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Minnesota Vikings 2014 free agency preview

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The Minnesota Vikings have a lot of holes that need to be filled this offseason, either in the draft or through free agency.

The Vikings were particularly bad on defense. The holes to fill on that side of the ball begin on the line and reach all three levels.

Offense is less of a concern, but still a concern. The offensive line lost one starter and needs more depth, the running back unit is losing the top backup, the tight ends lost their top backup and the quarterback position just needs more talent.

The Vikings will going into free agency as one of the teams with the most cap space available. However, head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the better coaches at getting the most out of his players. So, the team may look for the cheaper options to fill their holes as opposed to the big name free agents.

Running Backs
Running Backs Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Running Backs

The Vikings have the game’s best running back, but the reserves are a question mark. The team re-signed exclusive rights free agent Matt Asiata. Other than that, the team has undrafted young players Joe Banyard and Bradley Randle.

The team needs to find a third down back to replace Toby Gerhart, if he does not re-sign with the Vikings.

The fullback position is fine with Jerome Felton and Zach Line. The Vikings are unlikely to bring a free agent fullback into training camp.

Here are the top five free agent running backs that could be the third down running back.

No. 1 - Toby Gerhart. No one can replace Gerhart except Gerhart. It is hard to imagine anyone replacing Gerhart as well as him, but Gerhart may be able to find an opportunity to earn a starting job somewhere else.

No. 2 - Brian Leonard. He is as close to being Gerhart as possible. He is a straight-ahead runner with enough speed to break-away at times. He also is a very good receiver and pass blocker. He could be a good way to replace Gerhart without worrying about selecting one in the draft.

No. 3 - Knowshon Moreno. He was a big part of the Denver Broncos’ success last season. He is good as an inside and outside runner and is a good receiver. He is likely to look for a team that can give him the opportunity to earn the starting spot.

No. 4 - Darren McFadden. Injuries have hampered his development into a star. He is versatile and a home run threat both in the run game and as a receiver. He is another young running back that most likely be looking for a better opportunity to earn the starting job.

No. 5 - Maurice Jones-Drew. He is not the same game-changing, home run threat he once was, but he still is an effective versatile running back. He has the same running style and receiving ability as Gerhart and can be a great third down back behind Peterson. Whether or not Jones-Drew would accept being a backup is another question.

Wide Receivers
Wide Receivers Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Wide Receivers

The wide receiver may be the deepest position group on the Vikings roster. Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and a pair of promising second-year undrafted players. Jennings and Patterson can play on the outside and Wright is a slot receiver. Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen have size and potential, but are still unproven.

The tight end position got a little thinner with the release of John Carlson, but Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford are more than capable of filling the Vikings roster. 

Here are the top five free agent wide receivers that could fill the second or third receiver spot on the outside.

No. 1 - Danario Alexander. He missed all of last season, but he has very intriguing size and playmaking ability. At 6-foot-5-inches tall he poses as a matchup problem for any defensive player in the NFL. He could be a very good addition as a No. 3 receiver on the outside and red zone threat.

No. 2 - James Jones. He was very good for the Green Bay Packers as the team’s No. 2 receiver. He missed two games with an injury, but posted a career-high 817 receiving yards. He also had 59 receptions. His touchdown production dropped after climbing to 14 in 2012. He is very good in multiple roles and route combinations.

No. 3 - Jerome Simpson. He was very good for the Vikings last season. He would be a very good re-signing given his size and speed. His first year as a member of the Vikings was not as expected, but last season broke out.

No. 4 - Lavelle Hawkins. He is not a big receiver, but has very good speed. He has yet to realize his potential as an NFL receiver. He may be best suited as a slot receiver, but could get on the outside in limited reps.

No. 5 - Nate Burleson. He has played just 15 games over the last two seasons, but can be a solid addition as a versatile reserve. He can play in the slot or on the outside, but is best suited to be a complementary receiver at this stage of his career.

Defensive Tackles
Defensive Tackles Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Defensive Tackles

The Vikings re-signed Brian Robison in the middle of last season and reached an extension with Everson Griffen on Sunday. The Vikings still could use depth on the edge, but the priority now turns to the middle.

Kevin Williams is not expected to return and Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are free agents. The only returning defensive tackle that played significant reps last season is second-year first round draft pick Sharrif Floyd. He is expected to see an expanded role this season, but the team needs multiple additions, both in free agency and the draft.

Here are the top five free agent defensive tackles that could start at defensive tackle for the Vikings

No. 1 - Henry Melton. Before getting injured in Week 3 last season, he was one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He is big and athletic, but may be better suited to play the same position as Sharrif Floyd instead of the nose position. He is a very intriguing player because of his athleticism and ability to make plays in the backfield.

No. 2 - Paul Soliai. Big and effective in the backfield. He is one of the best nose tackles available in free agency.

No. 3 - Kevin Williams. What better way to replace Kevin Williams than with Kevin Williams. He is still an effective defensive tackle. The Vikings may be looking more for a nose tackle type of defensive linemen.

No. 4 - Cam Thomas. He is a big body that played the nose tackle position for the San Diego Chargers. He can control the line of scrimmage and stuff the run.

No. 5 - Linval Joseph. He is big and stout. He is the type of big body that can occupy blockers and allow the linebackers to make plays. He is a run stopper that plays around the line scrimmage.

Linebackers
Linebackers Elsa/Getty Images

Linebackers

The linebacking corps have been a mess for several years. They were able to get by until last season. Chad Greenway is the only starting linebacker on this team. There are a lot of backups and special teams players in this unit on the Vikings roster.

