Signs point to offensive line for Vikings at 18, or do they?

All signs point to the Minnesota Vikings taking an offensive lineman in the NFL Draft Thursday night. Or do they?

It’s the beauty of the first night in one of the biggest weekends in football. After months of speculating, leaked information on draft visits and mock drafting, it all becomes real. Rick Spielman and other NFL general managers will start to get a sense of where their pick might be headed once the action actually starts in Nashville Thursday night.

Until then, it’s pure speculation on where prospects have visited and which team favors which player. So will Spielman fill a need with the No. 18 pick, or take the best available player? What if it’s both?

“You kind of go in with the mindset let’s just go get the best players in this draft and it will sort itself out. You always kind of go into a draft really truly honing in on let’s just get the best guys that we possibly can, get them in here and hopefully fill needs at the same time,” Spielman said.

We know one thing after his pre-draft news conference on Tuesday: It’s unlikely the Vikings will take a defensive back. He’s been told by his wife to stay at TCO Performance Center Thursday night if that somehow happens.

A lot can happen when Arizona goes on the clock with the No. 1 pick. When the Vikings are on the clock at No. 18, the first thought should be offensive line. But that depends on who’s been taken with the first 17 picks, and who’s left. The Vikings had one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL last season, and they struggled to get a push up front.

Kirk Cousins was also sacked 40 times, the second-most in his career. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they go offensive line at No. 18. They needed linemen last year early, and opted for cornerback Mike Hughes with the No. 30 pick. They waited until the second round, getting offensive tackle Brian O’Neill.

Two years ago, they got Dalvin Cook in the second round to boost the run game. They then moved up in the third round to get Pat Elflein. The Vikings also picked Danny Isidora in the fifth round.

The last time the Vikings used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman was Matt Kalil in 2012, Spielman’s first season as general manager. Spielman is now in his eighth year as general manager and 14th as front office leader.

Here are the other offensive line choices in those eight years: Jeff Baca and Travis Bond (2013), David Yankey (2014), T.J. Clemmings, Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd (2015), Willie Beavers (2016) and Colby Gossett (2018). Of that group and not including blocking tight ends and fullbacks, only Isidora is still on the active roster.

The Vikings did add Josh Kline, Aviante Collins, Rashod Hill, Brett Jones and Riley Reiff in that time, and David Morgan is a key tight end in run blocking.

Spielman knows anything is possible with three picks between Thursday and Friday night, and eight total over three days. It’s a big draft for him in his eighth year as general manager, after having his contract extended through the 2020 season along with coach Mike Zimmer.

“I know on Thursday, those two picks on Friday as of today, you should be able to land some players who can come in and make an impact on your roster,” Spielman said.

Spielman knows as well as anyone there’s plenty of smokescreen material that comes into play with the draft. He says he doesn’t follow it much, or at least doesn’t try to.

But does he deliver any himself that could influence other teams? Even have players in for pre-draft visits that they know aren’t in their future?

“I don’t know if other teams do that or not. I won’t share if we do that or not. There’s a lot of games that go on this time of year, try to be very efficient at what we do,” Spielman said.” You take it with a grain of salt what’s being said and what other GMs are saying.”

So read into it what you will, but the Vikings reportedly had as many as 18 offensive linemen in for pre-draft visits. Or did they?

The reality is only Spielman and the Vikings’ front office knows who the targets are Thursday night. They’re subject to change, but the board is ready. It’s about making adjustments as the night transpires, and always having the phone ready.

“What we’re doing is just honing in on what we believe, what our draft board is, how we have that draft board developed and how we’re going to attack this draft,” Spielman said.