When it comes to the NFL Draft, it’s never too early for hindsight. Why wait to regret missing on a pick when you can regret not even having it at your disposal?
For the Minnesota Vikings, that moment will come in Round 2, when the Jacksonville Jaguars go on the clock with the 45th-overall selection. That pick was formerly held by the Vikings until they traded it to Jacksonville for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue last August. When the planned pairing of Ngakoue with Danielle Hunter never came to fruition thanks to Hunter’s neck injury, Minnesota turned around and dealt Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for a third-round pick.
The Vikings walked away from the Ngakoue rental with one win, five sacks, and a net drop of 45 spots in this year’s draft. And they still need a pass rusher in addition to significant O-line upgrades — not to mention that Mike Zimmer never met a round in which he wasn’t happy drafting a cornerback.
Minnesota may address one of their offensive line needs with the 14th pick, but don’t hold your breath. And by the time the Vikings come back on the clock in Round 3, somewhere in the vicinity of 20 offensive linemen will have gone off the board.
We’ve already dreamed a little dream as to who might be pegged as Minnesota’s savior if the Vikings use that 14th pick on the O-line. We’ve also addressed some of the potential third-round options that might be at their disposal if that’s when they choose to finally bolster their offensive line.
Now let’s look at what Minnesota might miss out on thanks to the Ngakoue trade. Or, if you prefer to put a positive spin on it, who are some players the Vikings might be able to land if they trade down from 14 and recoup a second-round selection?
Based on the many full-draft mocks floating around, the following players are expected to be available at pick 45 but gone before the Vikings step to the podium at 78. Note that Sam Cosmi and Liam Eichenberg, both solid offensive tackle prospects, were occasionally available at 45 but more often than not already off the board.
Dillon Radunz, NDSU
Radunz is “one of us,” an All-State performer from Becker who earned All-American honors at North Dakota State as a junior. After missing out on Billy Turner, a Minnesota native who reached the NFL via NDSU and now starts for the Green Bay Packers, it would behoove the Vikings to take a closer look at this Bison.
Zimmer would appreciate Radunz, as every scouting report raves about his nasty demeanor and aggressive finishing in the run game. He has enough mobility to reach the second level and make the blocks Minnesota’s scheme requires, though enough scouting reports suggest Radunz is better suited to play inside as they anticipate struggles with more athletic pass rushers on the edge.
Radunz is 6’4″, 301 lbs, with room to add weight without sacrificing athleticism. Scouting reports indicated no issues with his anchor (yay!), though he could stand to bulk up a little if the plan is to play inside. The consensus is that he’s a better run blocker than pass protector, which would allow him to fit right into the current O-line.
Radunz would seem to provide many of the same benefits the Vikings reaped from last year’s second-round selection, Ezra Cleveland: left tackle experience with the ability to kick inside to fill a need. You know how they love position flexibility along the offensive line, and another versatile player with tackle experience not only offers insurance against injury but also a Plan B should the Vikings be unable to find their wallet when it comes time to sign Brian O’Neill to a new contract.
Brady Christensen, BYU
Christensen might be the ultimate settle-for guy in this year’s draft. His scouting reports are chock full of words and phrases like “adequate,” “good enough,” and “sufficient,” and yet somehow he was an All-American last season protecting Zach Wilson at BYU.
At 6’5″, 302 lbs he has more than enough strength to move defenders in the run game, but making those blocks while he’s on the move isn’t necessarily his strong suit. That same strength gives him a good anchor in pass protection, but once again scouting reports suggest moving inside to guard might be the best way for Christensen to cover up any mobility issues.
More than a few scouting reports suggest Christensen’s best fits might be at right tackle or guard in a power/gap scheme, which doesn’t necessarily fit the Vikings model. And yet his 9.84 Relative Athletic Score indicates otherwise. He may be more likely to end up in purple if he slides down the board to the third round, but again he offers the multi-position potential that would allow Minnesota to, as they like to say, put their best five linemen on the field.
Quinn Meinerz, UW-Whitewater
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Division III offensive lineman beats up on the competition, earns an invite to the Senior Bowl, and proves he can hang with the big boys.
Last year it was Ben Bartch from St. John’s turning heads with his smoothies and his standout play, and Minnesota’s draft-day whiff was Jacksonville’s reward. This time around it’s Meinerz, who followed a remarkably similar path to what should be a Day 2 draft slot.
Unlike Bartch, Meinerz didn’t need to chug an egg-and-peanut butter concoction daily to get to 320 lbs — or if he did, he’s not marketing it nearly as well. Where Bartch’s hallmark was athleticism, Meinerz’s is pure power. Some scouting reports slot him as a center, though all his college reps came at left guard. Either way, he’s a powerful interior prospect who’s drawing plenty of NFL attention.
There will be the obvious questions about stepping up in class, but Meinerz more than held his own against D1 talent at the Senior Bowl and has all the tools to transition to Sundays. A former wrestler — another trait the Vikings love as it speaks to the player’s balance and core strength, among other attributes — Meinerz also posted an impressive 9.98 Relative Athletic Score thanks to a sub-5.00 40 and elite marks in the shuttle and three-cone drills as well as the vertical and broad jumps.
Of course, it’s possible one or more of these players makes it to the Vikings at 78. But it’s far more likely that, should Minnesota not make any moves to shore up their O-line prior to coming on the clock in the third round, the result of last year’s failed pass-rush rental will be a significant step down in available talent to plant in front of Kirk Cousins.