As Minnesota improbably enters the postseason, fans can be sure that GM Rick Spielman and his coaching staff are still hard at work, scouting college talent and searching for the best value.
It's difficult to determine how a team will pick over the course of seven rounds, especially with the possibility of trades, but there's no question that teams are laboring to get a feel for how early this year's prospects will (and should) go.
While last week's mock draft followed the Christmas spirit and made a hard-to-fulfill wish list for every round, this week the mock will focus on trades and value.
With a stacked class at some of the Vikings' top priority positions, getting more picks might be more important than getting the top picks, so Minnesota may be looking for quantity rather than tremendous quality, finding value rather than star talent.
The Vikings would do best to trade down and acquire several draft picks so as to take advantage of what this draft has to offer in Minnesota's positions of need. They may be able to then draft the best player available while keeping on track with with their need profiles.
Their highest priority needs look to be at wide receiver, defensive tackle and inside linebacker. With additional needs at guard and the potential depth problems at secondary and outside linebacker, the Vikings have quite a bit to do to have a successful draft.
While many feel the Vikings should go after a quarterback in the draft, it's clear that the Vikings will stay the course with Christian Ponder and won't spend another high pick on a highly touted quarterback to compete with Ponder. Given the dearth of talent at quarterback in this year's class, it's safe to say that they'll ignore quarterback in the earlier rounds.
An interesting problem with the draft, however, is how tiered the talent is. Without a clear A.J. Green or Julio Jones-caliber player, the receiver class generally seems to showcase a number of just-decent prospects with similar skill sets, without too much dropoff from the first round to the bottom of the second round.
For defensive tackle, the prospects for a 4-3 capable interior linemen are functionally similar for the Vikings. The fact that there are two defensive tackles a clear head-and-shoulders above the rest doesn't matter to a team picking so low, unless Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins begins to fall relative to other prospects in the post-bowl evaluation period.
The rest of the tackles will have to separate themselves from their competition during the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game, with DTs Shariff Floyd, Sheldon Richardson and defensive tackle Kawann Short all looking to vault themselves into the first round.
Similarly, second-day prospects for inside linebacker should be somewhat similar to the prospects the Vikings could choose from in the first round, given their position, although the separation here is much higher.
With that in mind, the Vikings might want to trade out of the first round entirely and pick up a second round pick and some change.
While historically, moving from the 23rd pick or so directly into the second round is worth an early second, third and fourth round pick, according to the NFL value trade chart and past four years, it is unlikely they could grab such a bounty by dealing their pick.
In this case, the Vikings could trade with a team like the Cardinals, who could grab one of the few true left tackles left on the board as well as a quarterback in the first round after that type of trade. Instead of getting the next three Cardinals picks, however, they would more likely end up with a second round pick, a fourth round pick, and a third round pick the next year.
One option could be to trade down to a later first round pick, then trade down into the second round instead of trading directly into the second round, like New England has on occasion.
Here, they could trade down to a team with few needs like Denver or San Francisco and then again to a team like Cincinnati that could also use more quality than quantity. In this scenario, the return would be closer to projected values, with an early second round pick, a late third round pick and another fourth round pick.
The second scenario is the more optimistic, but also less likely and feasible. Assuming Spielman can pull off the first trade, the Vikings will be in a good spot to massively upgrade the roster at key positions.
With an additional second round pick and three fourth round picks, the Vikings might want to leverage their extra assets later in the draft to add quality near the top. Too many draft picks can be a problem, too, and not all picks will be able to make the team.
The Vikings should be able to package a third round pick and a fourth round pick (likely from the hypothetical trade partner instead of the Lions' or their own) and move into the middle of the second round.
A team like Miami, who has five picks in the first three rounds, or New England, who value a quantity of picks could feature as trade partners. Some teams, like the New York Jets, have too many needs to stand pat with only a few picks, so there are many possibilities.
In all likelihood, the Vikings might be better off trading with a team that has multiple second round picks, and would probably give up their third round pick and a fourth round pick to trade in to the second round—Cincinnati and Miami may be willing to oblige.
