Vikings focus on offense, protecting Cousins in NFL Draft

The message sent after the end of the NFL Draft Saturday was pretty clear: The Minnesota Vikings were going to invest in more offense this season, and their mission is to protect Kirk Cousins.

For the first time in more than 50 years, the Vikings selected offensive players with their first four picks. Most importantly, two of them were offensive linemen, including their top overall draft choice. Garrett Bradbury was the best center in college football last year at N.C. State, and he’ll get an opportunity to win that job with the Vikings.

Dru Samia played on the offensive line at Oklahoma, protecting No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and the top offense in college football. The Sooners led the country in both scoring (48.4 points per game) and total offense (570.4 yards per game).

Spielman also invested in an athletic tight end in the second round from national runner-up Alabama that will either play alongside Kyle Rudolph or take the job from him. The other early offensive addition came late Friday night after Spielman traded his third round draft pick for the fourth time. Boise State running back Alexander Mattison was the final pick of the night, and he’ll compete for the back-up running back job after Latavius Murray’s departure.

The Vikings sought more offensive talent this year after missing the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record for the third time in five seasons under Mike Zimmer. It’s a definite shift for the Vikings and Zimmer, who had tended to focus on defense in the draft.

“Very excited. We need to run the ball. We need to be better on offense, and that's where we needed the help,” Spielman said. “Offense was kind of a point of emphasis, and we were never going to pass up a defensive guy if he's sticking that high on our board. We were never going to not take the best player. But as we went down through the draft, I thought it fell very well for us on the players that we did get on the offensive side.”

Spielman spoke going into the draft about finding the combination to both fill needs and take the best players available with their picks. Between Bradbury, Samia and Olisaemeka Udoh in the sixth round, it was a clear goal to upgrade the offensive line. It was a point of emphasis after the Vikings finished 30th in the NFL in rushing, and $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins got sacked 40 times.

“I think that's why we drafted them. We wanted to come in and try to improve that area. I think the guys we drafted were very specific to what we're going to do from a schematic standpoint,” Spielman said.

The Vikings also invested in a pair of secondary players to compete for time with Holton Hill, who is suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Marcus Epps played safety at Wyoming and could get a look in the secondary with Andrew Sendejo gone. Kris Boyd comes to the Vikings after playing cornerback at Texas.

One of the more intriguing position battles when training camp comes could be at No. 3 receiver behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Vikings drafted Dillion Mitchell out of Oregon and Olabisi Johnson out of Colorado State. Both will compete with Laquon Treadwell for that spot. Diggs was drafted by the Vikings in the fifth round in 2015.

It’s exactly what Spielman is looking for: Competition within his roster to get from over 100 down to 53 in time for Week 1 against Atlanta.

“We're going to try to find the best players that are going to help us win football games, and that's kind of been the philosophy since Coach Zimmer has been here. I believe in that too,” Spielman said.

The Vikings also signed 10 undrafted free agents over the weekend. Among them are Washington quarterback Jake Browning, and Diggs’ younger brother, Mar’Sean Diggs.

Spielman will have some tough decisions to make. It’s unlikely that all 12 draft picks will make the roster, and he thrives off utilizing the undrafted players. Just ask Thielen. Plus, the Vikings are dangerously close to their salary cap and will need to make some decisions on players in the final year of their contracts. Mainly, Trae Waynes and Kyle Rudolph.

The Vikings host rookie camp this week, giving their newest players a chance to get on the field after months of preparing for last weekend.