There’s a lot to take down here, so rather than write an enlightening introduction, here are some quick notes on this year’s draft, some of the Vikings tendencies, and ultimately who might join the Vikings for 2019 and beyond.
Always, always, always take the best player available
Teams need good football players, it’s that simple. I think most can agree that an average guard being available at 18 for the Vikings (and they don’t currently have a left guard), doesn’t mean you pass up a potential All-Pro at another position. When forcing need, in a few short years, you’ll end up with a minimal impact player like Laquon Treadwell, while another team reaps the benefits of Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack.
The second reason is that everyone is one injury away from a need at a position. We won’t get into jinxing any players before the season starts, but think about the Vikings starters at each position, and if a certain player was hurt, who would replace them. Best player available helps to mitigate the drop off in such scenarios, even if it’s at the expense of instant gratification.
There are rules to best player available, though. For instance, say the Vikings are set to pick at 18 and Michigan LB Devin Bush is available, as well as NC State C Garrett Bradbury. If the Vikings have Bush ranked slightly higher, but still have a high grade on Bradbury, it probably makes sense to take Bradbury, who fills a need at a minimal drop off in perceived talent. The goal is to ensure the Vikings are getting an 18th overall caliber player or better. Once you start to fill need, you’re devaluing your selection and making your team worse.
The Vikings do need an offensive lineman
Duh. While opinions vary, and this list is far from absolute, there are probably eight top offensive linemen before the rankings start to differ and experts begin to question their ability to start immediately:
- Jawaan Taylor, Florida
- Jonah Williams, Alabama
- Andre Dillard, Washington St.
- Garrett Bradbury, NC State
- Cody Ford, Oklahoma
- Chris Lindstrom, Boston College
- Dalton Risner, Kansas St.
- Erik McCoy, Texas A&M
Just missing the cut are Washington’s Kaleb McGary and Mississippi St’s Elgton Jenkins. It’s almost necessary for the Vikings to take an offensive lineman early, and any of these eight would provide value with one of their first two picks, with some more highly sought than others. It’s also very possible each of these players are gone before the Vikings make their second-round selection at 50th overall.
On the flip side, an offensive lineman may not solve all of the Vikings woes. NFL.com’s Cynthia Frelund wrote an analytical mock draft, solely with the intention to see which players would make the largest impact on a team’s win total for the 2019 season. She went with Jeffery Simmons, the DT out of Mississippi St who is recovering from a torn ACL, and CB Amani Oruwariye out of Penn St. Simmons is such a high talent that even if he joins the team for only a few games this season (because of the ACL), he may prove to be a bigge rdifference maker than an offensive lineman that plays all 16 games, showing the potential inflated value of the position.
Just because it looks good on paper…
Doesn’t mean it’s good on the field. Offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Dalton Risner have similar rankings among draft pundits, but that’s not to say they’ll be the same pros. Say the Vikings take Lindstrom at 18, while another team takes Risner at 35. This will look unfavorable initially, but it’s far from guaranteed what kind of professional football players these players will be.
Look back at the 2012 Draft when the Vikings took Matt Kalil 4th overall. Kalil was ranked way ahead of 23rd overall pick Riley Reiff. The Kalil selection made the Vikings immediately look better on paper, but fast forward six years later, and Reiff is the better pro and coincidentally replaced the inefficient Kalil for the Vikings. Just because Player A and Player B are ranked the same/different doesn’t mean that’s how their careers will play out.
Non-OL that would be welcome additions
Every year, there is a player or two that gets selected earlier than anticipated. There will likely be a consensus top-10 talent that is available at 18. Here are a few names that would fit the bill, as well as some second rounders that I’d like to see in purple:
- Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida St – One of the most athletic pass rushers in the draft, Burns would provide the Vikings with an exceptional pass rush rotation, eventually being the incumbent to Everson Griffen
- Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan – Opinions are mixed on Gary, another athletic freak with top-10 potential. Considered to be ‘raw’ and more of an athlete than a football player, the Vikings could turn him into a star as he takes over the spot Sheldon Richardson’s vacated. The downside of Gary is that he was recently flagged with a labrum issue that might require surgery, which may be enough to scare off the Vikes.
- Greedy Williams, CB, LSU – A corner? In the first round? Greedy Williams is the consensus top corner in the draft. In a scenario he is drafted, I’d imagine Trae Waynes is out the door. All-Pro talent. Best Player Available? Nickname ‘Greedy’. Can’t miss.
- Iowa TEs (Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson) – Hockenson would be a ‘steal’ at 18 and would kill two birds with one stone. He is a well-rounded tight end that would not only help in the passing game, but blocking, as well. Fant, on the other hand, is more athletic and has a high ceiling as a receiving tight end. Where Hockenson would compare to the likes of Kyle Rudolph, Fant would complement him.
- Clemson DL (Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence)- To me, the Clemson DL are the safest picks of the draft. Wilkins would be Sheldon Richardson’s replacement Day 1. Ferrell doesn’t have much buzz around his name but is a solid EDGE rusher in his own right. Dexter Lawrence would be the second coming of Linval Joseph. Any one of these players would be an instant contributor.
- Jerry Tillery , DT, Notre Dame – Tillery is a massive defensive lineman that may go higher than predicted. With similar measurables to Chiefs’ All-Pro DT Chris Jones, Tillery would also be an instant replacement to Sheldon Richardson with immense room to grow.
- Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina – Deebo is my favorite wide receiver in the draft, mostly because he draws comparisons to Stefon Diggs. He would give the Vikings a versatile receiving corps and become another playmaker for Kirk Cousins. If available in the second round, my ideal start to the draft would be Jonah Williams + Deebo.
- Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M – Sternberger is another name that should be around in the second. Similar to Fant and known for his receiving ability, he would complement Kyle Rudolph in 2019 and give the team insurance if they decided to move on from Rudy next year.
- Taylor Rapp, S, Washington – Rapp is a luxury pick, but he’s also been called Harrison Smith-lite. The Vikings grabbing him in the second round wouldn’t upset me, even though it is not a pressing need. Zimmer would find a way to get Rapp on the field.
Enough of all that, who are we taking?
To figure out how the draft may play out, we’re going to use three criteria. The first is the Vikings pre-draft visits documented by our own Sean Borman. Last year, Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and practice squad player Jeff Badet all met with the Vikings pre-draft, and it is well documented that they often bring in some of their early picks and late round fliers for a visit.
The second is Rick Spielman’s tendencies, which are outlined below. In his 12 drafts with the Vikings this is the breakdown of where Spielman has selected each position. One thing of note is that Spielman has only taken one defensive lineman in the first two rounds of the draft (Shariff Floyd), which is notable as Floyd was an example of a draft-day slide that presented extreme value to the Viking when they selected him 23rd overall. For the defensive line, Spielman often waits until the middle rounds, where he takes a swing at an athletic, moldable lineman. Think Danielle Hunter (3rd) Everson Griffen (4th) and Brian Robsion (4th). There are other patterns, as well (early cornerbacks):
The final help is Arif Hasan’s consensus big board, which allows us to best pinpoint which rounds these players are projected to go in
Put that all together with the Vikings needs and we end up with a breakdown of the following:
- Round 1:Jonah Williams OL (Alabama) ; Andre Dillard OL (Washington St) ; Garrett Bradbury OL (NC State) ; Cody Ford OL (Oklahoma) Chris Lindstrom OL (Boston College) ; Noah Fant TE (Iowa) ; Jeffrey Simmons DT (Mississippi St)
- Round 2:Jace Sternberger TE (Texas A&M) ; Dalton Risner OL (Kansas St) ; Greg Little OL (Ole Miss) Charles Omenihu DL (Texas) ; LJ Collier DL (TCU) ; Deebo Samuel WR (South Carolina) ; Tytus Howard OL (Alabama St) ; Kaleb McGary OL (Washington)
- Rounds 3-4: Ben Banogu EDGE (TCU) ; Maxx Crosby EDGE (Eastern Michigan) ; Amani Hooker S (Iowa) ; Isaiah Johnson CB (Houston) ; Blake Cashman LB (Minnesota) ; Nate Davis OL (Charlotte) ; Michael Jordan OL (Ohio State) ; Dawson Knox TE (Ole Miss); Josh Oliver TE (San Diego St) ; Trysten Hill DT (UCF)
- Round 5-7: Stanley Morgan Jr. WR (Nebraska) ; Devine Ozigbo (Nebraska) ; Justin Hollins EDGE (Oregon) ; Brett Rypien QB (Boise St) ; Nick Fitzgerald QB/TE (Miss St) ; Jalen Hurd WR (Baylor) ; Andrew Beck TE (Texas) ; Derrick Baity Jr. CB (Kentucky) ; Terrill Hanks LB (New Mexico St) ; Ryan Connelly LB (Wisconsin) ; Trey Pipkins OL (Sioux Falls)
My Best Guess at the Vikings Draft
One final note I want to make is that the Vikings should anticipate having an additional third-round pick, received as compensation for the departure of Sheldon Richardson. This additional flexibility could be used by Spielman to move up in the second, should he miss out on an offensive lineman at 18.
I think as a result, you’ll see some movement by Spielman. I’d project the top three linemen to be off the board, in which case the first choice would be to trade back, accumulate some capital, then take the best player available. Depending on what position they select in the first, it’s very possible we see some upward movement from their original slot at 50 in the 2nd round. Here’s my best guess:
- 1st Round – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
- 2nd Round – Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas St
- 3rd Round – Isaiah Johnson, CB, Houston
- 4th Round – Maxx Crosby, EDGE, Eastern Michigan
- 6th Round – Stanley Morgan Jr, WR, Nebraska
- 6th Round – Trey Pipkins, OL, Sioux Falls
- 7th Round – Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska
- 7th Round – Ryan Connelly, LB, Wisconsin
- I think the first two picks will be offensive line-pass catcher, so take your pick of any combination that fits. With the top three offensive linemen (Williams, Taylor, Dillard) off the board, Spielman will use the value at 18 to select a top tier tight end
- Scrambling for an offensive lineman, he finds a suitor in the late-first or early-second to grab Risner
- The one player who may surprise is Jeffery Simmons. Simmons is a top-5 prospect who tore his ACL in the pre-draft process. Passing up a player of his magnitude may prove too difficult for the Vikings, though having back-to-back first rounders with ACL Tears (Mike Hughes) might be enough for them to shy away.
- After going back to back picks on offense, he lets Zimmer take over in rounds three and four. Isaiah Johnson has the Zimmer cornerback profile and if he’s around in round three, I’d expect him to be the pick. His athletic profile draws comparisons to Xavier Rhodes. In a similar light, Crosby is the athletic defensive lineman that the Vikings have become accustomed to taking in the middle rounds, with an athletic profile similar to that of Brian Robison
- Morgan and Ozigbo are camp bodies out of Nebraska, where Spielman’s son, JD, plays
- Pipkins and Connelly are depth pieces, as Pipkins adds some OL competition and Connelly is the linebacker that Spielman always takes in the seventh.