The NFL Draft is days away, and the time has grown critical for the Minnesota Vikings. The primary need for the team remains the same — finding the team's quarterback of the future.

The departure of Kirk Cousins during free agency to the Atlanta Falcons meant that finding their next quarterback had to come in this year's draft. Yes, they came up with a stop-gap quarterback in Sam Darnold, but he does not figure in the team's long-range plans. He will come into training camp as the team's starter, but if their rookie selection excels early on, Darnold could be relegated to backup status.

At this point, the six-pack of quarterbacks in the draft appears to have been narrowed to two. The Vikings appear to be most interested in Drake Maye of North Carolina and J.J. McCarthy of Michigan.

Caleb Williams of USC will almost certainly be selected by the Chicago Bears with the No. 1 pick, while the Washington Commanders appear to be enamored with Jayden Daniels of LSU with the No. 2 pick.

The third pick belongs to the New England Patriots and Eliot Wolf has indicated that the selection is in play. He announced last week that he would listen to all offers, and that appeared to be a direct request to the Vikings to make a serious offer.

If the Patriots are willing to accept the 11th and 23rd picks in the first round, the Vikings could complete a trade for that selection, and they could take Maye. The Minnesota coaching staff is quite familiar with Maye and they view him as a great quarterback for head coach Kevin O'Connell's system.

McCarthy also a solid fit for the Vikings

If they can't swing a deal for the No. 3 pick because it would cost too much — meaning a future first-round pick in addition to the two they have this year — they should have an excellent chance of making a deal with the Los Angeles Chargers for the No. 5 pick.

The Chargers have their quarterback in Justin Herbert, and he has the kind of arm that new head coach Jim Harbaugh can build his team around. The two Vikings first-round draft choices could be enough to secure that selection from Los Angeles.

If so, the Vikings could make a bold move and draft McCarthy. He does not come from a high-powered passing offense at Michigan, but he has a great understanding of winning football and has demonstrated great leadership.

He directed the Wolverines to the College Football Playoffs in each of the last two years and the national championship last season. McCarthy made the key plays that led to victory in the most important games, and that's why he appeals to the Vikings.

Cousins had excellent statistics and was well-liked by his teammates, but he rarely won crucial games against elite opponents. Scouts believe that McCarthy has the background to come through in those situations.

McCarthy completed 240 of 332 passes for 2,991 yards with 22 touchdowns and 4 interceptions last season. He also completed 208 of 322 passes for 2,719 yards with a 22-5 TD-interception ratio in the 2022 season. He also ran for eight touchdowns in the last two seasons.

Michael Penix and Bo Nix are respected by Vikings

The Vikings also like Michael Penix of Washington and Bo Nix of Oregon, but not to the extent that they see Maye and McCarthy fitting into their system.

If they get beaten to the punch on potential trades for the New England or Los Angeles Chargers picks, they might be forced to swallow hard and select either Penix or Nix, but that does not appear to be their preference.

While quarterback is the Vikings' top priority in the draft, they clearly have other needs. After their two first-round selections, the team's next two picks come in the fourth round. They have a strong need for interior defensive linemen who can penetrate and break down the opponent's pocket.

General manager Kwesi Adof0-Mensah needs to find defensive personnel that can continue to help defensive coordinator Brian Flores build an effective defense. In addition to their need for defensive tackles, the Vikings once again want to improve at the cornerback position.

Depth on the offensive line is also needed, particularly at guard and potentially at center. Finding a running back to join free agent Aaron Jones is also a possibility.