In the main event of WrestleMania 31, two former Minnesota Vikings clashed for the WWE Championship. Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns (aka Joe Anoa’i) beat the tar out of each other in a brutal 30-minute battle to determine the greatest training-camp Viking. In the end, a guy from Iowa walked away with the title.
You see, Seth Rollins had something called the “Money in the Bank” briefcase, which allows its holder to challenge for the title anytime, anywhere. Seeing an opportunity to cash in, Rollins emerged from backstage with a 40-yard dash that would make Justin Jefferson look sluggish, slapped his briefcase, and ultimately walked away with the title.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with the NFL Draft, but consider Rick Spielman’s status right now. The Vikings’ general manager has his job on the line entering the season. He needs to find players who can contribute right away and get the team back to the playoffs, which could lead him to take a more aggressive approach than usual.
With teams battling each other to select high enough to draft a quarterback, Spielman could be the beneficiary that sprints out of the draft room if a top player begins to fall. This could create Spielman’s own Money in the Bank scenario, where he comes away with a player who could become the steal of the draft.
I know I just got done saying that the battle for quarterbacks could help other players drop to 14. While the Vikings don’t need a quarterback, Fields falling into the back half could be too good to pass up. He dominated in two years as a starter at Ohio State, with 67 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He added 15 rushing touchdowns, a 4.44-second 40-yard dash time, and a multi-dimensional element that Kirk Cousins doesn’t have.
But the draft process has damaged Fields’ stock. Questions about his work ethic and bad games against Indiana and Northwestern have raised the possibility of a draft-day fall. There’s also the chance that draftniks are overthinking this. Fields had two seasons of dominance with the Buckeyes and completed 70.2% of his passes last year. While the Ohio State offense is designed to get receivers wide open, Fields still had to get the ball there.
He was also one of the driving forces that helped make the 2020 season happen after the Big Ten canceled it due to the coronavirus. With a lucrative NFL future on the line, Fields created a petition that eventually caused the conference to change course and give his teammates another shot at a national title.
Fields still has room to develop, but he’s the closest thing to a surefire quarterback in this draft outside of Trevor Lawrence. If he starts to slide toward Carolina with the eighth overall pick, the Vikings should be raiding Matt Rhule’s inbox to try to make a deal.
Even after releasing Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings appear to be set at tight end. With Irv Smith and Tyler Conklin ready to take over, Klint Kubiak has the centerpiece of his two tight-end sets and can run the ball as much as he (or Mike Zimmer) pleases.
But what if they could get someone more dynamic?
Pitts is about to be a problem for defensive coordinators across the NFL. At 6’6” and 245 lbs, he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would still have scouts drooling if he converted to wide receiver. Pitts notched 770 yards and 12 touchdowns but could have put up even bigger stats had he not suffered a facial injury last November.
There’s a good chance Pitts won’t get past the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4, but there’s still a chance for a fall. Tight ends in the top 10 recently have not fared well: Vernon Davis, Eric Ebron, and T.J. Hockenson have all come short of expectations. While Pitts is a different player than those three, general managers could see the letters “TE” next to his name and look for a better position.
His real position should be “offensive weapon.” He could provide a serious target for Kirk Cousins. With Smith’s progress as a blocker, the Vikings could throw Pitts all over the field and finally create a legitimate No. 3 option in the passing game.
At this time last year, people were asking if Justin Jefferson was a legitimate NFL receiver. After recording 111 catches, 1,540 yards, and 18 touchdowns in Baton Rouge, NFL teams weren’t sure if Jefferson was destined for superstardom or was just the product of a loaded LSU offense. Even as Jefferson put on a four-touchdown clinic against Oklahoma, there were still skeptics who said he could only run out of the slot. The Vikings selected him at pick No. 22, and he broke Randy Moss’ rookie records.
History could repeat itself if the Vikings decide to draft Smith. Like Jefferson, Smith dominated the SEC in his final season but did so at a higher level. With 1,866 yards and 23 touchdowns, he became the first wide receiver since Desmond Howard (1991) to win the Heisman Trophy.
A big part of Smith’s game is that, like Jefferson, he can do a little bit of everything. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith led the nation in screen catches (34), screen yards, (304), deep catches (15), and deep yards (589) while finishing fifth in slot yards (863). Even if Smith will never weigh more than 170 lbs, he’s shown that it’s not an obstacle to his success. After taking Jefferson last season, the Vikings could add another versatile piece that could wind up being a successor to Adam Thielen.
Sometimes the draft is about finding the best player possible. While a player could be considered one of the best in his class at the beginning of the college football season, his stock could plummet for reasons out of his control. Just like Fields may drop in the draft, Sewell could suffer the same fate.
Sewell was one of the top offensive linemen in the country two years ago, allowing just seven total pressures. While Oregon’s offense didn’t require him to hold his blocks for long, he showed enough to shut down opposing edge rushers and give Justin Herbert the time he needed to throw.
At 6’5” and 331 lbs, Sewell has the size you would want from your left tackle. With a relative athletic score of 8.99, Sewell is also fit enough to play in Minnesota’s zone scheme. And he won’t turn 21 until October, so he has the potential to get even better.
The Vikings have been down this road with Matt Kalil, but the offensive line has been a glaring weakness for the past decade. By acquiring Sewell, the Vikings can fully invest in Ezra Cleveland at guard and finally give Cousins the protection he needs.
Out of all the players on this list, Paye is the most likely to be there at No. 14. While the thought of adding another defensive player for Mike Zimmer will make fans shudder, Paye seems to be the player best fit for the Vikings.
Zone Coverage’s Luke Braun recently detailed Paye’s ability to get to the passer and play an important role in stopping the run. After Zimmer’s defensive panic resulted in adding a second nose tackle, anybody that can help prevent Alvin Kamara’s Christmas Day massacre will earn brownie points.
Paye’s backstory also suggests there is room to grow. Originally born in a refugee camp in Guinea, Paye worked his way up to a three-star recruit that eventually played at Michigan. He managed 11.5 sacks with the Wolverines over four seasons, and his physical tools earned him the No. 1 spot on Bruce Feldman’s freaks list.
In a defensive line class that has several questions, Paye’s biggest one is “Will he get it?” With Jaelan Phillips having medical concerns and Jayson Oweh and Azeez Ojulari needing time to develop, Paye might be the one prospect the Vikings should be cashing in on.