The Minnesota Vikings are facing a big decision—what to do with the eighth pick in the upcoming NFL draft—and no matter which direction they go it will be wrong. Regardless of the player they choose, someone, somewhere will present an argument that they made the wrong pick. If they draft a quarterback, they will be accused of reaching for the sake of drafting a quarterback. If they take the best player available, and select a different position, there will be criticism about passing up a potential franchise signal caller.
Looking back at the quarterback-prospect ranking from Walter Football for 2011, Ponder was projected as a late-first, or second-round pick. If the top quarterbacks are off the draft board when the Vikings pick, and they address another position, there will be plenty of criticism for a team in desperate need of a quarterback.
So who's the best option for the Vikings?
I looked at 50 mock drafts from the Walter Football mock draft database. There were four different players predicted as the top pick in the draft for the Houston Texans—Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater topped the list 25 times. The other three players are South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Predicting the NFL draft is not an exact science, there is no magic formula that can be used to determine the best fit for each team. This is evident by the discontinuity with who is the predicted top pick in the draft. With the lack of consensus at the top spot, who the Vikings might draft is even harder to predict. The seven teams ahead of them will have plenty of influence on who the Vikings select.
Here's a breakdown of the top-seven players predicted to be selected by the Vikings from these 50 mock drafts.
Two of the 50 mock drafts I perused have the Minnesota Vikings selecting Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins—an absurd prediction since the Vikings addressed this position last season. One comes from Fanspeak and the other from Fansided, Inside the Iggles.
Last season the Vikings upgraded the wide receiver position by signing free-agent wide receiver Greg Jennings from Green Bay and drafting Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round. It might be said that the best defense is a good offense, but with a defense that finished dead last in scoring last season, it will take a great offense to make the Vikings a winning team—and Watkins won't elevate the offense that much.
Even if there is not a top quarterback available, this would be a bad pick. The Vikings need to find a defensive end to replace Jared Allen, a defensive tackle to replace Kevin Williams, a couple of linebackers who can play next to Chad Greenway and another cornerback before they even think about selecting a wide receiver.
Last season, with quarterback Tajh Boyd throwing him the ball, Watkins led the Tigers with 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. Considered the top wide receiver in the draft, Watkins would give the Vikings another potential deep threat, but it won't be enough to offset a defense that yielded 30 points per game.
Like the previous prediction, Teddy Bridgewater being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings was on two mock drafts. While this would be an awesome pick, it is almost as unlikely to happen as the selection of Sammy Watkins.
The mock draft from The New NFL Draft at least provides a plausible scenario for Bridgewater to the Vikings. They predict a trade between the St. Louis Rams and the Vikings, moving the Vikings up to the second pick in the draft. There's just one problem—it still might not be high enough.
According to ESPN, CBS Sports and Walter Football, Bridgewater is considered the top quarterback in the draft. Running a pro-style offense at Louisville, Bridgewater is also considered the most NFL-ready passer in the draft and a good bet to be the top overall pick.
This past season the junior led the Cardinals to a 12-1 record. He completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
With a potential franchise quarterback like Bridgewater at the top of the draft board, it's highly unlikely he will be wearing purple in 2014.
Three of the mock drafts predict the Minnesota Vikings selecting University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. If the top-three quarterbacks have been taken by the time the Vikings draft, the selection of Mack makes sense.
It would be better to forgo a quarterback until the second round and focus on the defense.
According to CBS Sports, Mack is the eighth-best player in the entire draft. As a pass-rushing specialist, he has the potential to fill one of two needs for the Vikings—outside linebacker or defensive end.
Last season, Mack led the Bulls with 100 tackles, 19 of them for a loss, and 10.5 sacks. A versatile defender, he also led the team with three interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. In four seasons with Buffalo, Mack had 75 tackles for a loss.
According to the analysis from ESPN, Mack has exceptional range in coverage. This combined with his pass-rushing talents could provide a boost for a Vikings' defense that last season allowed opposing offenses to convert 44 percent on third down.
In the 50 mock drafts I looked at, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was among the top four picks in the draft 43 times. In only three of those mock drafts, did he fall all the way to the Minnesota Vikings with the eighth pick.
Manziel is considered to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the draft, along with Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville and Blake Bortles from Central Florida. NFL.com ranks him second behind Bridgewater, while CBS Sports has him ranked third.
The first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manziel is a capable passer as well as an effective rusher. Bucky Brooks from NFL.com describes him as a great improviser, comparing him to former Viking great, Fran Tarkenton.
As a freshman, he passed for 3,706 yards and ran for another 1,410. In two seasons for the Aggies, he passed for 63 touchdowns and rushed for another 30.
Manziel dropping all the way to the Vikings with the eighth pick, is almost as unlikely as Teddy Bridgewater being available.
In four of the mock drafts I looked at, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is predicted to be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Walter Football has him ranked as the top outside linebacker in the draft, while CBS Sports ranks him second behind Khalil Mack.
A comparison of their senior results shows two very effective players.
Both players are listed at 248 pounds with Barr standing an inch taller at 6'4".
Like Mack, Barr has the potential to fill one of two needs for the Vikings as a pass-rushing specialist. Both players are projected to be first-round picks.
Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles is a very interesting prospect. He is projected as the top pick almost as often as the eighth. He is listed among the top three quarterbacks on most draft boards, listed as the second-best quarterback prospect by CBS Sports and third best by ESPN and Walter Football.
Of the 50 mock drafts I looked at, he was the top pick, going to the Texans, nine times. That's just one fewer than the 10 mock drafts that predict him going to the Minnesota Vikings.
With the report that Matt Cassel will opt out of his contract for the 2014 season, the Vikings find themselves with only one quarterback on the roster—2011 first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. Even if new offensive coordinator Norv Turner can work his magic and develop Ponder into a serviceable quarterback, they still could still use an upgrade at the position. At the very least they need to add some depth.
Like the other quarterbacks listed so far, Bortles will be a Viking if available when Minnesota picks in the first round.
Of the top five quarterbacks ranked in the upcoming draft, Bortles is the biggest at 6'3" and 230 pounds. Last season the junior passed for more than 3,000 yards for the second consecutive season. He finished with 3,581 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was second for the Knights with six rushing touchdowns.
In 21 of the mock drafts, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr was predicted to be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.
This is where things really get tricky.
While Carr led the nation with 5,083 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes, he is ranked as the fourth-best quarterback in the draft by Walter Football, CBS Sports and ESPN. Projected as a late-first to second-round pick, it might be a bit of a stretch to draft him with the eighth pick in the draft. If the Vikings decide to wait until the second round, there's a very good chance he won't be there when they select again.
Looking back at the quarterback-prospect ranking from Walter Football for 2011, Christian Ponder was projected as a late-first, or second-round pick as well. If Carr is still on the draft board when the Vikings pick, and they choose to address another area of need with that selection, they will open themselves up to plenty of criticism, given the team's desperate need to upgrade the quarterback position. Of course, this coaching staff doesn't want to repeat the mistake the team made when they reached and drafted Ponder with the 12th pick in the 2011 draft.
With the recent success of quarterbacks taken in the second and third rounds—look no further than Russell Wilson, a third-round draft pick in 2012—the Vikings might choose to wait. With so many holes to plug on defense, the only way I see the Vikings drafting Carr is by trading down a few spots in the first round and receiving an extra pick later in the draft.
The great thing about the 2014 NFL draft is that the speculation will be fierce until May 8.