This way, the Vikings can address their top three needs in the second round and fill the later rounds with depth picks, which they sorely need.
Kawann Short's offseason will be vital to determining his draft stock, as he enters the draft with a bevy of concerns. His on-field play was marred by inconsistency and conditioning issues in 2011, and off the field, questions about his weight and work ethic plagued the young prospect.
His 2012, however, was great. His statistics took a turn for the worse, but he played much better on film. Getting his weight down and disrupting the passer from both 3-technique and 1-technique spots, Short displayed versatility and a growth in maturity that teams needed to see.
That's not to say Short hasn't been streaky, but he could turn into an extremely effective nose tackle at the next level, particularly with how he handles double teams.
If Short shows an ability to get his weight down and plays well in the Senior Bowl, he'll leap up the boards, with the potential to sneak into the first round.
While Short probably doesn't boast the unreal strength of Alabama prospect Jesse Williams, he is one of the strongest defensive tackles in the draft, and surprisingly also has a good menu of pass-rushing moves to help him out. He needs technical work on where to place his feet and hands, but the fact that he constantly moves both is a very good sign.
He has work to do on staying low, but he is otherwise an excellent prospect. In most years, he would find himself in the first round discussion easily. Because of that, the Vikings could snap him up early and get great value from their first of three second round picks.
Linebacker is not the next most important need for the Vikings, but the linebacker class drops off in a big way partway through the third round, so they'll want to get one while the getting's good unless there's an unlikely run at receiver.
Greene's stock has been rising over the course of the season and an excellent performance at the Russell Athletic Bowl will solidify this position. While it is unlikely that he'll peek into the first round, he has deservedly put forth rumors that he could be a late steal on the first day.
He projects as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 system, but could also play as a middle linebacker. Given Minnesota's particular 4-3 scheme, he'd be best suited covering the middle and taking over for Erin Henderson in the nickel package, making Greene the every-down linebacker the Vikings are missing.
Greene flies across the field from sideline to sideline and uses the skills he's learned as a safety to effectively smother running backs and tight ends in coverage, both as a man-to-man defender and a zone player. He can read the flow of the play well and has an excellent backpedal for a linebacker.
He doesn't stack and shed the way scouts and coaches expect from downhill player, so he wouldn't fit as well on the strong side, but his ability to avoid blockers while getting to the runner and quarterback makes him ideal as weakside or middle linebacker. His agility would be refreshing for a department the Vikings D lacks and he could instantly improve the pass and run defense.
At 230 pounds, he'll need to bulk up and add about 15 more to be at an ideal weight for a Vikings linebacker. He also has work to do to maintain gap integrity. But, his instincts, strength, technique and speed make him a worthy pick early in the second round to replace the struggling Jasper Brinkley.
Rogers has emerged as a relatively controversial draft pick, given his suspension from Tennessee and subsequent play at Tennessee Tech, a local junior college.
In 2011, he put up 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, but was suspended due to failed drug tests. Choosing to play in the Ohio Valley Conference, he finished with fewer yards (893) and one more touchdown in his 2012 campaign.
On the field, he's been described as a "virtual Julio Jones clone" because of his excellent triangle numbers: the combination of ideal size, weight and speed.
Not only that, his stop-start ability and strength give him rare explosiveness, a trait that the Vikings receiver corps is in short supply of.
Rogers has nearly every trait people want out of a receiver, with phenomenal body control, fantastic hands and extraordinary toughness.
His strength caused difficulty for SEC cornerbacks who tried to play him physically, as teams preferred to play off rather than press. This also caused difficulty for defenders who tried dislodge the ball from his hands and he has yet to drop a pass due to a hit. As a powerful runner, he's proven difficult to tackle as well.
His route running isn't perfect, but is still excellent for a college prospect and he displays excellent footwork and explosion at the breaks. He's versatile in multiple schemes and can play as a split end, flanker or in the slot in the Vikings' system.
