The months of hype and speculation are drawing to an end as the 32 NFL teams gather at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the draft beginning Thursday night at 8pm EST.
You can find a mock draft anywhere you look these days, from all the top sports websites and every newspaper in the land to "draft experts" who try to crank out a living by doing draft analysis out of their parents' garage.
Whether they're the most accurate or not, or whether you like them or not, the two most popular "draft experts" still reside at ESPN, the network that has made a cottage industry out of the NFL's annual player dispersal draft.
Mel Kiper Jr. has served as a draft expert for ESPN since 1984 and former Richmond backup quarterback Todd McShay has been with them since 2006.
The 2013 draft is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in years, as most experts agree that while it may not be top heavy with superstars at the skill positions, it's a very deep draft and that NFL starters can be had in the middle rounds.
What makes that so interesting is that with multiple teams trying to fill multiple needs, it's truly a guessing game when trying to figure out how the names will come off the board beginning Thursday night.
Kiper and McShay both released their latest first round mocks on Monday afternoon. While they both have the Vikings filling needs with their two first round picks, they differ on who they think might be available when Minnesota picks, and who the Vikings will ultimately select.
Kiper has the Vikings taking Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 23rd pick. While the Vikings would love the draft to fall this way, Kiper is certainly in the minority in believing that Patterson will still be around at that point in the proceedings.
Kiper has West Virginia's Tavon Austin going to the Rams at pick 16, and no other receivers being taken until Minnesota is on the clock. Kiper has possible Vikings targets Alec Ogletree, Manti Te'o, Sylvester Williams and Desmond Trufant all being selected before pick No. 23.
With the 25th pick Mel has Minnesota adding middle linebacker Kevin Minter out of LSU. This is certainly a possibility, as plenty of people feel like Minter has roughly the same potential as Te'o. Minter was a tackling machine at LSU and was the unquestioned leader of a star-studded defense in Baton Rouge.
Both Patterson and Minter could step right in and be starters for the Vikings. Patterson is a bit more raw than some other receiver options, but his potential is off the charts. He only played one season of SEC football, but he was a dominant performer. Once he's taught how to effectively run routes, he can be an upper-echelon receiver in the NFL. He's a fantastic athlete and a great runner, who could even be used out of the backfield. Patterson is speed burner who will stretch the field for the likes of Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings would love to see Patterson available, but it's probably a long shot.
As for Minter, he could start right away in the middle for Minnesota and be an upgrade over Jasper Brinkley. What makes this draft even more compelling is that nobody really knows what the Vikings linebacker plans are for next season. There is a school of thought that the Vikings may draft an outside linebacker with plans to move Erin Henderson into the middle. The Vikings may not even make that decision until they see who's still available when they pick.
McShay, on the other hand, has a probably more reasonable first round, with both Patterson and Austin being gone before the Vikings pick. He has Minnesota selecting defensive tackle Sylvester Williams out of North Carolina with the pick No. 23 and linebacker Te'o with pick No. 25.
This scenario seems very logical for a couple of reasons. First, while it's understood that the Vikings are desperate for receiver help, the general consensus is that after Austin and Patterson, you've got a group of three to six or so receivers who all grade out very similarly, meaning you're just as likely to get the same type of player with pick No. 52 in the second round as you would at picks No. 23 and 25.
Both Williams and Te'o would also start immediately for the Vikings. Williams is a dynamic player who has everything you want from a defensive tackle; size, strength and quickness. Te'o, as maligned as he's been over the past two months, has four years of great tape from Notre Dame and ringing endorsements from former teammates Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton.
It will certainly be an exciting evening for Vikings fans, no matter what happens. General manager Rick Spielman has proved he's not afraid to move up or down in the draft and he's got plenty of draft picks to work with as ammunition.
The Vikings, like every other team in the league, are keeping their strategy close to the vest, and with so many positions of need, there aren't a lot of moves that are off the table for Minnesota. With all of that in mind, the guess is that with the two first round picks, the Vikings take two of the following: Patterson, Williams, Te'o, Trufant, Ogletree, Keenan Allen or Justin Hunter.
Tune in to the NFL Network or ESPN to find out, and keep clicking on the Bleacher Report for all the latest draft updates.
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