8 NFL Draft Prospects Who Will Fill the Minnesota Vikings' Biggest Needs

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2014

8 NFL Draft Prospects Who Will Fill the Minnesota Vikings' Biggest Needs

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    Teddy Bridgewater is projected as the top quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft.
    Teddy Bridgewater is projected as the top quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Quarterback—that's where Minnesota's draft prep should start and end. 

    Christian Ponder hasn't panned out like a No. 12 overall pick should, Josh Freeman is a disaster, and Matt Cassel doesn't appear to be a long-term solution at the quarterback position. 

    But don't get your hopes up on Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville product is projected as the No. 1 overall pick, meaning the Vikings would need to trade up in the draft in order to acquire his services. 

    With the number of high-quality quarterbacks expected to be available, don't look for the Vikings to trade up from their No. 8 pick, though. The purpose of this slideshow is to lay a foundation of eight players the Vikings should be considering with their No. 8 pick (we're only looking at the first-round pick in this slideshow). 

    The following eight players are on this list because they can fill a need for the Vikings and have a good chance of being available when the Vikings are on the clock. 

    Please speak up on who you'd want the Vikings to take at No. 8 in the comments section. 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Johnny Manziel is a polarizing figure but will be highly sought-after in the NFL draft should he declare.
    Johnny Manziel is a polarizing figure but will be highly sought-after in the NFL draft should he declare.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    This guy is the most recognizable player in college football, and he made headlines last season, when he became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. 

    Scout's Inc. rates him as the No. 22 prospect in the draft, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him No. 12, and CBS Sports ranks him No. 8.

    Miller opines on Manziel in his mock draft: 

    Manziel may need to change his penchant for running at the next level, but what he won't have to alter are his instincts and feel for where to attack a defense. That, as much as anything, is what has stood out about Manziel the last two seasons—he's an attacker.

    Manziel showcased his gun-slinging abilities in a 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl to the tune of 30-of-38 passing (78.9 percent completion rate) for 382 yards and four touchdowns. 

    The "Johnny Football" persona would breathe new life into the Vikings organization and would be kept in line by the likes of Adrian Peterson and Greg Jennings

    Manziel finished his 2014 campaign with 4,114 passing yards, a 69.9 completion percentage, 37 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He also rushed for 923 yards on 144 attempts (6.4 yards per carry) with nine touchdowns. 

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

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    Justin Gilbert has the size (6'0, 199 lbs.) to be a top-flight cornerback.
    Justin Gilbert has the size (6'0, 199 lbs.) to be a top-flight cornerback.Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Chris Cook may be gone. Xavier Rhodes is still a developing cornerback. Josh Robinson...well, you don't want him to be an every-down corner at this point. Marcus Sherels is a nice backup. 

    Quarterback is the No. 1 need that must be addressed somehow, but cornerback is near the top of the priority list, too. 

    Cue Justin Gilbert. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him the No. 11 prospect in the entire draft, CBS Sports ranks him No. 29, and Scout's Inc. ranks him No. 12.

    Miller said of Gilbert

    Gilbert has everything you want from an NFL cornerback. He's big enough to handle outside receivers but shows the quick feet and hips to work through transitions and double-moves in man coverage. And to top it all off, he's brilliant at attacking the ball and making plays once he has the football in his hands.

    In 13 games this season, Gilbert led the Cowboys in interceptions (five), recorded 59 tackles, had 10 passes defensed and recovered a fumble. 

Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

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    Blake Bortles' stock is very high after his performance in the Fiesta Bowl.
    Blake Bortles' stock is very high after his performance in the Fiesta Bowl.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    After his first major showing on national television, Blake Bortles, a redshirt junior, is earning more attention. The Central Florida quarterback finished 20-of-31 with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 52-42 Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor. 

    Bortles has good size (6'4", 230 lbs.) and speed for a quarterback. 

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him the No. 10 prospect, CBS Sports ranks him No. 12, and Scout's Inc. ranks him No. 15

    Miller opines of Bortles

    Bortles isn't the crazy runner that Johnny Manziel is, and he doesn't have the downfield arm of Derek Carr, but he's accurate, poised, and even though he's pro-ready, he still has room to grow as a quarterback.

    Bortles completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 13 games this year. He rushed 87 times for 272 yards and six touchdowns. 

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

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    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6'1, 208 lbs.) would pair well with Harrison Smith.
    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6'1, 208 lbs.) would pair well with Harrison Smith.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Harrison Smith proved to be a home-run pick for the Vikings in 2012. The Notre Dame safety provided a physicality that Minnesota's defense hasn't received from anyone in its secondary since Robert Griffith in 2001. Also, he provides better coverage than Griffith ever did. 

    Smith is in need of a partner, however.

    Jamarca Sanford took a big step back this season, and Mistral Raymond appears to be a thing of the past. 

    Enter Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. 

    CBS Sports ranks him the 32nd best prospect, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him No. 19 in this class, and Scout's Inc. ranks him No. 18

    Miller writes of Clinton-Dix: "And like Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro from the 2013 class, the Alabama safety can step in and make an impact from his first day on the job." He also adds that Clinton-Dix is a "three-down safety" who can "come up and pop runners." 

    Smith is flexible to play free or strong safety and could fit in wherever Clinton-Dix preferred to play. 

