The Minnesota Vikings have represented one of the more puzzling franchises in recent memory. An offense surrounded by the often criticized Kirk Cousins has received its fair share of scrutiny, but with a failure to address an underwhelming defense the last couple of seasons, who’s really to blame for the lack of “success” in Minnesota? I say that cautiously as wins haven’t been in short supply, but playoff success has—46 regular-season wins over the last five seasons but just two playoff victories, headlined by the Minneapolis Miracle against New Orleans in 2017.
It’s now left general manager Rick Spielman in a precarious spot entering the 2021 offseason for a franchise desperate to return to its first Super Bowl since Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters in 1976.
An offense littered with talent in Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen highlight the Vikings roster: it’s their backbone. And granted, most points wins in the NFL, but Mike Zimmer’s defense has become a far too often denounced kryptonite to Minnesota’s postseason aspirations.
Despite missing the entirety of the 2020 campaign, Danielle Hunter now may be required to restructure his $72M extension he signed in 2018. A two-time Pro Bowler, Hunter serves as the anchor in an overall underwhelming unit, and they desperately missed his presence off the edge this past fall. Anthony Barr also presents his own set of obstacles. A once-heralded “green dot” within the Minnesota defense, Barr was also ineffective in 2020, appearing in just two contests. If co-defensive coordinators Andrew Zimmer and Andre Patterson have any plans of rejuvenating a subpar unit in 2020, they’ll need Hunter and Barr to serve as the anchors for the purple and gold heading into the fall.
Ultimately, Minnesota’s success next fall relies heavily on Spielman’s additions this spring both in the draft and via free agency. Using our Mock Draft Machine, I looked at which prospects the Vikings could target this April when the annual NFL draft rolls around. Here is my seven-round mock, including scheme fit, on each prospect:
Round 1 (No. 14 overall): Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL, USC
It’s not a sexy selection compared to a 4.3-speed wideout or 6-foot-2 corner with a 40-inch vert, but Vera-Tucker could become the Bell of the Ball in due time. The Vikings are in dire need of improvement within their offensive line, and Vera-Tucker has a chance to become the most dominant lineman in this year’s class; Yes, better than Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater.
He’s an absolute road-grader with the ability to run both through you and around you with a nasty motor stemming from exceptional athleticism. Spielman added one of my favorite center prospects in the 2019 class—Garrett Bradbury—to shore up the heart of the Vikings line, now it’s time to add punch in the former Trojan. The trio of Bradbury, Vera-Tucker, and Riley Rieff would provide one of the league’s top left sides of the line, a welcomed sight for the All-World back in Cook.
Round 3 (No. 78 overall): Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
This would represent a dream scenario for Spielman with Anthony Harris set to enter the open market. Despite receiving first-round grades from many, Moehrig slipped in this mock to the third round. If he’s there come April 30 on Day 2 of the draft, expect the live stream of the Vikings war room to resemble bedlam.
Moehrig is a game-changing type of athlete within the secondary. He’s excellent in single-high coverage patrolling centerfield with an acute eye for offensive schemes and opposing route combinations. His eyes, at times, find him in trouble as he tends to peek into the backfield, but his athleticism and open-field burst rarely have him out of position. Working under Harrison Smith’s tutelage would do Moehrig well, as he has the talent to become one of the top safeties in football. This would be the steal of the draft if he slips.
Round 3 (No. 90 overall): Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina
I wanted to address the needs within the defensive line here, but schematically, it didn’t make sense. So, I took the lightning-in-a-bottle prospect in Brown. Chad Beebe is set to enter the open market, so with Jefferson and Thielen already in place as the X and Z, Brown fits flawlessly into the slot as Minnesota’s Y.
Brown had 1,000 receiving yards in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, collecting 20 receiving touchdowns while averaging more than 20 yards a pop.
He’s built in a prototypical NFL-slot mold but has the scheme versatility to work out wide as well. He’s an excellent athlete with the vertical speed to excel at the next level behind his burst to the football and ball skills leading to big plays down the field. According to our own Joe Marino, his “versatility opens up a world of possibilities for him to snap off routes and get open in the intermediate areas of the field.”
Round 4 (No. 119 overall): Marvin Wilson, IDL, Florida State
Wilson is a perfect case of a raw prospect with two sides to the equation.
He has the ability and tools to develop into a menace in Minnesota’s 4-man front, or he could flounder and fail to progress as a prospect.
A former 5-star recruit, Wilson would slide seamlessly into the Vikings’ even front if the team fails to re-sign Jaleel Johnson. He has excellent mobility skills with powerful hands and smooth feet, allowing him to shed blockers and eat up double teams while maintaining gap control and vision in the backfield. Development is needed regarding his raw ability rushing the passer, but it’s nothing game reps can’t fix. Wilson would provide excellent mid-round value here for Minnesota.
