Vikings

Senior Bowl Standouts the Vikings Should Keep An Eye On

Photo Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are at an odd crossroads when it comes to their roster construction, though that’s not necessarily new for a team with a mandate to make a run at the playoffs every year.

Given their quarterback situation – an unsigned Kirk Cousins as of this moment – and the depth needs across the roster, taking a look at draft events like the Senior Bowl might give us insight into the options the Vikings have available to them.

After a few days at the Senior Bowl watching prospects and talking to experts inside and outside of the NFL, there are a couple of noteworthy performances to keep track of.

Quarterback

The quarterback situation in Mobile was much better than we’ve been used to in recent years, but it’s still pretty bleak. Two quarterbacks – Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix – needed to make their case as potential first-round prospects, and there was buzz that Nix might accomplish that task this week.

He did not. Had Nix been inconsistent, it would have been a blessing. Instead, he was consistently off-target, often throwing sideline passes out of bounds and in-breaking routes behind the receiver. His control over ball velocity was minimal, and there were moments we saw short underneath routes with too much mustard and deeper throws without enough air.

It’s been a very disappointing couple of days for him. While his film looks like a Day 2 prospect to me, his performance in these isolated practices – devoid of context or preparation, in all fairness – looks more like a Day 3 prospect with tremendous upside.

Penix hasn’t been disappointing, but he also hasn’t been outstanding. The arm strength he’s been known for hasn’t really revealed itself in astounding fashion, and he has been overshadowed by the howitzer Joe Milton III is carrying around. That’s not a bad thing for Penix, who is showing more touch and anticipation than any other big-name quarterback prospect, but he’s not making unique or interesting plays in a way that screams board movement.

But the guy with the rocket arm, Milton, has been more of an issue than Nix, who at least is making completions. Milton is regularly creating interceptions, firing lasers to receivers before the route concept develops and forcing drops or incompletions with his play. He improved on Day 2, but Milton clearly needs development. The issue is that Milton has had six years of college football to develop. It just may not be there.

Spencer Rattler threw perhaps the worst interception of any quarterback on Day 1, but he still may have had the most consistent performance. Rattler regularly demonstrated touch and accuracy with command of the simplified offense the Senior Bowl crafts for its prospects. Rattler wasn’t the “best” quarterback on either day. Day 1 probably goes to Penix, whose anticipation could trick you into thinking he had chemistry with receivers he never played with. But Rattler certainly seemed better than the way he’s been talked about as a draft prospect.

Carter Bradley is the most interesting player to me. The local quarterback from the University of South Alabama happens to be Gus Bradley’s son. He wasn’t anything special on Day 1 but was honestly outstanding on Day 2. He showcased great anticipation, good arm strength, and fantastic accuracy on some very tough throws.

Wide Receiver

The Vikings have a great one-two punch with Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson, while Jordan Addison is clearly turning into an excellent complement as a deep threat and possibly quite a bit more. But the third receiver spot isn’t solid, and depth was a big concern after Jefferson went down with injury.

Adding a complementary receiver who can consistently find his way open on third down would do wonders for the offense, even if it’s not a priority like quarterback and the defense. To that end, a second-round prospect like Ladd McConkey – easily one of the three best receivers there – may not be the most useful target to isolate.

But it should still be noted that McConkey was impressive. If he falls to the third round, and the Vikings find a way to obtain a third-round pick through trades, then he should be in consideration. In addition to his work as an underneath slot-type player, McConkey demonstrated speed that could make him a slot fade maven in the NFL and a release that could place him on the outside.

Still, I like Roman Wilson from Michigan more for that role, especially because he played more consistent football than McConkey, and his separation advantage was massive. It seemed like no cornerback could win a rep against him. On top of that, his catch radius and concentration make him a bigger target than his 5’10” frame would suggest. Wilson was fun, and he got open better than anyone else there.

A more realistic target might be Florida’s Ricky Pearsall, though. Pearsall is bigger than both of those standouts but didn’t perform with the same explosion. Nevertheless, he did an excellent job getting open with his precise route-running and good intuition for space.

Aside from Wilson, Pearsall may have been the best route-runner there, and his size might make him a bit better of an option on the outside. As a competitor for K.J. Osborn’s spot on the team, Pearsall might be the best fit.

For narrower roles, Jamari Thrash from Louisville was the best deep threat at practices, and his deep-ball tracking was in another class entirely from the other receivers there. After-the-catch player Ainias Smith could be extremely useful in an offense that defines his role, and he can do more than just catch screens or underneath passes to house them. He earned a great reception on a seam in Day 2 that could suggest a larger role.

