Vikings

Ten Surefire NFL Draft Predictions

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

No more mock drafting. None of them are going to be right anyway. It’s time to do this thing for real. NFL Draft weekend is upon us – the biggest event of the offseason, and frankly the only live content available to the sports-deprived masses. The draft is always kind of a big deal, but given its exclusive stage, this year’s edition will draw more than the usual attention and scrutiny.

It also promises to be unlike any NFL Draft we’ve ever seen — or hopefully will ever see again – with general managers stationed at their home offices, dens, living rooms and kitchen tables, hoping nobody decides to vacuum and the dog doesn’t bark while they’re on the phone.

The time for last-minute pregame analysis is nigh. So, before the party kicks off, here are my predictions for this year’s draft:

There will be technical problems.

This one’s a layup. I mean c’mon!

I know the league conducted a run-through “mock” draft of their “virtual” draft involving all parties earlier this week, but let’s be real. Some NFL executives are bound to be — shall we say — more technologically challenged than others. Like many, some might have connected to Zoom Chat for the first time ever this week. They are using Zoom Chat, aren’t they? Or is it Google Hangouts? GoToMeeting? Snapchat? The Facebook Company? Maybe sliding into one another’s DMs on the Twitter machine?

What could go wrong?

Someone won’t mute their microphone. Someone else will get disconnected from wi-fi, forget their password, get logged out, have phone issues or accidentally get unplugged. Someone is bound to suffer a power outage or internet outage. Roger Goodell could spill his scotch all over one of the leather-bound books in his den. The list of possible problems is almost endless. Let’s just hope all involved remember that they’re going to occasionally be on camera and don’t forget to wear pants and/or something other than pajamas.

As in fantasy drafts, the league office has established a protocol for pausing the draft, if necessary. I don’t know that Vegas has odds on such a thing, but I’d bet two months of mortgage payments on that happening at least once.

This weekend’s biggest headline will be all about which players are drafted by which teams, but rest assured, the technological hurdles of this particular draft will be a storyline worth watching. Quite frankly, it could add a lot of entertainment value.

There will be fewer trades than usual.

The league has dedicated secure phone lines for teams conducting trades during the draft. There’s apparently also an “understanding” that teams will be allowed a little grace period if trying to finalize a trade while on the clock.

Once again, I ask, what could go wrong? That should totally work.

Banished from their normal war room cocoons at team headquarters, the feeling of being outside of their comfort zones will lead many GMs to play things safe. It won’t be as easy for executives and scouts to powwow about potential deals and one glitch with anyone in the chain of decision-makers could kill deals.

There will still be trades, of course — just not as many.

Speaking of trades, the Vikings will trade back with a first-round pick.

I’ve been alluding to this for about a month now, based on nothing but Vikings draft history and a significant gut feeling (though that could be the tacos talking). Rick Spielman will be one of the executives not shy about making trades this weekend. When has he ever been before? Might the Vikings trade up in the first round on Thursday if someone they can’t live without slides a little? Absolutely.

However, the opportunities to trade down – maybe even out of the first round with one of their two first-round picks – promise to be plentiful. Said opportunities need to be thoroughly explored. Many of the draft gurus are fond of saying there’s not a ton of difference between players in the 20-to-50 range on most team’s boards this year.

I’m forecasting one of the Vikings’ first-round picks will be dealt so they can move back in the draft and accumulate more picks. In case you somehow missed it, they have a lot of holes to fill in this draft.

The Vikings will finish with more than 12 picks and get at least one more seventh-rounder.

Spielman can never get enough draft capital and, as I’ve pointed out before, he has the league’s strongest affinity for seventh-round picks.

As implied in the prediction made just prior to this one, the Vikings could very well leave the draft with more picks than any other team. They enter this weekend’s fiesta with a dozen – the same number as the Jaguars and Patriots and two fewer than the Dolphins.

Barring a blockbuster move to trade way up at some point – something along the lines of the 2013 trade in which Spielman dealt a second, third, fourth and seventh-rounder in exchange for the 29th overall pick (Cordarrelle Patterson) – the Vikings will pick more than 12 times.

Trading back out of the first round will generate extra picks, as would Spielman’s trademark flurry of Day 3 deals.

There will be more big surprises than usual.

Enough about possible trades. This weekend is about drafting players after all. So, let’s do a little speculation along those lines.

If you want to get really sauced this weekend while watching the draft – and let’s face it, a lot of sports fans are unfortunately laid off, furloughed or just plan unemployed these days so what else is there to do, right? Oops! Perhaps I’ve gone too far. For the record, as far as you know, none of us here at Zone Coverage condone reckless drinking. It’s irresponsible.

