay should improve their defense in the 2009 NFL Draft; and the Lions have nowhere to go but up. The Vikings have so much potential, and it will be interesting to see which needs they address in the draft because I do consider them a bit of a wild card.
Let's get to their draft range at No. 22 overall:
Alex Mack: Mack is one of the best center prospects in a very long time (I grade him higher than I did Nick Mangold) and would fill the void left by Matt Birk, who left for Baltimore in free agency. Mack has the power, athleticism, leadership and intelligence to be an immediate starter coming out of California. I think he would be a great fit in this offense next to Steve Hutchinson; watch out for him in the first round.
Peria Jerry/Evander Hood: Pat Williams is 36, and it's time for the Vikings to look for an eventual replacement. Fred Evans has some potential, but the Vikings have the chance to add an extremely talented player worthy of a replacement for Williams possibly as early as 2010, or in case he got injured this season.
Cornerback: As the draft approaches, I am feeling less and less confident the Vikings will go here. Alphonso Smith does not seem to have the value worthy of a No. 22 selection unless they were able to trade down. I do not think Vontae Davis fits their scheme since they play a lot of Cover-2 zone, but I could be wrong. It is doubtful Malcolm Jenkins will be on the board at this time; both New Orleans and Houston both need safety help.
Right Tackle: This seems to be the most obvious choice for the Vikings in the first round. Ryan Cook could really be upgraded to make this running game even more dominant than it previously was, which is pretty scary. However, there could be slim pickings at No. 22 since Michael Oher and Andre Smith both seem destined to be top 16 picks. I think the favorite here is Arizona's Eben Britton. Following up Britton is a sleeper in Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt, who seems to have some first-round buzz as of late.
Where could the Vikes look later on in the draft?
If they elect not to select Mack, then Eric Wood, Jonathan Luigs and Antoine Caldwell make sense in the second or third rounds. Luigs and Caldwell also offer some versatility at guard, which is never a bad thing if they can't crack the starting lineup at center.
In the second round, they could very likely go corner. D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt is a decent value there. He lacks size at 5-9, but he makes up for it with athleticism and ball skills. Kevin Barnes, Victor Harris and Keenan Lewis seem like attractive options in the third round.
In terms of a right tackle, the depth is shallow in the mid-rounds. Oregon's Fenuki Tupou and Penn State's Gerald Cadogan have starting potential on the right side.
Defensive tackle has some depth in this draft if the Vikings opt not to take Jerry or Hood in the first. Auburn's Sen'Derrick Marks, USC's Fili Moala and Georgia Tech's Vance Walker could be had in the second or third rounds.