On Tuesday we laid out a Minnesota Vikings’ free agency blueprint that can clear enough cap space to do business and allow them to fill out their roster.
Now, we move on to the draft.
With Anthony Harris, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander possibly on the way out, the secondary has quickly become the team’s biggest draft need. The likely re-signing of Everson Griffen helps bring back more versatility on the defensive line rotation and, more importantly, a veteran leader in the locker room. However, the possible release of Linval Joseph creates a dilemma at nose tackle in 2020.
Put your draft cap on and join me as I bring in the next wave of young talent for Mike Zimmer to mold and develop in year seven as head coach of the Vikings.
Round 1, pick 25) Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Zimmer has a serious reputation around the league as one of the best defensive backs coaches in the NFL over the last nearly 30 years. During his time in Minnesota, he’s had the luxury of drafting and working with a slew of talent with three first-round picks and one second-rounder between Rhodes, Waynes, Mike Hughes and Alexander.
I’m here to tell you from just a raw physical standpoint and what I’ve seen on tape, Diggs has the most potential and higher upside than all of them. He’s got the size of Rhodes measuring in at over 6’1”, 206 pounds with outstanding arm length at nearly 33 inches. On paper, you can’t draw up your press cover cornerbacks any better than that. What makes Diggs’ potential so special, though, are his athletic movement skills and instincts at the position.
Diggs showed up to Alabama as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the country, following the footsteps of big brother Stefon Diggs who was making a name for himself as one of the best route runners in the NFL. With more talent at wideout than the Crimson Tide could count — Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Devonta Smith will all go on to be top-15 selections — coaches swayed Diggs with the tall task of switching positions. Diggs took all his pass-catching traits like ball tracking and smooth feet with him to the other side of the ball.
Despite only playing the position for three full years, Diggs showed off some of the best coverage skills in the nation. If anyone is up for the challenge of developing a cornerback talent like this, it’s Zimmer, and he can do this while helping quickly replenish the cornerback group after maybe losing their top three starters.
Under the right circumstances and proper development, Diggs could wind up playing at the same level of Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, a presumptive top-five pick. Getting Diggs 20 picks later could wind up being one of the biggest steals in the draft a few years down the road.
That’s not to mention this providing us with one of the most electrifying practice routines in the league — getting to watch two highly competitive brothers square up face to face and help hone their crafts on a daily basis. Even Hollywood hasn’t written a story script this good.
We live in a world where the possibility of Trevon & Stefon Diggs playing for the same team exists.
Imagine those two squared up in practice against each other every day.. pic.twitter.com/rKcfTL4rzY
— Luke Inman (@Luke_SpinmanNFL) October 27, 2019
Round 2, Pick 58) Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
In the Honey Badger mold, Winfield’s value lies heavily in his versatility, providing a spark at multiple positions. Winfield was the Gophers’ biggest game-changer on defense, showing up time and again when the game was on the line, and did so in part because offenses couldn’t keep tabs on where he was lining up down after down.
A joker in the NFL who offers playmaking ability at free safety, strong safety and nickel cornerback, moving Winfield all over the field is where you really get your money’s worth out of him. And like his father Antoine Winfield Sr., his football instincts are off the charts with incredible read and react skills and an explosive burst to the ball, which he showed off at the combine, running a 4.48 40-yard dash.
Had he stayed healthy Winfield would be talked about as a late first-round pick. However, his inability to stay on the field will make it tough for any team to pull the trigger on Day 1. This pushed him down to the middle of Round 2, where you hope and pray he lasts for the Vikings at pick 58.
To add back-to-back players with the football DNA these two possess and get them under the tutelage of Zimmer would be a home run, both on the field and for the excitement of the fan base by selling jerseys and filling up seats.
While it looked rough early in the offseason, the sting of losing Harris, Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander quickly dissipates as Zimmer has a brand new secondary to play with loaded with talent and youth.
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) September 8, 2019
Round 3, Pick 89) Jordan EllioTt, DT, Missouri
The best defensive tackle you’ve probably never heard of is perhaps as good as Auburn’s Derrick Brown and South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw. Elliott isn’t as far behind as some draft types might indicate.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott actually graded out higher than both with a 91.1 overall grade — one that led all interior defensive lineman in the country.
