The Vikings are going to need some real luck to get the draft dominoes to fall in their favor. With major pieces to the puzzle still needing to be found, the front office is going to be put in a tough spot with no first round pick.
On top of that, Rick Spielman lost the coin flip, moving his draft slot back another two selections. While it may not sound like much, that very well could be the difference in guys like top-rated guard Dan Feeney, home-run threat Jabrill Peppers and rising and versatile offensive line prospect Dion Dawkins being available or not.
The fan base will have their fingers crossed that someone of significance and a first-round grade is able to fall in their lap.
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1ROUND 2, PICK 48
SELECTION: Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA
Before the Senior Bowl, I had safety Budda Baker here. However, the Washington product has since solidified himself as a Day 1 selection. Before the combine, it was Jabrill Peppers, but it seems more and more likely a team will be willing to take a shot on the boom-or-bust player with their second pick after a great showing in Indianapolis.
With those guys likely gone, I’ve now got my eyes set on McKinley. McKinley has shown some of the best abilities to get into the backfield and after the passer with his explosion, length and pass-rushing skills. However, throughout this pre-draft process, he has never once been considered a lock to hear his name called on Day 1 of the draft.
For one, McKinley still lacks a defined position, as coaches are still trying to assess where they can best maximize his skill set. Secondly, McKinley was forced to have shoulder surgery after the combine, leaving his timetable to see the field ranging from 4-to-6 months. While he will still undoubtedly suit up for the 2017 season, the fact he will start out of the gate slowly after missing all of rookie OTAs and training camp will put a sour note in teams’ mouths, causing him to slide (in my personal estimation) another 10-15 spots.
McKinley measured in at 6-foot-2, meaning he will be a stand-up linebacker in the NFL, and it just so happens the Vikings have been looking for a fresh new linebacker to complete their 4-3 since Zimmer took over. After taking stabs on late-round fliers like Brandon Watts and Edmond Robinson, they found out the hard way most times than not you just get what you pay for.
Despite being one of the league’s best defenses in multiple categories, the Vikings run defense was average at best down the stretch thanks to the sluggish play of Chad Greenway and a plethora of injuries up and down the roster.
Adding McKinley to the mix fills a big position of need that is greater than the fan base has let on this offseason. Despite most teams now playing in the nickel package a healthy part of time, teams that get behind early in games and can’t stop the run (remind you of anyone down the stretch?) are forced to stay in their base package, forcing that third linebacker on the field far more than expected.
Bottom line, McKinley isn’t a polished or complete linebacker quite yet. However, he possesses a twitchy frame with great length, a high motor and a tremendously athletic pass rushing skill set that can also drop back and spy the quarterback.
With 66 tackles his senior year along with 10 sacks and 18 TFLs, McKinley gives Zimmer another weapon in his front-seven, allowing him to start to get ultra creative in his looks and disguises and become the defensive mad scientist we know he can be.
2ROUND 3, PICK 80
SELECTION: Isaac Asiata, OG, Utah
The Vikings offensive line single-handedly held the team back from a winning record and making a serious playoff push in 2016. Riddled with injuries and poor backup play, this unit never had a chance and hindered the offense into developing into what it hoped it could be back in training camp. While it wasn’t the big names some of the fan base hoped, the bottom line is Spielman checked off the biggest priority of the free agency period, which was adding not one, but two new starters to the offensive line.
This was such a high priority, not just because of the dire need for fresh blood to replace guys like Matt Kalil, Andre Smith and T.J. Clemmings, but because it now allows Spielman to head into the draft with the luxury of staying true to his board and not forced to reach in one of the worst tackle classes we’ve ever seen. But, while Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers are nice acquisitions, the job of rebuilding this wretched unit is still only halfway done.
With starter Brandon Fusco released and Joe Berger realistically playing his last quality season, the team still needs to add one more legitimate starter on the inside, while adding another quality piece to provide depth so if (and when) another avalanche of injuries takes place, the team still has a fighting chance to stay competitive.
So why Asiata? When I think of Zimmer I think of one thing: old school football. That starts where it always has — in the trenches. The Vikings need some new tiger blood inside the offensive trenches that can, for lack of a better term, whoop some ass (cue the Stone Cold Steve Austin music). Asiata (the cousin of running back Matt) is 325 lbs. of beef that snaps off the ball and explodes into the gut of his opponent with sheer power (he led his group with 35 bench reps at the combine). With surprising athleticism and movement skills, Asiata is a well-equipped pass blocker, too. His bread and butter, however, is finding someone close and knocking them on their ass.
