NFL Draft: Who do the Vikings take at No. 18?

It’s NFL Draft week.

Thursday night, the lives of 32 college athletes will change forever. Their names will be called, and some will walk to the podium in Nashville, Tenn., shake NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand and put on a hat that will mark their future.

Life-changing money will be soon to follow, as well as something they all dreamed of when they were little kids: Playing professional football for a living.

For the 32 teams involved, the first round offers an opportunity to land a quality player that in some instances, can compete for a starting role. Some athletes will make an immediate impact, others will be added to provide depth.

Teams will add more depth throughout the weekend, but the first round gives them the chance to find their next star. So who will the Vikings take at No. 18? Will they trade back and acquire more picks?

The only people that might have those answers, for now, are General Manager Rick Spielman and others in the Vikings’ front office. Here’s a look at some names to keep an eye on as we head toward Thursday night.

Andre Dillard – Offensive tackle

It’s no secret that the Vikings’ need to add some pieces to their offensive line. Minnesota finished 30th of 32 teams in the NFL in rushing last season. Kirk Cousins also got sacked the second-most times in his career. Andre Dillard of Washington State is a name to watch at offensive tackle. Both NBC Sports and Pro Football Focus have the Vikings taking Dillard with the No. 18 pick.

Rashan Gary – Linebacker

A linebacker at No. 18 would be an interesting choice for the Vikings, given they have Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Ben Gedeon. But an ESPN mock draft has Minnesota taking Michigan star Rashan Gary. He’s a versatile defender who can cause all kinds of trouble both in rushing the quarterback and on run defense. Think Danielle Hunter, only younger. A lot of the Vikings’ targets would have to be off the board for them to take Gary.

Garrett Bradbury – Center

The Vikings need an offensive linemen, and probably more than one, at some point in the NFL Draft. It’s very possible that they draft an offensive lineman that could cause other current players to shift positions. Enter N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury, projected by the NFL Network to be picked by the Vikings. Bradbury started 13 games for N.C. State two years ago, and as a senior, won the Rimington Trophy as the top center in the country. The pick would require some position flexibility, but the Vikings need offensive linemen.

Jonah Williams – Offensive tackle

The Vikings would be getting one heck of an offensive lineman if Alabama’s Jonah Williams fell to the No. 18 pick. He played for Nick Saban, which means he knows what it takes to play championship-caliber football. He started his Alabama career at right tackle before playing his last 29 games at left tackle, and got every offensive accolade there is to earn during his time at Alabama. CBS Sports is among several predicting that he goes to the Vikings at No. 18.

Cody Ford – Offensive line

It’s unlikely that he’s still available at No. 19, but Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford should be considered one of Minnesota’s top options. He started 14 games for the Sooners at left tackle last season and earned First Team All-Big 12 honors. He’s played both guard and tackle, and should provide versatility for the team that drafts him. Sports Illustrated has the Vikings getting Ford at No. 18.

Noah Fant – Tight end

The Vikings’ may try to get two things accomplished with one pick Thursday, if Iowa tight end Noah Fant is available when they’re on the clock with the No. 18 pick. It could also signal the future, or lack thereof, for Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota. Fant is a big, reliable target in the passing game and in strong after making the catch, but he’s known for his ability to block in the run game. It’s an option the Vikings can’t look past at No. 18, and DraftTek is one of a few outlets who have him going to Minnesota.

The Vikings have options at No. 18 after going 8-7-1 last season, but the consensus remains they should give the offensive line the most serious thought with that coveted first-round pick. They brought in 18 different offensive linemen for visits during the draft process.