Vikings

2020 NFL Draft: Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for the Vikings

Photo Credit: Douglas DeFelice (USA Today Sports)

It’s mock draft season, meaning it’s the part of the year where we analysts post drafts and everyone else mocks them.

So instead of trying to predict the unpredictable, this mock draft instead will try and look at how the first three rounds of the draft could go for the Minnesota Vikings to see which scenarios are most likely, and how things might shake out if the Vikings get very lucky — or very unlucky.

Round one, Picks 22 and 25

Best-Case Scenario: A blue-chip player at a position of need falls to the Vikings.

After trading Stefon Diggs, cutting Josh Kline and letting all of their 2019 starting cornerbacks walk, the Vikings have big holes at wide receiver, guard and cornerback — and that’s in addition to needing to find Riley Reiff‘s long-term replacement at offensive tackle and needing to upgrade at three-technique defensive tackle.

Luckily for the Vikings, the top of this draft class is flush with blue-chip talent at wide receiver and offensive tackle, in addition to having some very good defensive tackles and cornerbacks.

At wide receiver, there’s a clear top-three in Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III. At offensive tackle, there’s a consensus top four in Jedrick Wills, Mehki Becton, Andrew Thomas and Tristan Wirfs. At defensive tackle, there are two blue-chip guys in Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw. Opinions on the cornerback class are a bit more varied, but there’s a general consensus that Jeffrey Okudah is CB1 and C.J. Henderson is CB2.

Could one of those blue-chip talents fall all the way to No. 22? I certainly wouldn’t get my hopes up, but stranger things have happened. Nearly every draft features at least one shocking draft slide:

So it can happen. But the chances it happens to your favorite team are slim. That said, Rick Spielman is one of the best in the NFL at snagging players who just happen to fall on draft day, as happened with Dalvin Cook, Teddy Bridgewater and Sharrif Floyd.

For it to happen to the Vikings this year, one of those 11 players would need to survive 21 picks before the Vikings pick at No. 22. That means 10 can be selected before No. 22. Four quarterbacks will likely be selected as well (Jordan Love is a polarizing prospect, but it only takes one team to believe in his upside).

There are a few other blue-chip players not at positions of need, including Chase Young, Isaiah Simmons and K’Lavon Chaisson, and there are a handful of first-round-caliber players who could easily go before No. 22 as well, such as Xavier McKinney, Grant Delpit, Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen, Justin Jefferson, Yetur Gross-Matos, D’Andre Swift and so on.

Factor in one or two teams reaching on a player — which always happens — and you can envision a scenario in which a top-tier player falls to the Vikings.

If all that happens, or if Spielman trades up a few spots for a falling player as he has in the past, then the Vikings could nab the steal of the draft and snag someone like Thomas, Jeudy or Kinlaw, and then use pick No. 25 to snag another first-round-if-not-blue-chip talent like Kristian Fulton, Denzel Mims or Josh Jones — that would make for one heck of a haul for Spielman & Co.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Vikings are forced to reach at a position of need.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, there are a lot of teams that need cornerbacks, wide receivers and offensive linemen, and the NFL generally covets those positions very highly.

So it should not surprise fans if there is a run on offensive tackles and the Vikings are forced to reach to shore up the offensive line by drafting Austin Jackson, Ezra Cleveland or Isaiah Wilson for example, similar to when the Texans felt forced to overdraft Tytus Howard last year.

Nor should it surprise fans if not only Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs are taken, but also Jefferson and Mims are taken before the Vikings get their chance, as the Eagles, Jaguars, Saints and Patriots could all target wide receiver before the Vikings pick at No. 22 or 25, leaving the Vikings drafting a second or third-tier receiver like Brandon Aiyuk, Jalen Reagor or Tee Higgins in the first round.

Most Likely Scenario: The Vikings fill two positions of need, but not at any great value.

It’s unlikely that one of the elite prospects in the draft falls all the way to the Vikings at Nos. 22 or 25, but that doesn’t mean the Vikings will be forced to reach. In fact, if there’s one upshot to having so many needs to fill, it’s that the Vikings can largely take the best player available in this draft, given that in many scenarios, the best player available will be at a position of need.

Which players would represent solid value at positions of need? At wide receiver, Jefferson and Mims make a lot of sense — Jefferson as a Day 1 contributor with a somewhat lower ceiling and Mims as a riskier but very high upside player.

Personally, I would love Mims:

At cornerback, the Vikings have a number of great options. Jaylon Johnson, Fulton, Jeff Gladney and Noah Igbinoghene would all be very good scheme fits for Mike Zimmer’s diverse pattern match coverage defense (Trevon Diggs, who is often mocked to the Vikings, would probably not be as great of a match). At offensive line, Jones could very well be available, has a good chance to start year one and has all the athleticism to be a wide zone fit with a sky-high ceiling.

Another option might be someone like Cesar Ruiz, arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the draft.