Asiata keeps his head on a swivel and is constantly looking for extra work, something that was nowhere to be found last year on the Vikings offensive line. Asiata will give this team a new sense of power, nastiness and confidence in a run game that was atrocious in short yardage situations. Now, with Alex Boone and Asiata, Zimmer can sleep well at night, knowing his linemen can get the job done with some extra push and help move the chains on 3rd-and-1. Nobody will appreciate this more than the head coach and a defense that became exhausted at the halfway point after carrying the team on its back drive after drive. Punch out and take your lunch break, boys, the new moving company is here to get the job done.
3ROUND 3, PICK 86
SELECTION: Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
Listen, I know it’s not fun, or sexy. In fact, it’s boring. But fixing this offensive line is by far the No. 1 priority this offseason — by a landslide. Think back to a 5-0 start, when the injuries started to mount, how many critical situations were blown and went the other team’s way because of the offensive line’s inability to simply block the person in front of them?
That can’t happen again and this entire organization from the top to the bottom knows it, which is why even after the signings of Reiff and Remmers, I fully expect two of the Vikings’ first three picks will continue to rebuild the unit by adding more young talent and depth.
I had my eyes on Pocic from the first day down in Mobile, as I was highly intrigued just how a 6-foot-6 center would be able to hold up against top-tier competition. Pocic impressed me with how technically sound he was from his footwork and base to his hand work. From top to bottom, I thought Pocic did more than just hold his own thanks to his technique and fundamentals against other big names like Florida’s Carlos Watkins, Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson and UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes.
A guy with outstanding awareness for the position, Pocic strung together a team-best 680 straight snaps played dating back to his sophomore season. He also led his team with 92 knockdowns while allowing just one sack during his tenure (while seeing time at three positions). Pocic is not the biggest guy on the field (although he is abnormally tall for an interior lineman) and will need to put on muscle if he wants to have the strength for some of the NFL’s best — like division foe Mike Daniels.
What he lacks in strength, though, Pocic gains in efficient movement skills like winning with leverage. Pocic will instantly improve the interior of the offensive line in both the run and the pass. However, why I love this selection so much for the Vikings is because of his size. It may behoove the Vikings to test him out at tackle first; if he doesn’t have the feet or quickness, no harm, no foul. But finding a potential tackle prospect with the kind of football IQ and fundamentals like Pocic in such a weak class could be a major hidden gem for Spielman and his staff for the future.
You still know what you’re getting as an interior lineman and what a solid addition he would be on the inside. Regardless, much like Cody Whitehair from last season, Pocic is going to quench the team’s thirst for an ultra-versatile backup, being able to step in wherever he is needed and help the team remain highly competitive. After a season of tutelage under his belt, I’d be hard pressed to assume Pocic won’t be in the starting lineup in 2018; he’s just that good.
4ROUND 4, PICK 121
SELECTION: Chris Godwin, WR, Penn St.
It’s crazy to watch how much can change in just one offseason. Entering the 2016 draft the Vikings had just one or two pressing needs and had the luxury to take the best player available regardless of their position, like Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander. Now, after a freak injury to their emerging quarterback and an offseason that’s seen a huge chunk of big name players depart for new-colored jerseys elsewhere, the front office will be forced to use all of their Day 3 selections on replenishing countless positions for key backup and depth roles.
With only so many picks at hand, they will have to choose between replacing guys like Rhett Ellison, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson on offense, or guys like Captain Munnerlyn, Greenway and Audie Cole on defense. With a lot of questions surrounding Laquon Treadwell and the role he is capable of taking on, the team will be forced to draft a wide receiver somewhere on draft weekend.
Godwin is a prime example of what this class offers at the position, as there aren’t many true No. 1-type wideouts, but it does offer a tremendous amount of Nos. 2-3-type guys. Godwin makes the most out of his 6-foot-1 frame with great jump ball and boxing out skills. He does so with a certain type of physicality which was on display at the combine, putting up 19 bench reps, which led all wideouts. Godwin also posted some impressive quickness numbers with a 4.41 40 and 4.00 20-yard shuttle (another positional best).
