With the conclusion of the NFL season, all eyes turn to the draft, and fans of the Minnesota Vikings are no exception. While seven-round mock drafts can rarely (if ever) hope to be accurate, they provide a good tool for fans to get a feel of the available talent as well as the strategies the Vikings may use to improve their team.
This mock draft will focus on ways to fill any number of holes the Vikings have on their roster, but that won't be the strategy that Minnesota (or any other NFL team) will likely take outside of the first few rounds because of the limited availability of "steals" in the draft and the low likelihood that players outside of those rounds could start soon.
Nevertheless, there are any number of players who could change the franchise soon, and they can be found nearly anywhere.
Minnesota could find itself with the perfect match of talent and fit with the fourth quarterback in the draft, while avoiding two high-risk/high-reward prospects in Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles.
Aside from the fact that Carr is a perfect system fit for Turner with his big arm and extremely intelligent pre-snap reads, he also provides a safer option than a number of other quarterbacks with established good play.
Concerns about his footwork are fair if overblown, and the same can be said for his play under pressure, but it is difficult to replicate the quick and intelligent on-field thinking as well as his general accuracy.
His offense in college inflated his numbers, but even when taking away his high number of screen passes, teams see a quarterback who is accurate at every level of the field compared to his peers and who has a talent to put the ball in a place only his receivers can get to.
Should Carr answer consistency concerns, he’ll be a fantastic pick at No. 8.
The Vikings clearly need to upgrade at cornerback to pair with Xavier Rhodes in order to develop a high-level pass defense.
Like Rhodes, Kyle Fuller can play physically with big receivers and in the run game, and he jams well in press coverage. This physical play doesn’t come at the expense of speed or agility, though it’s true that he isn’t elite in either category.
Despite the fact that he doesn’t have the highest-tier athletic tools, he’s been excellent at covering fast, quick or large receivers. His football intelligence and fluid movement have more than made up for that.
Fuller plays with a good ball sense and reads the play extremely well, using his instincts to “click-and-close” better than most any other corner in college football. He’s experienced in man and zone coverage, and he has played with a variety of techniques throughout his career—including off, press, bail, pattern-match and more.
He hasn’t shown rare talent in any of these roles, but neither is he pedestrian, fulfilling his duties far better than his peers at the position. He still has some technique issues to clean up and may not be a defender primed for man coverage on every down, but he’s versatile enough for nearly any scheme.
Fuller’s biggest issue is his injury history. Shoulder injuries in 2012 limited him, but groin injuries early in 2013 and surgery on his core muscle group at the end of the year are bigger concerns. And he was forced to miss the Sun Bowl. Should he check out medically, he has Pro Bowl potential.
LaMarcus Joyner could kill two birds with one stone for the Vikings, resolving some concerns they have at safety while also filling in the slot cornerback role that may have been the most glaring weakness of the defense in 2013.
He could follow in the hybrid role of Tyrann Mathieu as a multi-capable player able to fill in anywhere he’s needed—and has the requisite toughness and strength to reprise the Antoine Winfield role in the Vikings defense—but he has similar issues coming out.
Even smaller than Mathieu, Joyner is 5’8” and relies on instinctive timing and athleticism to hit his markers and contest the ball in the air. With 190 pounds on his frame, he’s thick enough to lay the wood but still has the speed to play as one of the fastest corners in the country.
Joyner shows next-level talent when it comes to generating turnovers, both in the air and on the ground, and has a natural instinct for the ball, often without sacrificing the fundamentals of coverage or tackling. That kind of big-play ability has been lacking for the Vikings for some time, and Joyner could jump-start the defense.
The former 5-star recruit also shows superlative savvy when reading the field, whether it means gauging the quarterback’s decision-making or determining the angle of pursuit, both skills at which he excels.
He bites a little too often at play action and can get blown up on blocks, but his combination of quickness, speed, instincts and intelligence should more than make up for it. In order to overcome his size, he’ll need to improve his timing even further.
The Seminole may suffer in comparison to the Tyrann Mathieu’s otherworldly football sense and instinct, but Joyner still has those qualities in spades, even if it doesn’t quite match the former LSU standout’s level of talent.
Joyner can replicate Mathieu’s play (or better yet, the play of the 5’8” Bob Sanders), and could be well worth the pick—the indications that he can play at that level are there. Nevertheless, the frame creates significant problems, both as a matter of fundamental geometry as well as injury.