Nevertheless, let’s say you do want to partake in copious libations during the festivities. If that’s you, a drinking game could be the answer. One fun way to do so might be to take a drink whenever one of the talking heads refers to a pick as “surprising” in some way. On some occasions, this will be a player who slides “too far” down the board. “We didn’t think he’d still be there,” teams will say. “What a steal!” the network analysts will exclaim.

In most cases, however, the surprise pick in question will be considered a “reach.”

This will happen more than usual in this particular draft. As has been widely suggested across the industry, there is less consensus on the player values this year. The shortage of groupthink stems from a lack of scouts and executives congregating at pro days and other private workouts and meet-ups. Most of the country has been quarantined for the past month or so; that obviously includes NFL people. Social distancing equals less interaction and that equals a greater diversity of opinion.

All of which equals a solid premise for a drinking game. That player was taken one round too early, you say? Social (from a safe distance)!

The Texans will be popular for all the wrong reasons.

Speaking of trades and unconventional moves, teams might get a busy signal or just go straight to voicemail attempting to swindle the Houston Texans this weekend.

Houston head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien has established himself as the reigning heavyweight champion of confounding transactions. After witnessing his meager return in the DeAndre Hopkins trade with the Cardinals, O’Brien’s contact information is at the top of the list for every other front office.

O’Brien has asked that fans lay off him and give his moves time to work out. Translation: “Leave me the bleep alone!” Given his track record, there will be 31 teams actively not leaving him alone this weekend.

You can already sense additional eyebrow-raising trades and draft picks by the Texans forthcoming. Remember that drinking game I suggested? Stand by when Houston is on the clock.

The Vikings won’t draft a special-teams specialist.

Don’t scoff at this prediction. This would actually be kind of unusual for Spielman, especially given how many picks he has at his disposal this year.

In 2019, the Vikings drafted long-snapper Austin Cutting. In 2018, they drafted kicker Daniel Carlson. In 2013, they drafted punter Jeff Locke. And in 2012, they took kicker Blair Walsh. In other words, in exactly half of the drafts with Spielman as general manager (since 2012), the Vikings have wasted… err spent a pick on a snapper or kicker of some kind.

Moreover, don’t forget the trade for kicker/punter bust Kaare Vedvik last August that cost them a fifth-round pick in this draft. *Deep sigh*

Anyway, the Vikings are set at all three spots entering this draft, with Cutting snapping, Dan Bailey kicking and Britton Colquitt punting. No picks need to be spent no matter how much draft capital Spielman accumulates.

The Vikings will draft at least one local kid.

There has been a lot of speculation about whether the Vikings will select a player with local ties in this draft because, well, in Minnesota we tend to have an unhealthy obsession for the local angle.

Also, there are some good players with Minnesota connections.

Golden Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is the most popular target of said speculation because he’s expected to go in the first round and his father is one of the best cornerbacks in Vikings history. Tyler Johnson’s stock is highest in Minnesota because he was a star wide receiver for the Gophers. The Vikings need wide receiver help, and Johnson will still be available on Friday. Both would make popular choices in Vikings territory.

Other Gophers to keep an eye on include linebackers Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin as well as running back Rodney Smith.

Another player from Minnesota who fits a Vikings need is former St. John’s offensive tackle Ben Bartch. The Vikings could draft him on Friday, which would be followed by much jubilation in Collegeville as well as a parade led by John Tuvey.

Of the Minnesota players mentioned, however, I’m predicting Johnson will be wearing the purple helmet. He’s a good positional fit and will probably become a good value.

The Vikings will draft a quarterback.

The list of Vikings needs has been well-established at this point. They have holes to fill in the trenches on both sides of the ball, need help in the secondary, especially at cornerback, and could really use a wide receiver or three. They’ll certainly address all those needs this weekend.

They’ll also select a quarterback.

No, I don’t have any inside information. However, I do see some interesting quarterbacks in this draft and no long-term potential replacements behind Kirk Cousins and his sizeable contract on the current roster. I’d be astonished if they selected a quarterback in the first few rounds, but don’t rule out players like Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Georgia’s Jake Fromm if/when they slip into the third round.

Such a scenario would become more likely if the Vikings trade back with one of those first-round picks and stockpile some additional capital.

There will be hacking allegations and rumors.

Hey, if you aren’t trying to cheat, you’re not trying hard enough, right? And this year’s odd draft setup is ripe for someone to cheat.

Therefore, putting things into meteorological terms, I am hereby issuing a Hacking Watch.

Note, this is not a Warning. We don’t know for certain yet that any team is attempting to hack another team or has Mr. Robot sitting in a van outside of another GM’s home, tapping into his network.

This is just a Hacking Watch. Conditions are favorable for cheating, hacking and skullduggery of all kinds.

Yes, New England, we’re all staring at you.

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Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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