The Vikings and Panthers are a franchise-changing player or two away from possibly winning the Super Bowl. What positions should they target in the NFL Draft to help them get there? We got an idea.
NFL front offices view the draft as a building block to construct potential Super Bowl champions. Few teams are successful at selecting the perfect core of players to compliment and grow rosters year after year. Why? It often boils down to the dilemma taking talent versus team needs. There are some franchises consistently drafting the same type or player positions due to market pressures. If a draftee offers value because they slipped down the board unexpectedly, the compulsion to claim him is intense. Other general managers lean heavily on a best-player-available approach, looking for long-term quality over immediate roster holes. Then there are the circumstances outside of a general manager’s immediate control: injuries, bad scouting, etc.
Whatever the draft-day model, first-year players rarely make an impact during their rookie contracts. A few can be immediate franchise-changers, particularly with teams drafting well over the last few seasons; case in point: the 2016 Cowboys. Rookies QB Dak Prescott, who earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and RB Ezekiel Elliot helped Dallas to the best record (13-3) in the NFC. The franchise, however, has been drafting well for several years, most noticeably on the offensive line (Zack Martin, Travis Frederick). All-Pro prospects at playmaking positions pushed the team over the hump. Expect Dallas to push for the playoffs for years to come.
What franchises are set to be the 2016 Cowboys this season? Which NFC teams are a pick or two away from winning the Super Bowl? Here are the two best candidates:Minnesota Vikings (8-8 SU, 9-7 ATS)
Concerning home-picked talent, the Vikings have drafted more Pro Bowlers (7) over the last five years than any other team in the league. Compliment this strong nucleus with a hard-nosed, defense-first coach like Mike Zimmer, and Minnesota is just a draft pick or two away from reaching the Super Bowl. In 14 losses over last two seasons, Zimmer’s squad has been within one score in all but six. That’s impressive.
Offense presents the most pressing needs, particularly up front. The line cycled through multiple offensive tackles last season due to injuries, and ended up ranking 29th in the NFL per Pro Football Focus rankings. Minnesota, which needs to control the clock under Zimmer’s schema, rushed for a league-low 3.2 yards per carry and passed the century mark twice on the ground all season. The good news is center Joe Berger is one of the best in the NFL, and can serve as the anchor for any injection of new talent. The bad news is most O-lines need a season or two of joint playing time to turn elite.
In a loaded running back class, the Vikings are expected pick up a long-term solution at the position in the draft, despite signing the 26-year old Latavius Murray from the Raiders in free agency. Adrian Peterson is gone, so Murray is slated to see the lion’s share of carries. Nonetheless, a handful of rookies could compete for the starting position, and having two first-teamers in the Minnesota backfield could be the difference-maker for a postseason run.Carolina Panthers (6-10 SU, 6-9-1 ATS)
The Panthers fell flat last season following a Super Bowl appearance in 2015. What went wrong? Former MVP Cam Newton played the final four games with a partial MCL tear, the secondary struggled to replace Josh Norman at cornerback, and playmaking abilities on offense were lacking. At some point, Newton will have another All-Pro wide receiver to throw to, and many analysts expect the Panthers to go that route in the draft.
Tight end Greg Olsen is the go-to in the air. At wide out, Newton leaned on the now-departed veteran Ted Ginn Jr in 2016, leaving him with Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin this year. The latter are not game-changers by any stretch, but picking up a potential No.1 receiver in the draft could present the passing attack with the options it needs to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.Nevada Sportsbooks to Offer Betting on NFL Draft