At the heart of any mock draft is a process. A lot of times the process isn’t laid out, but usually the mocker is trying to fit needs to talent in order to fill as many spots as possible on a team—essentially using round one to fill the biggest need (if possible), round two to fill the next biggest need and so on. Many times, they’ll avoid that if the team they’re mocking for is near the top of the draft and there are some special players, but that’s the process.
In this mock draft, I’ll use Drafttek’s computer-driven mock that automates the process described above and should give us a good sense of who will be available at each pick—though after the fourth round, will be more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast rule.
When possible, I’ll pick players that meet the high-value scores I’ve derived for each position—look at the linebacker and wide receiver stories to learn more about using data to identify your best bets at those positions.
Also, instead of grabbing the most important need in round one, the next important need in round two and so on, we’ll use Zach Whitman’s work at 3SigmaAthlete.com to see which positions typically overperform their draft position in each round and grab those players in those rounds.
This means attempting to grab a receiver early, an offensive linemen or defensive back in the second and third rounds, defensive linemen in the fourth, fifth or sixth rounds and linebackers whenever. Per usual Vikings tradition, we’ll draft a fast linebacker in the seventh round to play special teams.
Pick 23: Michael Thomas, WR Ohio State
While we won’t be able to pick metric superstar Corey Coleman, I’ll deviate from the typical Vikings pick (and the one Drafttek selected in their model) and go with Thomas because of lower bust potential. Thomas is perhaps my favorite receiver in the class, and by now his well-known technical refinement has overshadowed his considerable athleticism—enough to earn an 8.7 athleticism grade in his workouts despite running a 4.57 40-yard dash, and a reason he is one of the best after-catch receivers in the class.
In fact, it’s a combination of his technical ability and underrated athleticism that set up so many of his YAC opportunities. Thomas’ ability to alter his catch technique to minimize drops and maximize his catch radius more than makes up for the dazzling vertical lift of a player like Doctson and creates an always-open target for Teddy Bridgewater.
On Day One, Thomas might be the best receiver in the class. He’s not just pro-ready; he has a lot of hidden upside. Too often, people think of technical refinement and see a somewhat limited receiver like Michael Crabtree. Sometimes, they should think of Antonio Brown.
Pick 54: Joshua Perry, LB OSU
We dip back into the Big Ten well, this time to get an answer at linebacker—replacing the outgoing, almost-retired Big Ten linebacker who manned the station for ten years.
In a more literal sense, 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.
His pick would be a continuation of the recent pattern of selecting high-character players in order to reestablish a strong locker room culture.
Pick 86: Germain Ifedi, OL Texas A&M
Honestly, it was shocking to see Ifedi available at pick 86, and given that the third and fourth rounds are somewhat of a sweet spot for offensive linemen and the right-sided blocker has the ability to start right away, so long as the scheme transition works out for him.
More likely, he’d be asked by whoever drafted him to sit a year and learn a more efficient technique as well as the kind of timing that comes in Sparano’s scheme, both as a pass protector and run blocker. But Ifedi is extremely smart, powerful and fast—things all teams value, but seemingly the Vikings more than others. Ifedi’s control and awareness put him a step above most “raw” tackles.
Still, he needs to hit first more often without hurrying and drive through the hips of blocks. Some see him as a guard-only, but he can honestly play either position. He will need time to learn how to slide in protection because honestly he looks more like he’s backpedaling, and that’s a great way to get bullrushed onto one’s ass.
Ifedi has the highest athleticism score of any tackle in this class, and like Clemmings would be an investment in athletic potential as much as it is faith in coach Tony Sparano.
Pick 121: Evan Boehm, OL Missouri
At this point, the Vikings will have Matt Kalil, Alex Boone, Brandon Fusco, Mike Harris, John Sullivan, T.J. Clemmings, Andre Smith, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Germain Ifedi and Evan Boehm on the squad, and none of them really seem like cut candidates (though with Kalil’s contract a sunk cost at this point, it could be him). That’s fine, the Vikings can roll into the season with a completely unbalanced roster on the offensive side of the ball knowing that at least five of those contracts will come off the books the next year without any penalty.
Boehm didn’t score as highly athletically as anyone else did (or will) in this mock, but neither is he at issue. He can play guard or center, making him just as versatile as the previous pick and it gives the Vikings a level of resiliency along the line even once they see an exodus of linemen next year.
The Missouri center would be another high-character pick, and he’s similar to a lot of Vikings acquisitions at center, like Brandon Fusco, Tom Farniok and Zac Kerin. Like them, Boehm was knocked as “undersized” coming out of the draft, but displays unusual upper body strength, and is not only the strongest center in this class, but probably tops a few other classes.
Boehm doesn’t have great movement, but his power allows him to take on nose tackles one-on-one, and is fantastic at power-blocking. He’s very aware, an intelligent center, and shows solid technique in pass protection and the run game. He doesn’t have the length, even at center, that NFL teams love, and his limited lateral ability is a big no-no historically (it is unusual for a center with such a slow short-shuttle time to do well), but he’s worth the risk.