    This pick would be viewed as a reach, but Clinton-Dix would fill a need and could contribute immediately, much like Smith. 

    Prior to Thursday night's bowl game, Clinton-Dix recorded 46 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed in 12 games. 

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

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    Derek Carr is the brother of former No. 1 pick, David Carr, and hopes to outperform his older brother in the NFL.
    Derek Carr is the brother of former No. 1 pick, David Carr, and hopes to outperform his older brother in the NFL.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    This is the guy that Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has the Vikings taking with the No. 8 pick. 

    Miller writes on Derek Carr and Minnesota's draft position: 

    The Vikings find themselves on the bottom of all the teams needing a quarterback in the first round. Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland will have all likely selected a passer by this time, and barring any trades, the Vikings will simply be handed whomever is left.

    Of course, if that's Derek Carr, they shouldn't complain. Carr may fall on draft day due to his last name—he's the younger brother of David Carr—and because his footwork in the pocket isn't the picture of consistency. But Carr has a pro-style arm, body and IQ. He's been productive while executing two very different offenses at Fresno and comes with the most pro-ready game in the draft outside of Bridgewater.

    This may feel like a consolation prize, but the Vikings would be lucky to have this scenario play out on draft day.

    Miller rates Carr as the No. 8 prospect of this draft, CBS Sports rates him No. 18, and Scout's Inc. rates him No. 57.  

    Carr finished the season completing 68.9 percent of his passes for 5,083 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 13 games. 

Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame

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    Louis Nix (6'3, 340 lbs.) could be Minnesota's next Pat Williams.
    Louis Nix (6'3, 340 lbs.) could be Minnesota's next Pat Williams.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The rankings suggest that this would be a heavy reach by Minnesota. 

    Louis Nix ranks No. 26 overall by CBS Sports, No. 17 by Scout's Inc. and resides outside the top 32 of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. 

    Nix (6'3", 340 lbs.) is a big body who could fill the middle like Pat Williams once did before his retirement after the 2010 season. Williams (6'3", 317 lbs.) was listed much lighter than he actually was and used his size to its fullest abilities. 

    Nix receives a "1" rating from Scout's Inc on his abilities versus the run, meaning he is "exceptional," which is the best rating available. 

    It opines on Nix's run-stopping abilities

    Disruptive two-gap interior space eater. Ideal anchor and rarely gives ground. Comes off with good pad level to get initial surge. Above-average upper-body power. Heavy and active hands to shed blocks and redirect. Range is more than adequate for a man his size. Good instincts to find the ball.

    If the Vikings select Nix, it's because they want to stop the run like they used to with the "Williams Wall," when the unit was consistently ranked within the top 10 in terms of run defense. 

    But the smart move would be to try to trade back if Nix is a target. Nix finished the season with 27 tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries in eight games played.

Brett Hundley, UCLA Quarterback

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    Brett Hundley hasn't yet declared for the NFL draft, but he should be on Minnesota's radar if he does.
    Brett Hundley hasn't yet declared for the NFL draft, but he should be on Minnesota's radar if he does.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    As a redshirt sophomore, we don't yet know if Brett Hundley will declare for the NFL draft. But, rest assured, if Hundley does, he will have plenty of NFL teams clamoring for his services, including the Vikings.

    ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Hundley as his No. 17 overall prospect, Scout's Inc. ranks him No. 51, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him outside of his top-32 overall prospects.

    Miller writes on Hundley, the No. 5 pick in his mock draft

    Hundley isn't NFL-ready from a footwork or field vision perspective, but he'll get there in due time. The reason he's worthy of (a top-10) pick is because you see on film a player that's so close to getting it, and in the meantime, he's able to attack with his arm and legs as a mobile, attacking quarterback.

    Hundley (6'3", 222 lbs.) is a dual-threat passer who passed for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 66.8 percent (248-of-371) of his passes. He rushed 160 times for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns.

     

     

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

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    C.J. Mosley (No. 32) plays inside in Alabama's defense but projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL.
    C.J. Mosley (No. 32) plays inside in Alabama's defense but projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    For Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, it's very simple. "Alabama's C.J. Mosley ranks as one of the best overall players in the 2014 draft," Miller writes

    Mosley projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL due to his size (6'2", 228 lbs.) and speed. 

    CBS Sports ranks him No. 14 on its big board, Miller ranks him No. 6, and Scout's Inc. ranks him No. 6

    ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. writes:

    Adding so much value in the modern NFL, Mosley has the versatility and great cover skills that will make him an appealing talent in any scheme. He flies to the ball, tackles well and scrapes effectively, getting off blocks to make a ton of plays. He simply needs to get a bit stronger and show leverage going downhill against the run. Could be best on the weak side; he gets past blocks and chases everything down (or simply beats people to the ball).

    Now, the Vikings have Chad Greenway at one outside linebacker spot. Depending on how they feel about Erin Henderson, this pick could make plenty or no sense. 

    Henderson, who bounced between middle and outside linebacker this past season, also was arrested for his second DUI in the past two months on Thursday. Minnesota must decide if he's part of the team's future and, if so, what position he will play. 

    If he's gone or at middle linebacker, then this pick could be a home run.

    Mosley recorded 102 tackles with nine tackles for loss and five passes defensed in 12 games (excluding Thursday's Sugar Bowl).