Guards don’t tend to win or lose you games the way wide receivers or cornerbacks do, so overdrafting a guard in the first round is a bit rich for me personally. But on the other hand, the dropoff after Ruiz in this draft class is pretty steep, with very few other plug-and-play zone guards, so it might make some sense to nab a starting guard in the first round while the Vikings still can and fill other positions of need later in the draft given, for example, how deep the wide receiver class is.

Some other very plausible options, albeit at slightly less value, would include defensive tackle Ross Blacklock or defensive ends A.J. Epenesa or Gross-Matos. And while those players are commonly mocked to the Vikings in the first round, Spielman has always eschewed investing early picks into the defensive line.

In fact, no team in the NFL over the last decade has spent fewer first-round draft picks on defensive linemen. Instead, Spielman has relied on coach Andre Patterson to develop super athletes like Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen or Ifeadi Odenigbo — a strategy that to both Spielman and Patterson’s credit has largely paid off.

So even though Griffen is a significant loss for the Vikings, I think it’s unlikely the Vikings draft a defensive lineman early.

A realistic best-case scenario for the Vikings in my mind would result in nabbing two first-round caliber players at premium positions, with my personal favorite including Mims and Gladney. It’s also very plausible to see Spielman trading up a couple of spots to snipe a blue-chip guy, or trading out of No. 25 to pick up some additional picks in the second and third rounds where there will be multiple intriguing Day 1 starters available at wide receiver, cornerback and defensive tackle along with a few developmental options at offensive tackle.

For example, going off the old Jimmy Johnson trade chart that NFL teams still reference when negotiating trades on draft day, the Vikings could trade No. 25 and No. 58 to the Colts for No. 34 and No. 44, or could trade No. 25 to the Buccaneers for Nos. 45, 76 and 117 — the latter of which would be a particularly nice haul given how NFL teams seem to overrate the value of early-round picks (something Spielman seems to appreciate, given his penchant for trading down).

Round Two, Pick 58

Best-Case Scenario: The Vikings select a day-one starter or high upside player at a premium position.

Predicting which players will be available later on in the draft becomes exponentially more difficult, as there are so many other factors at play. That said, the second round might be the best place for the Vikings to find a long-term replacement for Reiff:

After the top four tackles, there are nine other tackles ranked in The Draft Network’s Predictive Board Top 100, eight of whom are best suited for zone running. Assuming Jones is drafted in the first or early second rounds, Jackson, Cleveland or (depending on his medicals) Lucas Niang would all be fantastic fits for the Vikings’ wide-zone scheme with the potential to supplant Reiff sooner rather than later.

The second round could also be the best spot to nab an upgrade at three-technique defensive tackle: after Brown and Kinlaw go in the early first, there are four or more interior defensive lineman who could go in the second round. Blacklock and Neville Gallimore are high-upside gap-shooters who could each reach a very high ceiling with Patterson; Justin Madubuike and Marlon Davidson would also be great options here.

The draft is stacked at wide receiver throughout, so if the Vikings miss out on Jefferson and Mims in the first, they could possibly land a high-upside flanker in Aiyuk or Reagor in the second for great value.

And the Vikings could also find day-one starters at outside cornerback in the second round: after Okudah and Henderson, opinions on the top remaining cornerbacks are so mixed — and the scheme fits so varied — that it’s possible someone like Johnson or Igbinoghene could fall all the way to the Vikings at No. 58.

Any of those players would be a home run.

Worst-Case Scenario: A run on players at a remaining position of need leaves the Vikings overdrafting for another need.

This scenario actually played out for the Vikings in the 2018 draft, when they eschewed offensive line help in the first round, instead drafting Mike Hughes at cornerback, and then a run on offensive linemen left the Vikings overdrafting Brian O’Neill.

Granted, O’Neill turned out to be a very good player, but on draft day that pick was seen by many as a reach and as Spielman misplaying the draft board.

It’s tough to see the Vikings overdrafting at offensive tackle given how deep the class is, though it’s possible the Vikings fall in love with the developmental upside of someone like Matt Peart or Ben Bartch and overdraft one in the second round.

Similarly, even if there is a big run on wide receivers, it would be tough for the Vikings to overdraft a wide receiver, since even the 10th- or 11th-best receivers — someone like K.J. Hamler or Michael Pittman — in this draft class are still definitely worth a second-round pick.

However, if the Vikings pass on a first-round cornerback, it’s very easy to envision a run on cornerbacks, leaving the Vikings forced to overdraft someone like Amik Robertson or Cameron Dantzler in the second or face the prospect of Holton Hill, Hughes and Kris Boyd being the starting cornerbacks.

Most Likely Scenario: The Vikings either fill a third position of need at a mediocre value or draft the best player available without filling a need.

In the first round, the Vikings will have the luxury of selecting any number of talented players due to having so many needs. By the second round, however, the Vikings won’t have that luxury and might face a tough choice between the best player available and walking away from the draft without filling a couple of key roster holes.

So for example, the Vikings could be forced to decide between a great value at safety like Jeremy Chinn or Antoine Winfield Jr., and overdrafting to fill a third need with someone like tackle Prince Tega Wanogho or cornerback Bryce Hall.