PFF made College Grades available. The players below were the best in the country at their position.
Joe Burrow – 94.9 – #1 QB
Chase Young – 96.1 – #1 EDGE
Jordan Elliot – 92.4 – #1 DI
Tyler Johnson – 91.8 – #1 WR
Zack Moss – 91.5 – #1 RB
Adam Trautman – 94.2 – #1 TE
— CLEology (@_CLEology) February 29, 2020
At 6’4”, 315 pounds, Elliott will quickly help fill the void of Linval Joseph after his possible release to clear over $10 million in cap space. Like many prospects, he’s still raw and has a lot of lower-body technique to figure out. However, when it comes to his first step and ability to beat blockers with his hands, you won’t find many better in the entire class. While finding Joseph’s full-time replacement might have to wait a year, a rotation of Elliott, Armon Watts, Jaleel Johnson and Shamar Stephen gives defensive line coach Andre Patterson all sorts of shapes and sizes to work with in 2020.
Jordan Elliot is a dude pic.twitter.com/teWN3kJ3cN
— Luke Inman (@Luke_SpinmanNFL) March 8, 2020
ROUND 3, PICK 105) JAUan Jennings, WR, Tennessee
In arguably the best wideout class we’ve seen in 20 years, taking advantage of the value it presents on Day 2 could prove to be a game-changing decision for Kirk Cousins and the offense.
Flip on his tape and it’s impossible not to like Jennings and his bulldog mentality. He’s a nightmare on short-to-intermediate routes and demands your full effort and attention to tackle to the ground. His sluggish 40-yard dash (4.78) will drop him out of the top-100 picks. However, after that its fair game on Jennings, who brings a similar build and playing style to another poor combine tester, Anquan Boldin (4.73).
I love mixing Jennings into a group where he won’t be asked to carry the passing game anytime soon, but can fill in if and when Diggs or Adam Thielen go down as a reliable possession receiver to help Kubiak’s offense move the chains.
ROUND 4, PICK 132) Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
As Arif Hasan has pointed out, the Vikings have a clear and precise prerequisite when it comes to their offensive line’s athletic testing. Two specific drills stand out for the Vikings and the linemen they’ve drafted over the past decade — their broad jump and speed in between the 10- and 20-yard marks of their 40-yard dash.
I’ll let Arif explain just exactly how and why, but taking that into account, Charles fits the threshold the Vikings will be looking for, sitting in the 90th percentile in that portion of the widely-known running drill. Charles did not participate in the broad jump drill, however, so keeping tabs on his testing at the LSU pro day will be vital in the Vikings’ search for more blockers up front for Cousins and Dalvin Cook.
While it’s widely known this offensive tackle class is ultra-rich at the top with four players bound to go quickly in the first 15 picks, there is a bit of a drop off after the first tier. Charles likely falls as a prospect, ranking near the bottom of tier two with sloppy pass sets and some big off-field character concerns, despite being one of the better athletes for his size in the draft.
Between his size, strength and great movement skills, Charles should be drafted as a left tackle in the league first and foremost. If he struggles early on then maybe a move inside would help unlock his athletic abilities in a zone heavy system like Gary Kubiak’s and the Vikings.
Some notable 10-yard splits:
Tristan Wirfs 1.69
Saahdiq Charles 1.73
Ezra Cleveland 1.73
Austin Jackson 1.73
Danny Pinter 1.73
Jack Driscoll 1.74
Terrence Steele 1.74
Matt Peart 1.75
Nick Harris 1.76
Mekhi Becton 1.77
Cesar Ruiz 1.77
Hakeem Adeniji 1.78
Alex Taylor 1.79
— Alex Simpson (@Alex2TheSimpson) February 28, 2020
ROUND 6, PICK 206) Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State
Running back? Hear me out. With your first and third tailbacks in Cook and Mike Boone set to be free agents after the 2020 season, it’s highly likely the team will be looking to replace at least one of them. And while it’s more likely than not that won’t be Cook, it is a highly advantageous move to bring someone like Evans in now to help in leverage talks when discussing a long-term deal with Cook and his agent.
After all, the blueprint for long-term success in the NFL makes it clear paying big money to running backs just ain’t it.
