After a grueling ending to what was once a promising start to the 2016 season, it’s time to officially put that behind us, ending the first chapter in the US Bank Stadium Era.
After losing his starting quarterback to what can only be described as a freak accident during non-contact drills, Mike Zimmer would say something in his post-practice press conference that would ironically ring true throughout the entire year.
“No matter how bad things get, the world keeps spinning, and the sun keeps coming up.”
He certainly wasn’t wrong. In what will go down as one of the most bizarre seasons in franchise history, players and fans were all reminded of that pivotal reality. After a 5-0 start, the Vikings joined a select group of teams that didn’t go on to make the playoffs.
The offensive line will be the focal point heading into the offseason, as you could argue the team could justify having four completely new starters on the unit, with everyone being expendable but newly-signed guard Alex Boone. Outside of him, players like Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco and Joe Berger all may not be with the team next year for various reasons. Knowing that the offensive line was one of the worst in both the running and passing game with two of the three linemen mentioned above playing 28 combined games puts things into perspective with just how much trouble this position group is in.
Expect general manager Rick Spielman to put the majority of his draft pick eggs into the offensive line basket come draft weekend. However, adding a play-making safety next to Harrison Smith and a replacement for Chad Greenway are also on the list.
A lot will change from now until after the Senior Bowl, when I will be able to get an up-close look at some of this year’s top prospects, but for now here is an exclusive look at the first edition of my Vikings’ mock draft.
ROUND 2, PICK 46
SELECTION: S Budda Baker, Washington
It’s a crying shame the Vikings have been unable to find someone with the proper skill-set to play across from Pro Bowler Harrison Smith. This would allow coaches to use Smith in more unique ways at and around the line of scrimmage similar to the way Troy Polamalu played in Pittsburgh. Search no more, as Baker is a pure center fielder that has the speed and instincts to shut down opposing teams’ vertical passing games.
Baker started every game as a true freshman and never looked back, becoming one of the best defenders in a ferocious Huskies lineup. If Baker was two inches taller and weighed close to 220 he wouldn’t fall out of the first 12 picks. Teams, however, are a little put off by his thinned frame and small size for the NFL. If he can continue to build up his frame and prove he has the strength and toughness for the longevity of the NFL game, then Baker is a steal here in the middle of the second round, giving Mike Zimmer his final piece to the puzzle in building his young defense.
ROUND 3, PICK 80
SELECTION: C/OG Ethan Pocic, LSU
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 from developing into what it hoped it could be back in training camp. Now, with huge question marks littered throughout the offseason like the possible departure of Matt Kalil and the futures of Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco, Spielman will be forced to look to the draft to bring in guys who can get the job done.
Pocic is a name you must get yourself familiar with right now as he is sure to create some buzz for himself down at the Senior Bowl. A true center with outstanding awareness for the position, Pocic strung together a team-best 680 straight snaps played dating back to his sophomore season. He also leads his teammates with 92 knockdowns while allowing just one sack during his tenure (while playing three different 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 is a Day 1 starter that will instantly improve the interior of the offensive line in both the run and the pass. I have him projected to come in and start at right guard in training camp, but this addition allows the team not to be pigeon-holed at the center position if and when Berger decides to hang it up.
ROUND 3, PICK 85
SELECTION: OT Dion Dawkins, Temple
Dawkins is another guy that might not drop this far after being given the opportunity to shine down in Mobile, Ala. at the end of the month. Dawkins is already starting to garner some serious media attention thanks to his massive frame and unique athletic ability. With his long arms and giant chest, Dawkins swallows up his opponents and never looks back.
What I love most about him is the way he plays the game. After spending a few years in a military academy as a high schooler, Dawkins brought the same tough mentality with him to the football field. A true brawler that lets you know every snap is a fight and will make you earn every inch given. If your unit is lacking tenacity, look no further than Dion Dawkins.
ROUND 4, PICK 120
SELECTION: ILB Kendell Beckwith, LSU
Last year I tried using my Jedi mind tricks to tell Spielman that Deion Jones was a perfect athlete for Mike Zimmer to mold at the linebacker position. Jones didn’t make it out of the top 40 picks, unfortunately, but did go on to have an outstanding rookie season in Atlanta. This year I’m trying again with another LSU linebacker. Beckwith doesn’t have the range or speed like Jones did but is another LSU product that knows how to see ball, get ball.
A thumper that pursues well and gets downhill in a hurry, Beckwith trusts his instincts and does a great job of tracking down the ball carrier. I’m not convinced he’s more than a two-down player at this point. The Vikings, however, won’t need him in the nickel package as they are in search of another capable body at the second level to fill the eventual void of Chad Greenway.
ROUND 4, PICK 125
SELECTION: OT Conor McDermott, UCLA
Just say “UCLA” and you’ve got Rick Spielman’s attention. The general manager has plucked plenty of prospects from the Bruins’ roster in his time. McDermott is also the brother of current Vikings long snapper Kevin McDermott (who also attended UCLA). Conor has been protecting the blind side of future first-round pick Josh Rosen and has done a solid job in 2016. A former basketball player and tight end, McDermott has outstanding movement skills and athleticism for the position, not to mention his monster 6-8 frame. He’s still very raw, though, and has struggled continuously with speed-rushers, unable to get off the snap quickly. The potential is there, and with the right guidance McDermott could develop into a feature tackle in the league sooner than later.
ROUND 5, PICK 155
SELECTION: DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Talk to any draft experts and they’ll tell you this 2017 draft class is one of the better slates of talent we’ve seen in awhile. That forces players that had an “off” year or were hindered by injury to fall even further than they would in previous years. Enter Eddie Vanderdoes, aka Fast Eddie (yes, I just made that nickname up). Eddie was a five-star recruit and looked the part of a legitimate top-15 pick after his freshman playing time.
Then, Eddie tore his ACL at the beginning of the 2015 season, forcing him to miss the entire year and work his way back up the depth chart when he finally returned. At 6-3, 315 pounds, “Fast Eddie” plays the nose tackle role and is damn good at it. He teamed up with Kenny Clark to form one of the best run-stopping duos in the country. Linval Joseph is currently holding the fort down, but Vanderdoes’ talent is too good to pass up, giving Joseph some much-needed depth and rest at this point in his career.
ROUND 6, PICK 202
SELECTION: RB Jamaal Williams, BYU
You’d be a fool not to love this running back class with unique talents like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey (all will be first-round picks), but I am in the camp that says you can wait on this position until the mid-to-late rounds, helping maximize your value. 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.
Williams comes in at 220 pounds with fresh legs and is a tough downhill runner that can be called upon for 18 or more carries if needed with his great power and ability to keep the pile moving. The Vikings’ offense would’ve loved to have this guy down on the goal line this season…
ROUND 7, PICK 235
SELECTION: OT Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell
Another player who will journey down to the Senior Bowl to show off to coaches and scouts just how good he can be. After playing for Bucknell, Davenport hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase his skill set to a big number of high-profile NFL personnel. People who saw him play at the FCS level know how he dominated his competition at 6-7, 310 pounds. Davenport was also a two-time captain for his squad, giving you a taste of the respect he’s earned, his demeanor and attitude towards the game.