One of the strongest players in the country, Ryan Carrethers could be the perfect fit at nose tackle for the Vikings, who are struggling with Letroy Guion. Free agent Fred Evans may come back to the Vikings, but he's hardly a long-term solution.
Carrethers comes in at 330 pounds (at the request of his team) and has played well 20 pounds lighter in previous years. His weight is mostly muscle, and he was last measured at 16 percent body fat, better than most of the United States.
The former state champion wrestler has a natural understanding of leverage that gives him a leg up on the players against whom he's lined up, although he hasn't shown the specific type of skills that he'll need in the NFL.
Despite dominating his competition (he ranks second on the team in tackles, extremely rare for a DT), he hasn't shown "pop" when taking on double-teams or consistent pass pressure to collapse the pocket, and some of it has to do with his base.
When he has had the chance to take on high-level competition, he's done well if inconsistently. He dominated the Auburn offensive line, though didn't have much help. Aside from stuffing the box score (seven tackles), he consistently created disruption and forced Auburn to run away from him. Without help from the rest of the defensive line, Arkansas State couldn't contain Auburn—but Carrethers was the lone bright spot, even creating a few pass pressures.
On the other hand, against Missouri's offensive line, Carrethers struggled to make much of an impact and could be neutralized in both the pass and the run game.
For sheer upside, Carrethers will be one of the top nose tackles available in the draft, but he has yet to show the specific skills an NFL nose tackle will need to consistently display. He's somewhat slow in disengaging his blocks and lacks the lateral quickness of a top-tier defensive lineman, but at least he does have good enough football sense to know where the ball is going, often cutting off the runner.
The Arkansas State product may not be a day-one starter, but he shouldn't have much trouble breaking into the Vikings lineup in his first year.
The Vikings are likely losing one of Jared Allen or Everson Griffen and could lose both. Should it look more and more likely that the Vikings will lose the services of both defensive ends while also missing in free agency, they'll want to pursue a defensive end earlier in the draft.
But as it stands, there's a good chance they'll have two starting-level DEs without any backups on the roster. Trevor Reilly could fill that hole with the potential to be one of the most interesting defensive chess pieces in the country if he develops the right way.
Used as an outside linebacker, defensive end and even middle linebacker for the Utah Utes, Reilly wasn't just versatile, he was crucial. Extremely athletic, Reilly exhibits speed and agility, as well as impressive body control.
His acceleration of the snap blends well with his other skills, and he's shown the ability to get under or around edge protectors to get to the quarterback or running back without losing speed or leverage. A savvy defender, Reilly also shows the ability to read and react to offensive linemen and gain a step.
He's smart with his pass-rushing moves and shows active hands at the point of attack. With that, he demonstrates an ability to keep blockers off his frame with his length and consistently shows he can shed blockers to make the play.
Combine that with a player who shows excellent tangibles—maturity, leadership, charisma and the toughness to play through an ACL tear—and it seems like he's the perfect package.
While a consistently productive player at every position he's played (having originally moved from safety to play DE), he's likely better primarily as a pass-rusher, as Reilly has been average at best in pass coverage without as much backward agility as one would want in a coverage player. Further, while he shows familiarity playing well in zone schemes, he may not be suited for teams that will mix coverages.
The biggest issue with keeping him as a primarily pass-rushing player, however, is that he plays much better with space and time to react to the play ahead of him, often choosing to slow-play his man in order to gain an advantage. With that, he doesn't have the strength of many 4-3 ends, though he has the frame to add much more weight (though there is a limit—he's already added 30 pounds since joining the team) and therefore strength.
He's not consistent with his leverage in limited space, though that hasn't stopped him at the college level yet. He is a little lackluster against the run, but can create room for himself to be effective if not asked to set the edge on every down.
The biggest issue with Reilly has much more to do with his age than anything else. He would enter training camp at the age of 26, and he doesn't have a lot of time to develop into a top-tier player at whichever position he'll end up at.
Despite all that, he would be an excellent add for the Vikings, and his hard-nosed attitude would blend in perfectly with the culture that Minnesota is building.
There has perhaps been no greater enigma in the ACC than Seantrel Henderson, who had the talent and physical tools to start as one of the premier tackles in the conference but was consistently benched for poor drive and attitude.
Henderson has quite a pool of talent to draw from and was named the starter his freshman year at Miami, but he continues to be displaced for his character issues, both on and off the field.