If, for whatever reason, the Vikings are unable to retain Cook, then this is a selection you look back on and say, “Thank goodness for that.” Evans is one of the best-kept secrets in the entire class who has gotten lost in the shuffle because of his small-school label.
However, all he’s done is produce at a high level.
Evans was only a two-time Sun Belt Championship Game MVP, the MVP of the 2019 New Orleans Bowl, a two-time All-Sun Belt first-team selection and the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in 2019. No big deal. With elusiveness as his best trait, Evans is one of the most exciting runners of this class and an ideal match for a wide-zone running offense.
With Hughes likely to be taken out of return duties and Marcus Sherels likely to let walk, Evans offers the bonus skill of a return man — where he was electric in college. For the amount of production you can grind out of them compared to the price you can pay them, if I’m a general manager I’m drafting a Day 3 running back every damn year.
Unofficial first 40 time for Darrynton Evans: 4.42 seconds #NFLCombine
— Chris Boyle (@ChrisBoyleDBNJ) February 29, 2020
ROUND 7, PICK 220) Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
I was a fan of Duvernay from his film for the Longhorns over his career. He’s been the team’s clear-cut go-to weapon when the passing game needed a big play, despite playing across from 6’5” Collin Johnson — another big-name prospect). Duvernay reminds me of Percy Harvin lite with his strong hands and physical playing style, looking to set the tone and lay the wood as a dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands.
A former high school champion at the 100 meters, Duvernay brings the long speed to be a deep threat. However, I see him more as a reliable third or fourth option on underneath routes who is at his best and most productive in the YAC department. Duvernay offers a much-needed second option at returner, as well, who could earn his keep early on as a special teamer next to previous pick Evans.
Watch this snapshot video of Duvernay to get a taste of the type of football player you’re drafting.
Texas’ Devin Duvernay is a bully.. Team captain that constantly showed up against big opponents like LSU & Utah.. Looks to set the tone w contact/physicality (check out him dust off Grant Delpit TWICE on the same drive @ :35 mark) pic.twitter.com/H7nXcCc66Q
— Luke Inman (@Luke_SpinmanNFL) January 17, 2020
ROUND 7, PICK 240) Alex Taylor, OT, SC State
I still to this day think about the Senior Bowl weigh-ins where I watched Taylor measure in as one of the biggest humans I’ve ever studied. The next day I got an up-close look in an interview so I could see first hand Taylor’s 6’8 ⅜” length, 88-inch wingspan and 11 ¼” hands, all of which held up as the top measurements of any other single player at the combine.
Like our fourth-round pick Charles, Taylor hits the Vikings’ athletic thresholds in their two most important drills they look for. Taylor is far rawer and likely a full season on the practice squad away from sniffing the 53-man roster. However, adding him to an already young and talented group of developmental players like Oli Udoh and Dru Samia gives the group a good chance of hitting on one of the three.
I personally saw Taylor meet with the Vikings down at the Senior Bowl, showing a lot of early interest with the raw offensive lineman.
South Carolina State OT Alex Taylor won the 2020 Senior Bowl Weigh In. Top Wingspan (88!!!), Longest Arms (36 1/8) and Biggest Hands (11). Former basketball player is an intriguing developmental blocker for Day 3.
— Scott Wright (@DraftCountdown) January 21, 2020
ROUND 7, PICK 250) Tyler Bass, K, Georgia Southern
I got to watch this kid down at the Senior Bowl and he can flat out ball , which that feels weird to say for a kicker. From left, right and down the pipe, Bass crushed 50-plus yard field goals all week and for my money is the best kicking prospect in this class.
With an aging Dan Bailey now set to hit free agency, Bass could offer similar production while saving every free-agent penny for other in-house free agents.
ROUND 7, PICK 254) Carter Coughlin, EDGE, Minnesota
This is another player I got to meet and watch in Mobile. Coughlin, while projected to dip deep into Day 3, has a few solid traits and football smarts to work with.
I watched after practice Spielman seek out Coughlin so the two could catch up and congratulate each other on their recent success. Remember, Spielman’s son J.D. played with Coughlin at Eden Prairie High School, where the two teammates were the focal point of the team’s weekly game plan and success.
If anyone can maximize his talents it’s Patterson. After a year or two on the practice squad, Coughlin could be a key piece on a defensive line that loves to rotate their guys and stay fresh.