Although he was clearly the team’s No. 1 passing target, Godwin still posted just average production for the Nittany Lions thanks to inconsistent quarterback play. Therefore, Godwin doesn’t have a ton of stellar tape to launch him into the top-100 discussion. Godwin has been rising since the combine, though, and will be a great low-risk selection on Day 3. While he doesn’t have any one attribute that he excels at, Godwin can jump into the mix as the Vikings’ fifth receiver in camp (behind Jarius Wright) and fight his way up the chart. Hopefully, he’ll earn the trust of Pat Shurmur early on, giving the team some breathing room and options to play with in multiple wide receiver sets.
5ROUND 4, PICK 129
SELECTION: Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Just say “UCLA” and you’ve got Spielman’s attention. The general manager has plucked plenty of prospects from the Bruins roster in his tenure. While tight end and running back are garnishing a lot of buzz as both the best and deepest positions of the draft, it’s actually the cornerback group that is richer top to bottom and is going to give teams some serious options of talent much later through draft weekend.
Point in case here as Moreau is a great talent that could realistically be a number two starter on a handful of teams his rookie year. With good size at 6-feet, 200 lbs., Moreau was left on an island most of his final year where he excelled at man coverage. Like Alexander, though, he gets docked for not being able to turn many of his 25 PBUs into interceptions (just one).
The fact remains, in a pass-happy league you just can’t have enough of these guys, and the Vikings are just one injury away from calling on a backup like this to play a serious role. While Moreau himself may not be here this late in the draft, the cornerback position is so deep that someone with a similar skill set and equal talent will be, making it just too great of value to pass up at this point in the draft.
6ROUND 5, PICK 160
SELECTION: Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International
Talk to any draft expert and they’ll tell you this 2017 draft class is one of the better slates of talent we’ve seen in awhile. That’s going to force players like Smith down the slopes further than he’d drop any other year. While the Vikings already possess an in-line blocking tight end in David Morgan II, Smith is of the athletic kind that will be a true weapon in the passing game.
At 6-foot-3, 248 lbs., Smith plays with one speed and one speed only — fast. While a 4.62 may not sound like a weapon, per se, Smith moves tremendously well for a 250-pound tight end and gets over the top of linebackers with great burst up the field. Smith is a treat to watch in the red zone, too, with his 38-inch vertical jump that he uses to get up and over smaller defenders.
Shurmur would be wise to throw Smith both in the slot and out wide on the boundary like he tried doing with Kyle Rudolph in the past. With a lot of question marks at the receiver position and an overall lack of size, Smith will be a huge asset for Sam Bradford while alleviating some pressure off the group of wideouts on both the outside and in the red zone.
7ROUND 6, PICK 199
SELECTION: Isaac Rochell, DL, Notre Dame
The Senior Bowl is a great opportunity to allow players to showcase their talent against the players they will ultimately be going up against at the next level. Not a highly acclaimed kid or big name heading into the pre-draft process, Rochell woke me up a few times at practice in Mobile, winning against his man with, simply put, a non-stop motor.
A guy who plays with a 100 percent intensity and a full tank of gas, Rochell surprised his man time and time again with his energetic effort. That alone could be enough for Zimmer to try and mold. However, Rochell’s ability to play both the tackle position and outside is always something that both he and Spielman look for in their players.
The team was hopeful 2015 sixth-round pick from Louisville B.J. Dubose would play a similar role before tearing his ACL, but they must find a new player who can now fill that void.
8ROUND 7, PICK 232
SELECTION: Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
You’d be a fool not to love this running back class with unique talents like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey — all of whom will be first-round picks. But, I am in that camp that says wait on this position until the mid-to-late rounds, helping maximize your value at other positions earlier. With Jerick McKinnon’s speed out in open space, I’m looking to add a bruiser that can pound the rock in between the tackles effectively, while wearing down defenses late into games and keep the defense fresh.
The signing of Latavius Murray may mean the team now waits late into the draft to select another pair of fresh legs to help collectively replace the production Adrian Peterson once had. Hood has tickled my fancy as of late when he originally popped off the tape when cutting up film of wideout and teammate Ryan Switzer.
Hood was an absolute workhorse and displayed great physicality. He may just be a north and south runner in between the tackles, but on tape, I saw a guy at 5-foot-11, 232 lbs. that was a load to bring down and made defenders work their ass off every carry.
That’s a guy I want to share the load and complement McKinnon’s speed and quickness. With a revamped offensive line, Hood can be a guy you lean on 20 times a game when needed to grind down a defense and finally win those short-yardage situations, especially late in games.