There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to generate mock drafts for your favorite team. Picking names out of a hat might be just as accurate as painstakingly going through player tendencies and team pressers to see who might be the best fit for a team.
Still, to some extent, mock drafts can provide a useful proxy for what a writer thinks of a team’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their opinion of the draft.
Because the draft is ultimately an auction—with teams spending draft capital instead of money—it’s possible to model the best possible selection the team can make if you feed the model with certain assumptions.
In this case, a simple solver function can be used to take into account some of the things I’ve talked about in the last few articles, from the idea of scarcity to the differences between evaluating and forecasting. If we assign players variables based on the number of snaps they’ll be expected to take with the Vikings, how important a position is (based on how teams have drafted that position in the past) and how highly they’re ranked in each board, we can come up with rough values for players.
After that, it’s a matter of identifying which players the Vikings are most likely to target at those positions. Using the positional cutoffs that Minnesota has largely used to select players, based on workouts and measurements, we can isolate a set of 92 players the Vikings may draft from despite originally starting with 300.
Once the model has a player’s “value”, the pick range they’ll be expected to go in based on our forecaster board, and the Vikings “needs,” we can generate a potential mock based on what the draft looks like—one that automatically takes into account talent cliffs, positional depth and the the overall preference for good early players to late players.
In this case, the model was restricting to drafting between eight and ten players and needed to draft between one and two receivers, two linebackers—one early and one late—one safety and somewhere between one and zero quarterbacks, centers, guards, tackles, interior defenders, edge defenders, running backs, tight ends and cornerbacks.
To see a quick example, look at how the model picked for other teams, based off of input I received from some team writers I follow:
Let’s see who it picked for the Vikings.
Josh Doctson, WR TCU
Vikings fans are well aware of Josh Doctson, so there doesn’t need to be much said. He’s a tall, jump-ball receiver who plays with excellent intuition and at times surprising play strength. Despite that, he’ll need to add bulk and improve the more technical aspects of his route-running in order to contribute at the next level, but he has the potential to be a star.
Josh Perry, LB Ohio State
We’ve picked Josh Perry for the Vikings before, in our data-driven mock draft and it looks like a model that doesn’t take any of that data into account also likes Perry. Here’s what we wrote last time:
The Vikings may rather he plays as a middle linebacker while Eric Kendricks kicks outside. Really, given the multiplicity of talent on the linebacking corps, finding three good linebackers comes before finding their exact roles on the field. Perry rarely misses a tackle, but does play stiffer than teammate Darron Lee. If the Vikings exclusively value sideline range, Perry could be a tough sell, but he certainly takes on blocks and defends the run better than his counterpart.
He has quite a few issues in coverage to the sidelines, but he shows very good strength, technique, instincts and awareness.
Jalen Mills, S Louisiana State
While Mills played both cornerback and safety in college, he may be best suited for safety at the next level, in part because he doesn’t have the requisite straight-line speed to be a corner, but does meet all the physical requirements to be a safety—including incredible agility.
That agility allows Mills to get away with diagnosis errors and will even do so in the NFL, though it’s obviously better if he reduces those errors as he works with NFL DB coaches. He has a good feel for how routes develop and how to attack different passing concepts, so he has a solid foundation to work off of. He’s a strong player and a powerful hitter who closes quickly in zones and reacts well to the ball in the air, but will need to work on tackling angles and his form.
Though he has cornerback experience (outside and in the slot), he has some discomfort in man coverage that reduces his versatility. If he bulks up a little bit, he can retain his quickness and be fine in man coverage against tight ends but still wouldn’t be an ideal slot player.
Willie Henry, DT Michigan
Once again, the model picks a player that we’ve previously mocked to the Vikings. What we said then:
The thing I like about him in a Mike Zimmer defense is that he could gain weight to be impactful as a run stuffer or lose weight to be like a prototypical three-technique, like how Zimmer asked Sharrif Floyd to drop weight, or how he didn’t ask Geno Atkins to gain weight in Cincinnati.
He was a versatile player for the Wolverines, but in Minnesota will likely feature as a back three-technique and rotation nickel-down pass-rusher. He needs technical work and occasionally lacks awareness in the run game, but is generally pretty athletic and long while maintaining his fundamental assignments very well.
Jack Allen, C Michigan State
Supposedly undersized, many might pigeonhole him for zone schemes that don’t fit the current Tony Sparano-coached Vikings, but he would fit in much better into the power scheme Minnesota may be developing—in part because of athletic weaknesses that limit him in zone schemes but also because of his strengths as a drive blocker.