The Vikings have already re-signed special teams standout Larry Dean and former Viking Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley will be able to compete for a spot in the middle, but he is probably better suited to be a backup. The team has a pair of former seventh round draft picks that have shown glimpses of success. However, they (Audie Cole and Michael Mauti) may also be better suited to be a backup.

The most likely starters on the outside opposite Greenway are second-year fourth round draft pick Gerald Hodges and Canadian Football League free agent signee Simoni Lawrence.

Here are the top five free agent linebackers that could start in the middle for the Vikings.

No. 1 - Jon Beason. Injuries keep him from being a more talked about free agent. He played and started all 16 games for the Carolina Panthers in each of his first four seasons in the league, but played just eight games over his final three seasons in Carolina. Last season, he played 12 games for the New York Giants. He is a good tackler, topping 100 total tackles in every season he played 16 games and 93 total tackles last season. He is versatile enough to play inside or outside. He would be a very good addition to play with Greenway.

No. 2 - Daryl Smith. He has been an underrated linebacker since joining the NFL in 2004. He recorded a career-high 123 total tackles, five sacks, 18 passes defensed and three interceptions last season for the Balitmore Ravens. He may not have many years left, but would be a very good addition to the Vikings linebacker corps.

No. 3 - Jameel McClain. He is still in the prime of his career and can be a very good defensive player. He was expected to replace Ray Lewis in the middle of the Ravens. However, he played just 10 games and recorded 52 total tackles and one forced fumble. He is a very good tackler and getting out of Baltimore may be good for him. Reports surfaced that he was going to visit the Vikings on Monday. No other information has come out. 

No. 4 - Karlos Dansby. He has had a very good NFL career. He may not have many years left in his career, but still made at least 100 total tackles in each of the last three seasons and five of the last six years. In addition to recording 122 tackles last season, he posted career-highs of 19 passes defensed and four interceptions. He can still be a defensive leader for a few years. 

No. 5 - Brandon Spikes. He has performed well in New England, but has not lived up to the hype. He was a highly-touted prospect out of Florida, which got him into the late second round. He is big and strong, but has only topped 90 total tackles once in his four-year NFL career. He may not have been as good as expected, but Mike Zimmer certainly can turn him into a Pro Bowl player.

Cornerbacks
Cornerbacks Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Cornerbacks

Much like the linebackers, the cornerbacks have not been very good. Chris Cook can be labeled a bust and will not be back. Josh Robinson is still a work in progress. Marcus Sherels is a quality depth corner, but is most valuable as a punt returner.

The lone bright spot was the emergence of first round draft pick Xavier Rhodes. Sherels and Robinson are capable of playing the reserve roles, but the Vikings need another starter and backup.

Here are the top five free agent cornerbacks that could start for the Vikings opposite Rhodes.

No. 1 - Alterraun Verner. He is clearly the top cornerback on the market. He is more of a cover guy than a physical presence. He posted a career-high five interceptions, including one for a touchdown, last season. He also posted a career-high 22 passes defensed. In two seasons as a 16-game starter, he has recorded 31 passes defensed and seven interceptions.

No. 2 - Vontae Davis. He is a stocky and physical corner that can take away half the field. He is a bit inconsistent, but could be a very good compliment to Rhodes. They are similar types of players, but Rhodes is a bit bigger.

No. 3 - Walter Thurmond. He really stepped up for the Seahawks last season with Brandon Browner out of the lineup. The knock on him may be his ability to stay on the field. He has yet to play more than 14 games in a season and has played in just 34 games over his four year career. He recorded his first career interception and touchdown last season.

No. 4 - Nolan Carroll. He is an under-the-radar guy that has a grown on me a bit. He has good size at 6-1 and 205-pounds. He posted career-highs with 11 passes defensed and three interceptions last season. He became a regular starter for this first time in his four-year career last season.

No. 5 - Brandon Ghee. He is familiar with Mike Zimmer and has skills. He was not able to show them much in his three seasons in Cincinnati. He played 23 games in his career, all as a reserve, and posted 17 tackles and five passes defensed.

Safeties
Safeties Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Safeties

The same can be said about the safeties as the linebackers and cornerbacks. Harrison Smith is the star, but the other guys are special teams players and backups. Mistral Raymond has the most starting potential of the group, but he has been inconsistent. Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo have both shown to be liabilities on defense and impact players on special teams. Sendejo was signed to an extension late last season.

Here are the top five free agent safeties that could start for the Vikings opposite Smith.

No. 1 - Antoine Bethea. He is a tackling machine that would be a good fit with Smith. He can play in the box, despite having less-than-ideal size. He has recorded at least 100 total tackles in each of the last four seasons and five of the last six. His least productive season was a 65 tackle campaign in an injury shortened 2007 season.

No. 2 - Donte Whitner. He is a physical safety that fits the strong safety role very well. He is very good in run support. He topped the 100 total tackle mark twice in his career, including 140 in 2010 - his last season with the Buffalo Bills.

No. 3 - Jairus Byrd. He is expected to be the most sought after safety on the market. Reports have him looking for $9 million per season. That is too much, but it only takes one team to make it happen. He has 22 interceptions in five seasons, including nine as a rookie.

No. 4 - Michael Huff. He is not the biggest safety, but has enough size and skills to be an impact safety. He has not been a star, but has had multiple seasons with at least 75 total tackles. He has 11 interceptions in eight games.

No. 5 - Taylor Mays. He is big and fast. He looks like a linebacker and runs like a defensive back. He is not the perfect player, but Mike Zimmer got something out of Mays, like he does out of every safety he coaches. He played only eight games last season and recorded 19 total tackles and three passes defensed.

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