Pick 160: Hassan Ridgeway, DT Texas
It would behoove the Vikings to select a mid-round defensive tackle for several reasons. Aside from the fact that mid-round defensive tackles may be the single best investment in the draft in general, Shamar Stephen needs competition and Tom Johnson is getting older. Adding depth along the defensive line is a good move, and Ridgeway could be the guy to do it.
Ridgeway may not seem like an all-purpose tackle at 307 pounds, but he really can play both DT positions. It’s extremely difficult to move him in the run game, even from double teams, and he flashes as a pass rusher from the three-technique spot. Not asked to rush the passer often, Ridgeway gets knocked for his pass-rushing capability, but on many plays isn’t asked to get after the quarterback, even after the defense knows whether it’s a run or pass. On third downs, he can really get to the QB.
The Texas defender embodies most of the buzzwords people use when describing good defensive tackles, and his knocks are largely about his physical condition: he’s suffered multiple injuries at Texas, and when on the field has had endurance issues, played fatigued at the end of games.
He’s not incredibly consistent, though perhaps one of the best run defenders in the class, and may need to play a rotational role because of it.
Pick 180: Sean Davis, CB/S Maryland
Sean Davis was another player I was shocked to see fall this late in the Drafttek mock and a guy who is a freak athlete gets to suit up next to Dirty Harry.
Davis has had a number of struggles in man coverage against quick receivers as a cornerback, but has played extremely well at safety for Maryland—manning up against tight ends just fine, and playing the short and deep zones very well. He’s aggressive and has some ball skills, while also showing pop in the run game—hitting harder than his teammates at linebacker.
He and Harrison Smith should have a time forcing fumbles; Davis forced five this year alone and led the team in solo tackles without too many of them coming in coverage as a corner.
He does have issues with run angles and wrapping up, but has also flashed good technique, too. He’ll likely have to tone it down in the NFL, but his attitude, athleticism, smarts and raw skills should be enticing for the Vikings.
Pick 240: Travis Feeney, LB Washington
Perhaps Travis Feeney will become who I wanted former teammate Shaq Thompson to be. Heavier, faster, more productive, more aggressive and more natural at the linebacker position, Feeney is one of the only linebackers in the mid-to-late rounds in CBS’ round grades to put up a score above 6.0.
He is the perfect example of the seventh-round linebacker pick the Vikings make for special teams purposes as he’s one of those bigger fast guys that excels in punt and kickoff coverage, and his hit stick ability is nice, too. It’s not just projection, either, as he was one of the team’s better special-teams players over the past four years.
Feeney’s production did take a hit this year as he was asked to play Hau’oli Kikaha’s rush linebacker position instead of his more natural off-ball linebacker position and in the NFL he will be asked to play off the ball—it’s an interesting transition, as he originally played safety. Moving from safety to linebacker is somewhat common, and moving from linebacker to defensive end is somewhat common, but going through the whole process is unusual and rare. If using his production scores from that linebacker year, he would have scored a 7.8 in the system.
He has cut down on a number of weaknesses he showed in 2014 without losing any of his advantages, wrapping up tackles better, coming off of blocks better while maintaining speed and aggressiveness.
He has a wiry frame and doesn’t really look like a linebacker, and he’d be limited to a weakside role in the NFL (which happens to be the role open for the Vikings at the moment). There are some strength concerns and though he cut down on broken tackles, there are elements of his tackling technique that need to be cleaned up.
Pick 244: Keith Marshall, RB
Originally, I had the Vikings drafting SPARQ superstar Connor Wujciak, and I still think he would be a steal in the seventh round. As it is, I’m waffling and had the Vikings picking Jonathan Williams in the fourth to pair with a DT here, but given how many shots the Vikings could take at running back to replace Adrian Peterson long-term, it makes more sense to spend a little less now on a talented back then more, and take advantage of the fact that fourth-round defensive tackles perform unusually well for their draft position.
Marshall had injuries dog his career, as well as the burden of competing for playing time against Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. When both Gurley and Marshall were healthy as freshman, most considered Marshall the better back. Marshall was ahead of Gurley on the preseason depth chart and outcarried him until the fifth game of the season.
While he never really was truly better than Gurley, when healthy he was better than Chubb and has showcased incredible patience, skill and technique at the RB position while playing powerfully and fast. “When healthy” is a big qualifier, however, and he missed two seasons because of a torn ACL.
The Vikings should look into him for no other reason than this: he has the single-best running back positional workout score since 2005, and the single-best Barnwell Speed Score in that same set. According to ESPN, it’s the best since 1999, setting a record over 18 years of data.
He showcases high-level talent and could make an argument as the third-best back in the class on film alone, falling short only in terms of lateral agility—which workout scores tell us may be an overblown weakness of his.
He has third-down skills, straight-line skills and can play as a power back or scatback.
If only he could remain healthy.