As we begin the offseason and life without football for the foreseeable future, we see everyone’s predictions for everything from the draft to free agency. While all of these are speculative at best, and the rankings and orders can drastically swing, it’s fun to look at and theorize what these potential moves could bring.
Recently, when scavenging the NFL’s website for any shred of news, I happened upon writer Daniel Jeremiah‘s Mock Draft 2.0, where he has the Minnesota Vikings making a rather interesting move in the first round. Instead of addressing either side of the trenches, Jeremiah has the Vikings taking this year’s Heisman winner — wide receiver Devonta Smith from the University of Alabama.
This pick becomes especially interesting when looking at the players the Vikings pass up. Jeremiah thinks the Vikings will pass on Kwity Paye, the athletic defensive end who could start across from Hunter immediately, and Christian Darrisaw, a left tackle who could help solidify an offensive line that is poor in pass protection.
“The Vikings have holes to fill on defense,” writes Jeremiah, “but they could give Kirk Cousins a heck of a trio by adding Smith to a receiving corps that already includes Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.”
Yes, it might be risky to wait to address the offensive line until the next pick, which is in the third round. But if Smith somehow is on the board at 14, the Vikings shouldn’t hesitate to take him.
WR3 is a big need. Despite top-level performances from Jefferson and Thielen, Chad Beebe lagged behind, only totaling 204 yards as the third receiver. While admittedly the Vikings used a two tight end set as their base personnel, that could have been because Beebe isn’t a dynamic receiver. In drafting Smith, not only would the Vikings create one of the most productive wide receiver trios, but they would be drafting Thielen’s potential replacement. He will be 31 next season, and his production will eventually decline.
The hesitation here, of course, is that the Vikings are a run-first team. But adding Smith would be great in the short term as well. With another weapon at his disposal, new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak might run more 3-receiver sets — especially if Kyle Rudolph departs. By playing three wideouts, Dalvin Cook will see a lighter tackle box when he runs the ball, and Smith’s presence would make it impossible for any team to double both Jefferson and Thielen because he would feast on whomever they match up on him.
Smith also offers flexibility as a punt returner, something the Vikings also sorely need. Last season Smith received 11 punts and totalled 237 yards, an average return of 21.55 yards.
Smith is coming off an incredible season where he recorded 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns on his way to winning a national championship with the Crimson Tide. His most impressive performance came in the National Championship, where he recorded 215 yards and three touchdowns before getting injured halfway through the game.
But is it even realistic to think he’d be there at 14? Well, looking back on Jefferson’s final season at LSU, he really shouldn’t have been available at 22. While admittedly, a lot would have to go right for the Vikings to have a shot at Smith, it definitely could happen. At 6’1″, 175 lbs., his small frame could deter teams from taking him, opting for receivers who are stronger like Ja’marr Chase.
Smith is an incredible route runner who can win at the stem of every route, but he doesn’t have the speed and athleticism of teammate Jaylen Waddle. In the past some teams have opted to choose the elite athlete over the more polished receiver. For example, last season the Las Vegas Raiders selected Henry Ruggs over Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb.
The depth of this year’s wideout class could also hurt Smith. While not as deep as 2020, this year’s second-tier wideouts offer comparable value but can be taken later. While a team like the New York Giants is in definite need of a reliable receiver, they may prioritize defensive lineman — a position that isn’t very deep this year.
Sure, a lineman on either offense or defense would probably plug an immediate need for the Vikings. But if Devonta Smith somehow is still on the board at 14 they have to take him.