Like Carrethers, Henderson is freakishly strong even for his position and would premiere as one of the stronger players in the NFL should he see the field as a starter. Like current Vikings guard Brandon Fusco, Henderson plays with nastiness and isn't afraid to use his overpowering strength to impose himself on opposing defensive lines.
To go along with that, Henderson has phenomenal agility for a man of his size and can either use his lateral quickness (and fantastic length) to protect the edge or pull as a lead blocker in the run game.
As a pass blocker, his technique is sound and has shut down some of college's top pass-rushers. Not only does his footwork look nearly polished, but his upper-body movement as a pass protector is well established, too.
Unfortunately, his technique in the run game is questionable, and he still has work to do to translate all of his raw power into effective running. Sometimes, Henderson is slow off the snap and doesn't quite move players off their spot as quickly as he should or establish dominance from the moment he engages.
His massive size has made it difficult for him to win with leverage, and he'll need to take some time to integrate better leverage into his game. Just like his strength, he hasn't turned his agility into a weapon in the run game, either, and is poor at the second-level in creating lanes. Sometimes acting heavy-footed and often playing a little hesitant as he identifies his assignment, he's an average run blocker at the moment—disappointing given all of his tools.
The biggest problem with Henderson is not his run-blocking technique, though. He's been suspended for undisclosed violations of team rules, violated traffic laws (leading to an accident) and missed time due to back surgery. In many games he would play, he'd have played less than half the snaps and missed the opportunity to start. Even when he did start, he would be taken off the field for significant stretches of time.
While many project the Miami player to play in the NFL as a tackle, a better fit could be as a guard, where some of the concerns that scouts have about speed and consistency can be hidden. Moreover, his strength could be put to better use grading roads and preventing interior pressure than it can pushing defensive ends out of the way.
Depending on the nature of his coaching conflicts, Henderson could go high in the draft, but it's more likely that he drops into the third day waiting for a team to take a chance on him.
But if Mike Zimmer is willing to take on another character project, the Minnesota native could return home fulfilling the massive promise he had coming out of Cretin-Derham Hall.
The Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year didn’t even get an FBS offer two years ago. But Shaquil Barrett has since then been able to set a Mountain West record with 20.0 tackles for loss, and tied for third in the nation with 12.0 sacks.
Unlike most under-the-radar prospects, Barrett’s upside doesn’t necessarily come from freak athleticism but plus football awareness. Barrett has a sixth sense about where the ball is headed or what kind of play he’s going to see and puts himself in a position to make an impact.
As a result, Barrett is intelligent about pursuit angles and jumping the snap count, and he has good intuition when engaged with offensive linemen, using his length to control the edge. He’s the rare college player that can both read plays and play decisively without hesitation.
He also flashes the ability to integrate skill sets and slowly has incorporated more pass-rushing moves into his repertoire, as well as added responsibilities.
Physically, Barrett is a powerful player who can control blockers with his strength and has a good bit of burst. He doesn’t pop off the screen with athletic ability, however, but has more than enough functional agility and speed to get by and make plays.
He has pad-level issues from time to time, but many of these were washed out as the season progressed. As it stands, however, it’s one of the contributing reasons he would be a better 4-3 defensive end instead of 3-4 outside linebacker (where he’s traditionally projected)—although he would have to add some weight to be prototypical for the position.
Isaiah Crowell might be the most naturally talented running back in the draft, but the issues with him come from off the field instead of on it. Compared to Herschel Walker coming out of high school as a 5-star recruit, Crowell had an amazing freshman year at Georgia.
But a failed drug test and two (dismissed) felony charges for illegal possession of a firearm saw him dismissed from UGA and led to his transfer to Alabama State. There, he didn’t get into any trouble, but his work ethic and sense of team play have come under heavy fire.
Physically, Crowell can be overpowering, with a good combination of burst, speed and strength. Throughout his body, he’s exhibited power and can just as easily stiff-arm a defensive lineman as he can drive through a linebacker. With all of that, he’s integrated his physical talents with excellent balance and solid technique.
He reads his blockers incredibly well with preternatural vision while maintaining professional-level footwork throughout his runs and uses it to aid his smart decision-making at the line or in the open field. As a runner experienced in power and zone schemes, Crowell can cut upfield or play with patience as the situation dictates and he avoids the tendency of young running backs to take too many risks and hit the corner in hopes for a long gain.
With the prospect of Toby Gerhart leaving, the Vikings could pick up some massive value by selecting Crowell late and getting an even better rusher than the former Heisman runner-up.