He doesn't have the top-end speed of the fastest receivers, but his short-area quickness is undeniable. The fact that he gets separation on deep routes might make his speed a moot point. His biggest concern is a lack of concentration that will occasionally lead to a drop, but he still produces at a high level in spite of that.
A first-round talent like Rogers for a late second-round pick would be a huge bargain for the Vikings.
Gabe Jackson may fall to the top of the fourth round, in what would be a bit a gift for the Vikings.
Given the surprising number of draft-eligible guards in 2013 (in 2010 only three guards were selected by this pick, and four in 2011) Jackson could be forced down by the likes of Alvin Bailey, Larry Warford, Cyril Richardson, Dallas Thomas, Jonathan Cooper, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack.
If that happens, the Vikings would do well to pounce on Jackson, who looks to have third-round talent at a position of relative need for the Vikings.
Jackson is perfectly suited for a zone scheme, with good lateral steps and excellent footwork. His build is that of a tackle, but he fits best as a guard who could swing outside in a pinch.
A better run blocker than pass blocker, Jackson was partially responsible for running back Vick Ballard's success in 2011 and can control the point of attack extremely well.
His games against Alabama and LSU were prime examples of Jackson rising to the challenge and controlling dominant players.
Jesse Williams (one of the strongest college players in the country and a potential first round prospect in his own right) was nearly blanked with only one tackle on the day when up against Jackson. LSU's standout interior lineman Bennie Logan didn't have a single solo tackle and had three assisted tackles. Neither of them could manage a sack.
Jackson must do a better job against technique players and also work on getting low off the snap, but his strength and agility at the guard position are both worth serious consideration by the Vikings.
Aaron Mellette's draft stock will depend more on his performance at the Senior Bowl than nearly any other invitee because he hasn't had the opportunity to showcase his talent against top-tier teams. Mellette, though, has had good games against some of the best schools in the FCS.
Coming out of Elon, Mellette didn't shine until a few games into the 2012 season, but ended with 1,398 yards on 97 receptions. Averaging 127.1 receiving yards per game is no easy feat, regardless of the level of competition.
If Mellette can get onto the field and showcase his skills against Leon McFadden, Jordan Poyer or Blidi Wreh-Wilson, that may allay the concerns some have about his level of competition.
Mellette is likely to play a possession role at the next level, as his speed is likely somewhere closer to the 4.5-4.6 range than the typical 4.4-something.
The word on Mellette is that he's a solid leader on the team with an excellent work ethic.
His biggest asset is his route running, both in terms of precision and intuition. An unusually smooth route runner (not just at his level, but in general) Mellette has been left with acres of space against some of the FCS' best cornerbacks. His timing is good, he comes out of breaks well and doesn't waste a step. His agility and intuition have also allowed him to exploit the holes defenses leave behind in zones and he has a natural approach to the ball.
Mellette also shows an excellent ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls, particularly those over the shoulder. Given Ponder's struggles at ball placement, this seems like a good fit, especially with Michael Jenkins' imminent exit from football.
He'll need make more of an effort to catch the ball outside of his body at his pro day and in showcases like the Senior Bowl. If he can manage to do so, he can really generate yards after the catch. Da'Rick Rogers can force opposing secondaries into deep coverage, so Mellete should be able to take advantage of spaces just past the down marker.
The Vikings will be looking for depth at cornerback, as they've consistently found themselves using their reserves to start. An aging Antoine Winfield and an occasionally missing Chris Cook will encourage Minnesota to find talent at cornerback to compete with Brandon Burton, A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson.
Sanders Commings offers a lot to the Vikings as a depth pick, but the Vikings could pass on him if he falls to them late in the fifth round. His history is marred by the same ugliness that saw Cook leave the team in 2011, and they may very well dislike seeing that headache again.
Commings' interview at the combine may be more important than most, and he'll need to make marked progress in his anger management courses before NFL teams see him as a draftable player.
