The NFL Draft is just under two weeks away — starting Thursday, April 27 and running through Saturday — and teams have been working with prospects in various ways, shapes and forms since the season ended for both the pros and the collegians.
After the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and top-30 visits, now all that’s left is for the men to don their Sunday best and wait for their names to be called.
We’ve enlisted the help of three Vikings experts to do a roundtable and get you ready for the draft:
Brandon Warne: How would you prioritize positions for the Vikings?
Luke Inman: After years of investing in the defense through both free agency and the draft the front office is left with just one gaping need, the offensive line. Lucky for them for the first time in years this draft class is loaded with both offensive tackles and interior players that can come in and be big-time contributors right away. Investing multiple early-round selections to bolster this unit is priority Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
Once that is complete, adding more stout power and flexibility at the defensive tackle position will be next in line. Even before the departure of Sheldon Richardson, the Vikings defense was surprisingly in the middle of the pack when it came to stopping the run. Improving in this department will undoubtedly be Coach Zimmer’s first priority when it comes to improving the defense.
Sam Ekstrom: Without question, I’m going offensive line as the top priority, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings don’t address it in the first round. I think with the depth of the offensive line class the Vikings could adequately fill that need on Day 2 while scooping a quality talent on Day 1.
Also: Don’t miss Sam’s breakdown of the Adam Thielen deal here!
Secondly, I’d go defensive tackle. Minnesota basically lost two and gained one in free agency, and the one they gained is probably worse than the two they lost (no offense, Shamar Stephen). Third, I’m looking receiver. The Vikings sorely missed a third wideout they could trust last season and didn’t move a muscle at the skill positions in free agency.
Nick Olson: The Vikings need at least one more starting offensive lineman if they want to compete in 2019. But they also need help in a few other spots if they want to compete after 2019. Luckily this offensive line class is as deep as any, so the Vikings don’t need to reach on an offensive lineman early, and that depth also means that the Vikings’ needs may just line up with the best player available in the first few rounds.
Past that, the team could use another offensive lineman, an upgrade at WR3, a replacement for Sheldon Richardson and maybe some young protégés for Riley Reiff, Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith. That said, the roster is good and young enough that so long as it drafts one starting offensive lineman, they can and probably should just take the best player available throughout the draft.
BW: Who is your offensive NFL draft man crush?
LI: My wife won’t let me get a mural of Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, so I guess the Fat Head above my bed will have to suffice. This guy has it all and is the cleanest prospect arguably in the entire draft.
Ask him to block, and he turns into a road-grading offensive lineman with an all-out motor that won’t quit until the whistle blows. Ask him to help in the passing game and Hockenson turns into a bonafide weapon anywhere on the field. One of the most complete and balanced players I’ve scouted, Hockenson will immediately add talent and help aid any team’s passing and run game.
While the lack of value at the position he plays may bump him down a few extra slots, there’s no way should this stud prospect falls past the Lions, Bills or Broncos at picks eight through 10.
SE: I think it’s Deebo Samuel, the receiver out of South Carolina. He’s got a little bit of a Stefon Diggs-like profile. Close to the same size (a bit lighter), really productive in college but had a couple of seasons hampered by injuries, very versatile. He can run, catch and return kicks. Could operate out of the slot and be an extra weapon in the running game.
NO: Andre Dillard is the kind of blindside protector you dream up in Madden’s create-a-player. He’s an even better athlete than Brian O’Neill, comparable to even Lane Johnson or Trent Williams, and unlike a project tackle, Dillard has three-straight years and over 3,000 snaps grading out as one of the best pass protectors in college football. Folks knock him for the question marks around his run blocking, but he’s exactly the kind of athlete who could thrive in an outside zone scheme, and I would trade all the pancakes Paul Bunyan could eat to keep Kirk Cousins clean all year.
BW: Same question, but on defense?
LI: Simple answer is Quinnen Williams, but I’ll go a step deeper and highlight LSU linebacker Devin White. This guy is a freak athlete for a man of his size and stature while running a 4.42 40-yard dash, blowing away any competition he previously had for the top linebacker spot.