Round 4 (No. 125 overall): Walker Little, OT, Stanford
The Vikings tout Cousins’ blindside protector in Rieff and second-round surprise Brian O’Neill at right tackle, but Minnesota’s failure over the years to keep the likes of Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and now Cousins upright has been abysmal. Additionally, Minnesota’s pass protection was the fourth worst league-wide in 2020, per PFF.
With that, the Vikings must address the tackle spot, either in the draft or via free agency. In the tackle class, Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater have drawn much of the talk—and rightly so—but Little offers a tremendous amount of talent that frankly hasn’t received the correct amount of attention.
He provides excellent length at 6-foot-7 with minimal flaws to his game. He touts excellent movement skills with an innate ability to identify twists and stunts while remaining in sync with his fundamental footwork. He’s an insurance blanket for their near $100M investment in Cousins that could work rotationally or as a starter from day one.
Round 4 (No. 134 overall): Tre Brown, CB, Oklahoma
The young duo of Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler has left much to be desired following the sudden departure of Xavier Rhodes last year. Norwood is a true ball-hawking corner with excellent footwork and technique who shined in Mobile at this year’s Senior Bowl. He fits best as a nickel corner, but could develop into an outside press-man defender with increased development as a prospect.
Round 4 (No. 143 overall): Daelin Hayes, EDGE, Notre Dame
The contract situation surrounding Hunter remains up in the air, but Minnesota needs added pop to their front four. With Wilson’s addition early in the fourth to boost the interior, I went back to the well here with a brick-wall-of-a-man in Hayes to add juice on the outside.
His NFL-ready frame eerily reminds many of Hunter’s out of LSU, and Hayes looks primed to compete and produce from the moment he steps onto the NFL stage. Like Brown, Hayes also stood out in Mobile, dominating 1-on-1 drills with translated success into team sessions.
If the Vikings fail to restructure Hunter’s deal, he could become a prime trade target, and with secondary options in Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, and Washington castoff Jordan Brailford, it would be wise of Spielman to add talent along his defensive line here in the fourth.
Round 5 (No. 158 overall): Joshuah Bledsoe, S, Missouri
You’re probably thinking, “another safety?” Let me explain.
Bledsoe has become one of the biggest risers within this year’s safety class due to his versatility. He projects as an excellent third safety behind Smith and Moehrig, garnering a large sum of the snaps as a hybrid defender working both at the second and third levels of the defense. In today’s NFL with increased 11 personnel, Bledsoe’s innate ability to cover wideouts, tight ends, and backs would be an ideal fit within a secondary of ball-hawking safeties in Smith and Moehrig.
Round 5 (No. 172 overall): Patrick Johnson, EDGE, Tulane
Simply due to his program, unless you’re a film junky, you haven’t heard of Johnson. One of the most productive edge rushers in this year’s class, he would provide welcomed depth within the Vikings front four.
He played both on the line and at linebacker for the Green Wave, further touting his versatility and skill set as one of the most underrated defensive prospects in this year’s draft. He wouldn’t be looked upon as a major contributor his first few seasons, rather his contributions as a third-down pass rush specialist would be a welcomed sight. The opportunity to learn behind Hunter could do wonders for Johnson, who accumulated 120 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, and six forced fumbles in three seasons for Tulane.
Round 6 (No. 201 overall): Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Who knows what Minnesota will do when it comes to their future under center when Cousins' contract expires next year, but the addition of Ehlinger just makes too much sense. He is a playmaker that attacks defenses without fear, with the knack for finding ways to win ball games whether it’s in the air or with his legs. He’s no Justin Fields or Trey Lance, but the former Longhorn offers a nice dual-threat combination that Cousins simply doesn’t have.
He won’t blow you away with his intangibles, but the Vikings’ offense is already built from the outside in. Jefferson, Thielen, Cook, and the addition of Brown would take a ton of pressure off of Ehlinger if he were to earn snaps due to a Cousins injury or linear move from Zimmer.
Round 6 (No. 222 overall): Manny Rugamba, CB, Miami (OH)
Cornerback is a spot I see Spielman primarily addressing in free agency, but the addition of Rugamba, a small school prospect out of the MAC, would address needed depth in the secondary. A former Iowa transfer, Rugamba plays “heavy” by working constantly in the face of wideouts in press coverage, forcing receivers to work off the line.
Nothing comes easy from the 5-foot-11 nickel man, and if he’s able to return to 2019 form, the Vikings could find themselves with an excellent value selection here in the sixth.
Round 7 (No. 236 overall): Naquan Jones, IDL, Michigan State
With premier size and movement skills, Jones has the potential to develop into a day-one starter for Minnesota due to the lack of pure talent up front. Jones displayed ideal strength and fundamental tools as a Spartan with prototypical length for the position.
Jones is a terror to handle when he gets his momentum going, allowing him to plow through weak-footed linemen with loose anchors in the pass game. Although he is mostly unproven, development within an NFL facility and a full offseason program could work wonders for Jones—as a former 4-star recruit, he has the pedigree to develop into a productive 1-tech at the NFL level.