In a situation like that, I would think the Vikings would still go best player available, given that they seem to be approaching this offseason with a long-term outlook.

Round Three, Picks 89 and 105

Best-Case Scenario: Spielman maneuvers the third round and nabs multiple impact contributors.

Spielman’s wheeling and dealing often peaks in the third round.

More often than not, under his management the Vikings have traded down in the third round — as they did in 2015 (when they traded down with the Lions to nab a fifth-round pick while still taking Hunter eight spots later in the third round), or in 2016 (when they traded their 2016 third-round pick for the Dolphins’ 2016 sixth-round pick and their 2017 third and fourth-round picks), or in 2018 (when they traded their third-round pick for Tampa Bay’s fourth and sixth-round picks) or again in 2019.

But Spielman will trade up as well in the third round if a highly-touted prospect is falling, as they did in 2017 to nab Pat Elflein.

This year the Vikings have two third-round picks and 12 picks total. That could lead to Spielman trading down as he has been wont to in the past, but there are also diminishing returns with each additional draft pick, since only so many rookies can make the roster and have an impact.

In the past, Spielman has said he likes to have at least 10 picks. Given that the Vikings have more picks than usual this year, perhaps Spielman will be more willing to move up to land a big steal at a position of need.

In the best-case scenario, the Vikings could trade up for a player with a second-round grade who fell into the third round, such as Damon Arnette or Hamler, and/or trade down to rack up more draft picks in the hopes that the more lottery picks you acquire, the more likely you are that one hits.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Vikings walk away without drafting any impact players in the third round.

By the third round, the Vikings will likely no longer be drafting for specific needs. That is not to say they will be drafting the absolute best player available, as they may still try to fill a couple of remaining needs, but they should no longer face the risk of being forced into drafting someone who can fill an immediate need.

Nevertheless, it’s still easy to imagine the Vikings overdrafting an interior offensive lineman in the third round, given that they face holes at both guard positions. This is a bad draft class for interior offensive linemen, particularly for wide-zone teams like the Vikings who are looking for guards and not pure centers — as the best guards available in the mid-rounds will be more suited for power (John Simpson, Damien Lewis or Ben Bredeson), and the best interior offensive linemen for zone schemes may be limited to center-only (Matt Hennessy or Nick Harris).

So the Vikings could wind up drafting someone like Keith Ismael in the third round, which would probably be a big reach, but might be necessary to find someone who can play guard in a zone scheme.

The Vikings could also go the opposite way and draft purely the best player available, even if that is an off-ball linebacker who would not see snaps behind Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Eric Wilson, or a tight end even if Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr., will leave little room for a rookie to see the field.

Most Likely Scenario: The Vikings draft two players who could eventually develop into starting-caliber players.

This draft class is so deep at wide receiver and cornerback that it’s possible the Vikings find someone who can rotate in or start at slot corner or third wide receiver right away.

A crafty route runner like Jefferson or a high-upside X receiver like Chase Claypool would be a major get in the third round. Robertson or Josiah Scott could turn out to be very good slot corners from day one. Someone like defensive tackle Jordan Elliott could fall to the Vikings and could likely earn the starting three-technique job right away.

The third round would also be a great place to find some developmental players who could turn into very good starters down the road.

Jabari Zuniga is a defensive end who fits the Vikings’ raw, explosive, super-athlete profile and could become the Vikings’ next Hunter. Bartch or Peart both have the athleticism and upside — but currently lack the strength/anchor — to develop into starting tackles the same way O’Neill did. Ashtyn Davis or Kyle Dugger could provide valuable depth at safety — even if the Vikings don’t trade Anthony Harris, they have no backup safeties — with the potential to take over once Smith or Harris leave or retire.

One other intriguing option would be for the Vikings to target a quarterback.

It’s unlikely that Spielman drafts a quarterback after extending Kirk Cousins, but given that the Vikings have two third-round picks, it might not be a bad decision to bring in someone like Jake Fromm, who shares a lot of similarities with Cousins in that he shows great ball placement, reads the field very precociously and hardly ever turns the ball over, but his arm strength is limited and he’s more of a pure pocket passer.

Even though Cousins will likely remain the starter, an immediate upgrade at backup quarterback — with the potential to develop a new franchise quarterback in the long term — might be worth the luxury of a second third-round pick.

Any of those players could provide a lot of value and help set up the Vikings well for future success.

The draft is impossible to predict, but the one thing that is for sure is this year, with 12 total picks and five picks in the first three rounds, and with Spielman wheeling and dealing, this will be the most exciting draft for Vikings fans in a number of years.

With great draft classes at receiver, cornerback and tackle, the Vikings are set up to fill a number of key needs to stay competitive in 2020. And with a front office that has shown some long-term vision this offseason, this draft could set the foundation for a championship-contending roster down the road if Spielman can repeat the success of the 2015 draft.

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Photo Credit: Douglas DeFelice (USA Today Sports)

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