White was a flat out baller at LSU with his playmaking ability in pass coverage specifically. With his ability to cover both shifty slot receivers and physical tight-ends alike, White projects as a dream prospect in today’s pass-happy league. With a weak linebacker class as is, teams may find themselves overbidding on this rare talent, making it likely he hears his name called in the first 10 picks.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be the first to pull the trigger making White a top-five selection. However, the Giants, Broncos and Bengals would all make great defensive fits, too.
SE: Montez Sweat, edge rusher out of Mississippi State. Moves as well as any defensive lineman in the draft but isn’t undersized. Had double-digit sacks each of the last two seasons in the SEC. Just has incredible physical tools and consistent production, including against the run.
NO: Ed Oliver. Despite being 287 pounds, he’d rank as an above-average athlete… at safety. As a 3-technique, he’s even more athletic than Aaron Donald. He gets knocked for his height and weight, but like Donald or Geno Atkins, it only gives him a leverage advantage. He also gets knocked for his lack of pass rush production, but he was being triple teamed as a 0-technique in Houston. Pair this freak athlete with Andre Patterson and you could have a DPOY candidate.
BW: If you had to bet the farm that the Vikings land a specific player, who would it be?
LI: Knowing their biggest need and how much Gary Kubiak favors athletic testers and smooth movers in his lineman, it all adds up to N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury. Knowing Bradbury will be a popular pick here, however, I’ll go with Chris Lindstrom from Boston College.
The best pure offensive guard in the entire class, Lindstrom wins with clean technique combined with NFL strength and power. Lindstrom also is very athletic and could be a surprise draft crush for Kubiak’s zone scheme.
Bottom line, this pick has to be an O-lineman in which one of the many ultra-athletic testers would make the most sense.
SE: Hard not to say Garrett Bradbury. He’s got the former-tight-end athleticism that Brian O’Neill had, the Rimington Trophy pedigree that Pat Elflein had, versatility to play either guard spot and uncanny measurables. Seems like he’ll fall right around the late teens, early 20s. Like I said earlier, though, there are a lot of quality interior linemen in this draft, so the Vikings could wait until Pick 50 if they think they’re getting equal value.
NO: Considering they’ve met with pretty much every offensive lineman in the draft, you can bet they’re drafting at least one early, but it’s hard to predict who will fall to them. So I’ll go to the other end of the draft, where I’d bet the Vikings draft Devine Ozigbo. He’s the only back they’ve met with, and they’ve met with him three times (at the East-West Shrine game, for an official Top 30 visit and another private workout) – more than any other team. As a hulking back who churns out extra yards every play, he’d be great for short yardage situations and an intriguing Latavius Murray replacement.
BW: What’s your favorite part of NFL draft coverage (be as broad as you’d like)?
LI: I got into the draft game as early as seventh grade when I’d come home jump on dial-up internet and look up the one mock draft known to man. Seeing the draft evolve into the giant spectacle it is today will always bring joy to the teenager in me who has always had a passion for the draft process itself.
Why do the same teams “miss” so often while other teams continually thrive drafting and adding new players, was something I often asked myself? With so much technology available it always made me curious as to why a Randy Moss or Tom Brady were able to be passed up by so many teams on draft day.
Regardless if you’re a dweeby draft nut like me, the real reason every fan of all 32 teams should enjoy draft weekend is it’s the most optimistic part of the entire NFL season. Every team, no matter your previous year’s record and talent, will get better during the draft while adding some of the most talented young prospects in the country. Who will find the next Russell Wilson or Terrell Davis? It could be you! That alone is worth tuning in and breaking down every year no matter the draft class.
SE: I love the research process because it feels like reading a horse racing program. You’re looking at all the so-called “past performances” to figure out who has the greatest upside, who has the greatest red flag, which “favorite” you’re going to stay away from, etc. The later rounds are like searching for long shots. But truthfully, I’m much more comfortable post-draft when there are 10 names to manage instead of 200 and we can start deep-diving on the Vikings’ new personnel and uncovering their stories.
NO: Football is often so zero-sum: there are winners; there are losers. Every season there is one Super Bowl winner and 31 Super Bowl losers.
But on draft night, everyone wins. Every team gets better. Every fanbase lights up with hope. And every name called is a dream come true – for a player, for a family, for a lifetime of teachers and coaches.
For a game that’s otherwise bone-crunching and soul-crushing, on draft night, everyone comes together to share their joy and love of football. Because for once, when the other team and other players and other fans are happy, you’re sharing in that happiness too.