Who Did the Experts Have the Vikings Taking In Their Way-Too-Early Mocks Last Year?

Photo credit: Nikos Frazier-Journal-Courier via USA TODAY Sports

Nobody knows what the Minnesota Vikings will do when they step up to the podium on Thursday night. With a new general manager, a new head coach, and several needs on the roster, there are various routes the Vikings can take with the 12th-overall pick.

But that’s what makes the draft so much fun. The entire first round is must-see television because of its unpredictability. In the same way that Sheila from accounting nailed her March Madness bracket, draft experts try to get out in front by planting their flags on some of the following year’s top prospects.

This process begins with a “way too early” mock draft. The internet is flooded with mocks for the following year moments after Mr. Irrelevant closes out the draft. Each one is an attempt to say, “I saw him first.” But sometimes it winds up blowing up in their face.

With less than a week to go before this year’s draft, it’s interesting to see who these experts thought the Vikings would take one year ago.

It started with the master of the way-too-early mock draft, Todd McShay. The ESPN analyst was criticized in 2016 when he predicted Minnesota Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner would be a first-round pick. But when it comes to this Vikings team, he may have correctly predicted their first-round pick in Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis.

Patrick Jones II, the Vikings’ fourth third-round choice on Friday night, provides depth on the edge but isn’t likely to be a high-impact starter opposite Danielle Hunter,” McShay wrote. “Karlaftis can be that. After being among the top five teams in sacks in 2018 and 2019, Minnesota ranked in the bottom five in 2020, with 23.”

There’s still a lot of truth to what McShay wrote. The Vikings were in the market for an impact rusher across from Hunter. Everson Griffen returned to the team, but he only lasted nine games. Minnesota signed Za’Darius Smith this offseason, but his injury issues makes edge a fluid situation.

With Jones on the field for just 99 snaps, depth was a major problem for the Vikings. It’s also why drafting Karlaftis still makes sense.

After having his 2020 season wiped out by COVID, Karlaftis solidified his status as a first-round pick. His 90.6 Pro Football Focus pass-rushing grade was 15th among all FBS edge rushers who played at least 20% of the snaps. He also ranked fifth in total pressures, although that only translated into five sacks.

It’s also possible that Karlaftis’ stock rose with the changes to the Vikings’ coaching staff. With Ed Donatell’s versatile scheme, Karlaftis could play at defensive end. It would utilize his power moves and help Minnesota create a stronger presence in the trenches. But adding depth to the defensive line seemed to be a theme with other way-too-early mock drafts. Fan Nation’s Jack Borowsky had the Vikings taking USC defensive end Drake Jackson with the 13th-overall pick.

“On tape, Jackson is a great athlete,” Borowsky wrote. “He is just played out of position. USC will use him as a stand-up rusher, but Jackson is best as a traditional 4-3 end. He has the size the Vikings are looking for and the talent to develop into one of the better pass rushers in the league. Minnesota desperately needs someone outside of Danielle Hunter to help, and Jackson could be that answer.”

Jackson had a strong season for the Trojans last fall. His PFF pass-rushing grade was 25th among qualifiers, and his six sacks were a career-high. But his 26 total pressures left something to be desired. That could be the reason pundits regard him as a second-round prospect. But he may have also played himself out of the Vikings’ scheme.

Jackson wouldn’t be able to play the 4-3 speed-rusher role that Borowsky envisions in Donatell’s defense. While he could mix into the nickel package, taking a situational pass-rusher doesn’t have the upside you want with the 12th-overall pick.

Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski also linked the Vikings to a defensive lineman. He had Minnesota taking South Carolina edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare with the 13th-overall pick and foreshadowed the contract issues they’ve had with Hunter.

“Issues with Hunter are twofold,” Sobleski wrote. “First, he didn’t play last season due to a neck injury. The defensive lineman says he’s 100% recovered, though. Second, the 26-year-old is unhappy with his current contract, according to The Athletic‘s Chad Graff. Even with a healthy and happy Hunter, the Vikings require a defensive end bookend. The need intensifies with those potential problems at the forefront.”

The Vikings temporarily satisfied Hunter by re-working part of his contract last June, but his injury issues persist. A torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for the final 10 games of the 2021 season and has made this a pivotal year for his future with the team.

Enagbare makes sense if the Vikings are thinking about a replacement. He ranked fourth among qualifying edge rushers in PFF grade and collected 45 total pressures. At 6’3”, 258 lbs., he’s also the type of athlete who could thrive coming off the edge. But his lack of consistency slid him out of the first round. With Hunter and Smith in purple, Enagbare can refine his game and take over down the road.

So what does this all mean? One of Minnesota’s most significant issues was prevalent well before this year’s draft. The Vikings needed depth in the trenches but never addressed it outside of a couple of mid-round picks and the Griffen signing.

It also had the Vikings picking in the same spot. The 12th- or 13th-overall pick has been where the Vikings have selected over the past couple of years. None of these draft analysts saw this changing, and Minnesota found itself in the same spot coming into this year’s draft.

The Vikings could go another way in this year’s draft. But when it came to these early mock drafts, maybe these experts knew more than we thought.

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