But if the Vikings do choose to take a chance on him, Commings can provide a lot as depth. At 6'2" 216 pounds, and projected to run a 4.49 40 yard dash, his triangle numbers closely mirror Cook's.
He is a different player in many respects, however. While fluid like Cook, he is much more likely to try and jump the route and make a play on the ball, something he does well.
Commings' can play surprisingly tight coverage for someone with his frame, but still has a few problems aside from the domestic assault charge that will sink him in the draft. His inconsistent work ethic as well as poor tackling could make him a poor fit for the Tampa-2 system, which generally asks its corners to contain shorter routes by allowing a catch but preventing any yards after the catch.
Still, 43 tackles in nine games isn't terrible. Commings can get to the ball just fine, but needs to wrap up more while breaking down the tackle. The Georgia corner is a bit of a risk, but his height, weight and speed might be too much to pass up.
This late in the draft, the Vikings will, as per their recent draft history, almost certainly be looking for the best available player rather than reaching for needs. They could take a look at developing depth at the defensive line, linebacker and safety positions.
Given that the Vikings gave up a potential sixth or seventh round pick to grab A.J. Jefferson from the Cardinals, they won't have as many chances to experiment with developmental picks on day three of the draft, but will want to improve upon what they already have.
Defensive tackle will likely remain a need for the Vikings even after drafting a top-tier interior defensive lineman and they could hit two birds with one stone by getting both a potentially great player and fulfilling a need.
Boyd is another strong pass rusher who was pegged to rise to a potential second round pick before the season started. He has an excellent but limited set of pass rushing moves that have been effective against some of the top teams in the country, including Alabama's vaunted, NFL-ready offensive line.
The Mississippi State prospect could easily play as a 1-technique nose tackle, but also has the explosion and penetration to potentially back up Kevin Williams in the 3-technique spot between the guard and tackle. He has excellent burst off the line, and this might encourage the Vikings to slot him behind Williams instead of Short.
Boyd is still limited in big ways, however. Not only does he possess a small roster of pass rushing moves, but when they don't work well, his counter-moves often fail. If, after the initial burst, he can't generate penetration or move off a blocker, he's more easily moved than one would hope up front. He doesn't have the agility of NFL defensive tackles and doesn't look good in pursuit.
He's been inconsistent, too, with some of his poorest games coming against bad competition, like Jackson State. While this does conversely mean he's been most impressive against better competition, it does raise questions.
Boyd would likely not see the field as a starter for quite some time if he were drafted, but the raw Bulldog has all the physical tools to perform at a high level in the NFL with some grooming.
The combination of Taylor's injury history and scant play against some of the better teams in college might allow him to fall to the Vikings in the seventh round, but there's clearly talent here.
Similar to the options the Vikings have in round six, they could easily find a developmental project any position, including positions of strength, like running back.
But if the Vikings are concerned that Greene can't gain the weight necessary to play middle linebacker or he otherwise does not work out, they could grab Taylor, who already possesses the size the Vikings want in the middle of the field.
Taylor works best in zone coverage and does a great job limiting yards after the catch. He can line up in man coverage against tight ends, and his coverage skills reveal a fluid player who can use his good balance and speed to cover most of the players he would be asked to take care of. He will occasionally miss his zone landmarks or drift out of position, but is otherwise sound.
Against the run, he has decent pursuit, but occasionally makes makes mistakes in choosing the angle of pursuit. He can diagnose run plays well enough and can also suss out play action at an above-average level.
When locked up in a block, he can't do much to shed it, so he could be more a liability in the run game at the NFL level than he was at Virginia Tech, where he was good enough to keep most runners in check. His tackling is inconsistent and he will alternate between textbook form and ineffective arm tackles.
Overall, he likely would be cut in competition with Audie Cole at camp, but having several players compete for limited spots on the inside will be good for a position that sorely needs talent. Taylor has it in him to perform at a starter level in the NFL, but has much work to do in terms of technique.
Perhaps most importantly, he must display the upper body strength to be a difference maker for the Vikings.