The 2012 NFL Draft is just over two months away. While I'm not ready to actually submit a mock draft yet, I've been eying some prospects pretty heavily over the last few weeks.
With the NFL Scouting Combine about a month away, my opinion of just about every prospect will change probably about 100 times in the coming weeks.
The Vikings have excellent draft position and no matter who they take in the first round, that player will make this team better. That being said, it becomes increasingly important to make use of the later-round picks in the draft so that the team can effectively rebuild its emaciated roster.
For this article, I'll be referencing B/R Lead NFL Draft Writer Matt Miller's big board of the top 100 prospects.
I'll assess not only the prospect, but how they would or would not fit into the Vikings' systems.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 31st overall
Though Miller has Alabama safety Mark Barron listed as his 31st overall prospect—which would put him in the first round—I'd still consider him a second-round prospect due to the lack of need for safeties among teams with later picks.
Barron is the best safety prospect in this year's draft and would be a major improvement for the Vikings' back end.
He hits hard and is tremendous in run support but doesn't compensate with loss of range. Barron was a star on the Crimson Tide defense and could do a lot of the same in the NFL by matching up with today's hybrid tight ends.
If the Vikings stay at their No. 3 overall pick in the first round, it may be tough to get Barron by the second round. If the team trades back in the first round, however, they would have a good shot at a potential long-term game-changer in their secondary.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 33rd overall
If, for some reason, the Vikings don't select left tackle Matt Kalil in the first round, they may jump at the opportunity to select one in the second round. Offensive tackle Mike Adams from Ohio State may be a steal with their 35th overall pick.
Adams could be a first round prospect, but his height might not allow him to get low enough on his blocks.
Still, Adams has fantastic handwork that could make up for the concerns and make him almost a steal in the second round.
Should the Vikings trade down to accumulate some picks, it may not be all that bad for the Vikings to not go with Kalil and snatch Adams in the second round.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 47th overall
Thought the Vikings picked up nose tackle Remi Ayodele last season, they still don't have an serviceable tackle to plug up the middle next to Kevin Williams. I don't think this need necessarily warrants a second round pick, but if they can grab a solid nose tackle in the third round or if they have multiple second-rounders, they may want to really put the finishing touch on an already solid defensive line.
Michigan's Mike Martin could be an early look at nose tackle for the Vikings.
Aside from playing very well for the Wolverines all season, Martin has solid NFL size and great strength to take on two offensive linemen—which is exactly what the Vikings need.
Martin would be a nice fit in the A-gap for the Vikings, but his draft stock will likely rise as we move closer to the draft. If that's the case, the Vikings may have to take him in the second round—which could be too early for their level of need.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 52nd overall
The Vikings have traditionally been pretty strong at linebacker. This offseason will be a little bit different, though, because they could not just lose backup Kenny Onatolu but starters/brothers Erin and E.J. Henderson to free agency.
If that becomes the case, they will have to look to the draft to find a middle linebacker to play in their Tampa-two system and a weakside backer to match up with tight ends and running backs.
Lavonte David may not be the best outside linebacker prospect in the draft, but he very well could be the best fit for the Vikings.
Matt Miller notes on his big board that David is "undersized for a classic outside linebacker position," but could be an "ideal fit in a cover two defense.
David's speed could make him a solid prospect late in the second round or early in the fourth. If the Vikings accumulate some more picks, I think David could very well become a Viking.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 57th overall
With how bad the Vikings offensive line played in 2011, I think an overhaul may be in order. That being said, right tackle Phil Loadholt has pretty much been a bust. Though you could blame injuries for one of his poor seasons, Loadholt holds far too often to continue being the starter.
If the Vikings select Kalil in the first round, they likely won't go with the offensive line in the second round.
Zebrie Sanders from Florida State got burned at the Senior Bowl which hurts his draft stock as a left tackle. But considering the fact that he played right tackle for the Seminoles, getting him in the third or fourth round wouldn't be a bad way to add some depth or possibly a new starter on the Vikings' offensive line.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 58th overall
The Vikings will likely try to address their secondary though free agency this offseason, but as the 2011 season showed us: you can never have too many quality defensive backs on your roster.
If they go with Kalil in the first round, I think that without trading any picks, Minnifield will be the Vikings second round selection.
Miller notes that he has adequate size, but lacks the speed and footwork to be a first round selection. If they are able to get Minnifield in the second round after getting some talent in free agency, their situation at cornerback could be much improved from a season ago.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 68th overall
I know the Pac-12 has a reputation for simply not playing defense, but Alameda Ta'amu is an absolute beast.
I think Miller has him ranked so low on his "Big Board" because he is just so raw as a prospect. The tackle has excellent size for the NFL, but lacks the discipline to be a top prospect.
With the Vikings bringing back Brendan Daly to coach their defensive line, the addition of a stout nose tackle could return the team to its days of being the most dominant run-stuffing line in the NFL.
With proper coaching he could dominate next to Kevin Williams on the Vikings defensive line.