Cornerback

The Vikings have a desperate need at cornerback. There weren’t a ton of players at the Senior Bowl who placed themselves into immediate starting contention for teams, but there were at least two notables worth mentioning

Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell was outstanding. It might be worth talking about his capabilities in man and zone coverage, his physicality at the line of scrimmage, his remarkable patience, or his well-developed technique – all of those are features of his Senior Bowl practice performances. But what stands out to me is his confidence.

By Day 2, there were already cornerbacks hesitating and jumping at shadows whenever McConkey or Wilson lined up across from them. Their hesitation turned a dire situation deadly as they couldn’t maintain their balance or find ways to make contact. Their mistakes cascaded, and even Nix could land a soft target 30 yards downfield to an open receiver in those situations.

Not so with Mitchell, who won every rep in his head and almost as many on the field. His confidence was infectious, and he was more than willing to chirp at any offensive player willing to mix it up. That confidence didn’t prevent him from taking coaching well. After a correction on a double move he nearly lost to – his recovery speed allowed him to make up ground – he didn’t lose on a double move again.

There has been a lot of conversation putting Mitchell into the first round after what he did at the Senior Bowl. The Vikings should be paying attention to that.

In addition to Mitchell, cornerback Sam Hart from Notre Dame had an excellent series of days. Earning nearly as many pass breakups and possibly more interceptions than Mitchell, Hart demonstrated that his 6’3” frame isn’t a detriment to his movement capability. There were instances when quicker receivers running routes to the inside ended up breaking away from Hart, but Hart’s length and speed often allowed him to compete on those plays regardless.

Hart’s instinct in zone coverage seems to be fairly high level, while his man coverage reps rely more on his physical advantages rather than technique. He’s a more tantalizing prospect than most others out there, but there’s still quite a bit to learn. Nevertheless, Hart is intriguing.

Jarvis Brownlee Jr. from Louisville showcased great ball awareness and came out as a winner after two days of practice, while Kris Abrams-Draine consistently won his reps.

Defensive Line

Experts have consistently mocked Laiatu Latu to the Vikings, and his film gives credence to the idea that he should be drafted high in the first round. But his Senior Bowl practices have been less than stellar. It might be too strong to say it was disappointing, it just wasn’t outstanding.

I wouldn’t let this move the needle on him or anything, and he still found some impressive wins throughout practices, but Latu didn’t quite jump off the film like Darius Robinson from Missouri did. Robinson was listed as a “DL” rather than as an edge rusher, and he drilled a fair amount of reps on the inside. But he also won his outside reps as an edge defender and could be an exciting player for a coach like Brian Flores to deploy.

Robinson may have had the best week of any defensive front seven player, even against first-round quality offensive linemen. Michael Hall from Ohio State could have given him a run for his money, though. His execution from the interior defensive line position could separate him enough to push him into Day 2 consideration, something he hadn’t had from many analysts to this point. Hall was virtually unblockable.

Austin Booker from Kansas was fun to watch rush off the edge, but he may be too light (240 lbs.) for the position. T’Vondre Sweat projects to be a pure nose tackle in the NFL, but he was given reps at the three-technique position and did well as a pass rusher there. That’s not likely going to be enticing enough for teams to put him in the first round but it is an element of his game that could be overlooked.

Offensive Line

Taliese Fuaga from Oregon State has received first-round grades from a number of draft experts and it’s easy to see why. One person I talked to mentioned that Fuaga would be a top-12 play in a normal draft year were it not for the fact that the 2024 draft is heavy on offensive linemen.

After Joe Alt and Olu Fashanu, nine other offensive linemen went in the first round of Dane Brugler’s most recent mock draft at the Athletic. Seven of them may have tackle capability.

That’s what Fuaga is up against when it comes to consideration in the NFL draft. That kind of competition could be excellent for the Vikings, who don’t have a long-term plan at guard. Fuaga has been playing right tackle in college and at the Senior Bowl but is projected as a potential guard convert by many analysts.

Fuaga’s tools are excellent, and his ability to move is reminiscent more of a rookie Brian O’Neill at 295 lbs. than the 330 lb. behemoth that Fuaga actually is. He plays with excellent balance, awareness and violence and could be an overlooked steal if the crowded room at offensive line pushes a player like him down the board. The Vikings should take note.

If they would rather a more pure interior offensive line prospect, then another potential first-rounder in Jackson Powers-Johnson from Oregon, who has taken reps at center and guard, could be worth a look. Again, he moves extremely well for his size but unlike any of the other linemen at the Senior Bowl doesn’t seem to have lost a single rep through two days. That’s outstanding.

There’s been great work on-and-off from Arkansas center Beaux Limmer and Oklahoma tackle Tyler Guyton and I personally have liked the movement skills of Illinois guard Isaiah Adams. He has shown increasing awareness when it comes to picking up stunts and his power has been excellent. He could be a fun mid-round get for the Vikings, who should come out of this draft with at least one offensive linemen given how talented this group is.

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Photo Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

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