Allen has fantastic balance and a keen understanding of leverage and blocking angles, and that pairs well with his solid upper and lower-body technique. That pairs well with his underrated strength and his nasty play. A smart player who made all the line calls at Michigan State, Allen has also filled in at guard and tackle.
His athletic limitations shouldn’t be glossed over, however. His second-level blocking suffers because of it and he’s limited on screens and pulls. “Impossible” assignments typically given to centers can be achieved with enough athletic ability, but Allen doesn’t possess that general capability. Still, his ability to drive, his balance and his awareness make him a potential starter a few years down the road.
Jonathan Williams, RB Arkansas
Despite his injuries at Arkansas, Jonathan Williams is very likely the better of the two Razorback ballcarriers declaring for the draft—and Alex Collins (or Mitchell Findlay?) could be quite good. He missed the year because of those injuries and that’s worth monitoring, but Williams’ versatility and power should not be ignored.
Williams has the requisite size to be the long-term solution alongside Jerick McKinnon to create a classic power/shiftiness committee once Adrian Peterson is gone, but Williams can be a lead back by himself if need be. He’s surprisingly agile for a big man and shows excellent footwork both before and after hitting the line of scrimmage.
Despite the stereotypes that come with players of his size and punishing running style, Williams is also a surprisingly advanced route runner and can contribute as a pass-catcher or as an excellent pass blocker.
He doesn’t have amazing top-end speed (though he was one of three running backs this year to have a high enough SPARQ score to be a Vikings consideration) and he’ll need to improve ball security, but the biggest question will be his foot injury. If that is answered satisfactorily, the team that picks him will be pretty happy.
Joe Haeg, OT North Dakota State
Tall and somewhat thin for an offensive linemen, Haeg represents a lot of potential that the Vikings can hope to rely on in the future as they develop additional offensive linemen behind the worrisome group of starters.
Haeg potentially has a maxed out frame, in which case his prospects could be limited, but for now, his athletic ability to move in space, awareness to pick up blitzes or adjust protections and quick, developed footwork, make him less of a project than most late-round linemen (or small-school linemen).
While he showed requisite strength in the FCS, there are some questions about how someone with his frame will transition in the NFL and he’ll have to answer those strength questions before getting onto the field.
Still, the clay to be molded is there—he doesn’t need much technical work and if an NFL weight room can bulk him up, he can help a team.
Jatavis Brown, LB Akron
In mocks, it’s always best to select a late-round linebacker with speed in the hopes that they can compete on special teams. While I’m a big fan of second-year player Edmond Robinson, it’s a pattern that’s difficult to ignore for Minnesota.
In this case, it can be Travis Feeney from Washington, Aaron Wallace from UCLA or Jatavis Brown from Akron.
Brown is undersized at 221 pounds, but makes up for it with incredible hitting power and speed. He has fantastic sideline-to-sideline capability and he complements his hard running and powerful hitting with excellent finishing.
His designation as a potential special-teamer would fit his role at Akron, and his passion for special teams may be surprising but was well known among scouts and coaches there.
While an astounding special-teamer at Akron, he will still need to clean up some parts of his tackling form and stop leading with the helmet. He also has some serious size issues and not just his weight. His height and arm length can cause problems for him as a potential on-field defender and he has shown quite a few issues shedding blocks.
Still, for a late-round special teams role, the Vikings could do much, much worse.
Dean Lowry, Defensive end Northwestern
Lowry is another player we’ve selected before. What we said then:
Lowry is one of the best athletes in this year’s draft and the fact that the consensus board lists him so low is a surprise in my eyes. He requires a lot of technical work, but there are times in his game that people assume he can’t get off the ball as a result of his assignment, rather than his natural ability. He’s asked to hold his lane despite his one-gap responsibility and could transition to a 3-4 defensive end very well but for the Vikings will be a hybrid defensive end/tackle.
There’s technical work to clean up for Lowry, but the instincts and athleticism are there. He had 20 passes deflected at the line of scrimmage throughout his career and has shown the mobility to drop into space on stunts. His length is a big concern, as are his limited array of pass-rush moves, but the potential is there for him to develop into a supersub along the line.
Kevon Seymour, CB USC
Seymour is relatively short for a cornerback (but not the 5’9″ head coach Mike Zimmer apparently hates) and also struggles with shorter arms. That didn’t stop the Vikings from drafting Kendall James, and the thought process for Seymour may be the same—and he may be more appealing given his higher athletic potential and ability, even after adjusting for his size.
Seymour’s athleticism is obvious on the field and he shows fine intuition as well as a smart understanding offensive passing concepts, but is far behind his peers from a technical perspective while showing a propensity for grabbiness that will hurt more than help his team.
He plays a little undisciplined and has an injury history to worry about, but he should provide good competition in camp.