Even Miller notes that if he's able to utilize his strength and learn to use his natural leverage, he could be unstoppable.
Not too bad for a potential third-round guy, right?
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 75th overall
Wisconsin's Nick Toon is an interesting prospect. He could be one of the five best receivers in the draft, but mediocre speed and lack of durability might end up hurting his stock.
The Vikings need to get some more sure-handed receivers. Whether they do that in the first round of the draft or through free agency, they may look to add some more depth as early as the third round.
Given that quarterback Christian Ponder likes to work outside of the pocket, Toon might actually be a pretty nice fit for the Vikings because of his ability to come back to the ball. Toon was the most reliable receiver for the Badgers and could end up being a nice third or fourth option for the Vikings as a rookie.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 77th overall
Yes, here is the second of the two Florida State tackles in this year's draft. Dakto might actually be more talented than teammate Zebrie Sanders, but an injury to his shoulder might not allow him to participate in the combine—which would hurt his stock much further than it already has.
Other than his history of injuries, Datko is a very talented technical left tackle. He has solid footwork and already has the chemistry of playing with Christian Ponder in college.
If Datko falls into the fourth round, I could certainly see the Vikings taking a chance on him—that is, if they don't take Kalil in the first round. Even so, he might be a cheap pick-up and could provide some nice depth.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 78th overall
Appalachian State's Brian Quick had a nice showing at the Senior Bowl and could be a great under-the-radar guy for the Vikings.
Miller notes him for his size and ability to create separation from even the top cornerback prospects at the Senior Bowl. If he's able to work on his route-running a bit, he could be a red-zone beast for the Vikings.
His big frame and ability to go up and get the ball could make him a matchup nightmare.
If he slides into the third or fourth round, the Vikings should definitely pull the trigger—and I'm sure they would after coaching him at the Senior Bowl.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 79th overall
I already noted that the Vikings might be looking to upgrade at strong safety in the draft. If they aren't able to get a guy in the earlier rounds of the draft, South Carolina's Antonio Allen might be a nice option in the third or fourth.
Miller notes that he's about as solid a prospect as they come, but he just isn't that game-changing Tier 1 player that most teams need in a first round pick.
I'd prefer the Vikings try to find a star for their presumably open strong safety spot, but as long as a guy is serviceable, they should see improvement in 2012.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 82nd overall
I could go on for hours about why I think the Vikings should take LaMichael James, but it really comes down to the fact that with Adrian Peterson's serious injury and otherwise lack of depth at running back, they simply need another rusher on their roster.
James' draft stock has plummeted because of his proneness to injury and the residual affects of the injuries: fumbling problems. Luckily for the Vikings, that plummet in stock could mean they get a talented guy with some star-power to help ease the short-term loss of Adrian Peterson.
I see James as a guy who could be a nice, versatile receiver out of the backfield on third down. If James slides into the third or fourth round, or they accumulate some additional picks, I certainly wouldn't rule out the option of this former Oregon star for the Vikings
Oh yeah, and he's a stud in the return game as well.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 91st overall
Former Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey is an incredibly talented prospect, but his history of off-the-field issues and poor performance at the Senior Bowl has caused his draft stock to take a bit of a hit.
Miller notes that Posey has excellent potential, but needs to clean up his act a bit. As a potential fourth-round pick, he would be a nice prospect for the Vikings--especially if they're able to add a true No. 1 receiver at some point leading up to the draft or in the early rounds.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 96th overall
Because he played at Vanderbilt, Casey Hayward's stock is obviously not that high, but because of a solid showing at the Senior Bowl, it's rising fast. With a good showing at the combine, Hayward could find himself as a high-third round guy or maybe a late-second rounder.
The Vikings obviously got a chance to see Hayward at the Senior Bowl and if they need to add a corner, he could be a solid option in the third or fourth round.
Miller's Big Board Ranking: 100th overall
Harrison Smith could be a very nice pickup in the fourth round for the Vikings.
At the Senior Bowl, Smith showed that he has some pretty nice range and can definitely come up and make tackles in run-support. Combine that with the potential to be a solid special teams contributor and you have a fourth round prospect with some nice value.
Though he's certainly not a starting strong safety prospect as a rookie, Smith could certainly find his niche on the Vikings roster as a later-round guy.
Obviously, I left out some pretty big names from this list. The reason for guys like Alfonzo Dennard, Mohamed Sanu, Dwight Jones and Markelle Martin are basically for the reason that they just wouldn't fit the Vikings' offensive or defensive systems.
Sanu and Jones are both solid wide receiver prospects, but they are both vertical receivers and wouldn't truly thrive from a west coast offense like the Vikings run.
As far as Martin goes, free safety isn't as much of a need as strong safety for the Vikings (and he's a sloppy tackler).
Dennard is considered by many people to be a first-round prospect, but his inability to recover from getting bumped at the line makes him a very unattractive prospect for a system that requires big, physical corners.
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Thanks for reading.