Mike Zimmer’s edict to run more looms over Vikings’ draft strategy
EAGAN, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has had plenty of say in previous drafts on the selection of defensive players. When it comes to his input on offense, that has been debatable.
Regardless, one draft analyst sees Zimmer wielding more power in that area when the three-day NFL draft gets underway Thursday, April 25.
“Zim’s presence in that room is going to loom large this year,” said Charles Davis, an NFL Network draft analyst and a Fox analyst for many Vikings games in recent years. “The head coach after last year was, ‘Hear me and hear me one more time. I want to see the football being run.’ ”
Zimmer directs Minnesota’s defense, having giving plenty of control on offense in his first five seasons to coordinators Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur and John DeFilippo. But Zimmer asserted himself much more last December when he fired DeFilippo with three games left, promoted quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski on an interim basis, and gave the edict to run more.
After the season, Stefanski had his interim tag removed, and the Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach/offensive adviser and Rick Dennison with the interesting title of offensive line coach/run game coordinator.
“Mike Zimmer’s been adamant in, ‘We’re going to run the football,’ ” Davis said. “You saw all the moves that were made in that direction.”
That influence will carry over into what the Vikings do during the draft. They will look for offensive linemen who are solid in the running game, plus a tight end who is a good blocker.
At running back, Minnesota is counting on Dalvin Cook, who has had injury issues in his first two seasons, to get more carries. With backup Latavius Murray signing this offseason with New Orleans, the Vikings could look for a runner in a late round. They also have Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone and Roc Thomas on the roster.
The Vikings select No. 18 in Thursday’s first round, and many observers believe they will take an offensive lineman. Potential candidates are Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, Washington State’s Andre Dillard. Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom and North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury.
In looking at offensive linemen, general manager Rick Spielman said Minnesota’s change on offense from a gap-blocking to a zone-blocking scheme will play a role.
“Gap guys are more road graders, moving forward with double teams,” Spielman said. “Zone-scheme guys are going to be more athletic, being able to work at the second level, out to the linebackers, being able to do outside zone, have to run laterally.”
If the Vikings don’t select an offensive lineman in the first round, they could take a tight end or defensive linemen, then grab a blocker in the second. Selecting a tight end would be related to the desire to run more.
The two top tight ends are T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both of Iowa, and it remains to be seen if either will be on the board by the 18th pick. Davis considers Fant a better choice for a team looking to throw, but he thinks Hockenson would be ideal for Minnesota.
“He’s a terrific point-of-attack, line-of-scrimmage blocker as well as can catch the ball,” Davis said. “Hockenson is a dominant blocker. That’s what Zim has directed. … I’ve spent plenty of time with Zim in hearing about how he talks about tight ends.”
Hockenson’s stock has been rising, so the Vikings might need to trade up if they want him.
If the Vikings take an offensive lineman in the first round, they could select a tight end Friday, when rounds two and three are held. Davis sees Mississippi’s Dawson Knox as a possible option even though he caught just 15 passes last season.
“He’s excellent blocker,” Davis said. “He plays the game a lot like Hockenson. He didn’t catch nearly as many balls as he possibly could because (of Mississippi’s strong group of wide receivers), and that kept his numbers down. But I think he’s still a good, skilled receiver.”
More depth at running back is another possibility. Some options in later rounds could include Stanford’s Bryce Love, Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Penn State’s Miles Sanders and Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary.
“There’s pretty good depth in rounds three, four and five,” said draft analyst Dane Brugler. “You can find a quality running back in that area that you can work with.”