Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman finds himself in a no-lose situation with the upcoming NFL draft. With so many holes to plug and the eighth pick in the draft, Spielman is sure to find a player that can make the team better.
No doubt, plenty of fans are hoping that one of the top quarterbacks in the draft falls to the Vikings, but don't count on that happening. Despite the fact that the only quarterback under contract is Christian Ponder, don't expect the Vikings to draft a quarterback in the first round. They cannot afford to reach for a quarterback with the eighth pick—especially with needs on the defensive line, linebacker and cornerback.
The most likely scenario is for the Vikings to move down in the first round and gain a couple of extra draft picks. In 2012, Spielman picked up an extra first-round pick and last year he dealt his way to three first-round selections. Looking for a similar situation this year, the Vikings need to have a very complete draft board for the first round to accommodate whatever may happen.
So who's at the top of Vikings' draft board?
Don't expect a straight answer from Spielman. He does a very good job of camouflaging the team's strategy by not divulging too much. That won't stop me from constructing the top 25 prospects the Vikings should be prepared to draft, depending on who's on the board and where they might end up drafting.
Let's start with the top five no-brainer prospects that the Vikings should select if any of them are on the board when it's their turn to draft.
The Top Five:
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
At one point, Bridgewater was the consensus pick as the best quarterback in the draft. Now, WalterFootball.com has him ranked third, behind Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. From the latest ranking:
Two quarterback-needy teams picking in the top five say that entering the Combine, they have Blake Bortles as their No. 1-ranked quarterback
Even so, if Bridgewater falls in the lap of the Vikings, they have to take him. Bucky Brooks from NFL.com says that Bridgewater "is the most polished pocket passer in the college game." He finished last season with 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His completion percentage improved each season—culminating in Bridgewater completing 71 percent of his passes last year.
Bridgewater did not run in the 40-yard dash during the combine, nor did he participate in the passing drills. The chance of this hurting his stock enough for him to fall all the way to eighth is slim.
2. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
It seems the closer we get to the draft, the higher Bortles' stock is climbing. Last year, Bortles led the Knights to a 12-1 record, including a 38-35 win over Bridgewater and the Cardinals in Louisville. He finished last season with 3,581 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Unlike the other top quarterback prospects in the draft, Bortles participated in the passing drills at the combine. According to Dane Brugler from CBSSports.com, he performed well.
That can only make it tougher for the Vikings to get a shot at drafting him.
3. Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
It's almost a perfect fit—according to CBSSports.com, Mack is the eighth-best player in the draft, and the Minnesota Vikings currently own the eighth pick. Not to mention, the Vikings also have huge holes to fill at defensive end and outside linebacker.
Mack was a four-year starter at the University of Buffalo. Last season, he finished 100 tackles, 19 of them for a loss, and 10.5 sacks. He also intercepted three passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. Among linebackers, he was a top performer at the NFL Scouting Combine in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap and the broad jump.
|Khalil Mack's NFL Scouting Combine Performance|
|Event||Bench Press||40-yard Dash||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone Drill||20-yard Dash|
|Results||23||4.65 seconds||40.0"||128.0"||7.08 seconds||4.18 seconds|
Nolan Narocki from NFL.com believes Mack is "primed for the NFL game." He sees a young man who is well grounded, coming from a humble family, who can develop into an impact player in the NFL.
4. Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
If the Vikings miss out on Mack, there's another pretty good option with Barr from UCLA. Playing for the Bruins, he had very similar statistics last season. Barr finished with slightly fewer tackles with 66, but had 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He led the NCAA in forced fumbles with six.
WalterFootball.com ranks Barr ahead of Mack at outside linebacker. At the combine, Barr measured 6'5" and 255 pounds. The fact that he matched Mack's statistics in a tougher conference has to work in his favor. Unfortunately, his combine results were nowhere near as impressive as Mack's. The only event he excelled at was the three-cone drill, where he finished third among linebackers.
5. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Vikings finished with the 31st-ranked pass defense last season. Part of that was due to injuries that resulted in their top three cornerbacks missing a combined 14 games. Rookie Xavier Rhodes led the team with 10 passes defended in only six starts. They need to find another big, physical cornerback with the potential to shut down the big receivers in the NFC North.
At 6'0" and 202 pounds, Gilbert is just such a cornerback. He is ranked as the top cornerback in the draft by both WalterFootball.com and NFL.com. He finished third among cornerbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine with 20 reps in the bench press.
In his senior season at Oklahoma State, he led the Cowboys with seven interceptions—that's one more than all the cornerbacks and safeties for the Vikings had last season combined. He also achieved that feat in three fewer games. Gilbert finished with the best time in the 40-yard dash by a cornerback, with a time of 4.37 seconds according to NFL.com. He was also a top performer with 20 reps in the bench press.
Gilbert would be a great choice for the Vikings—especially in a scenario that has them moving down a couple of spots. He would be a great addition to a young, talented secondary, that includes cornerbacks Rhodes and Josh Robinson, and safety Harrison Smith.
Now moving on to the ranking of the rest of the Vikings' big board for the first round.
6. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Considered to be a candidate for the first overall pick in the draft, some people might wonder why Clowney isn't ranked higher on this board. His work ethic has come into question as the NFL Scouting Combine arrived. Mike Mayock from the NFL Network questions Clowney's intensity level. Per a tweet from the NFL Network, Mayock puts Mack ahead of Clowney.
Clowney performed well at the combine with the fastest time in the 40-yard dash for defensive linemen at 4.53 seconds. According to NFL.com, he was also a top performer in the vertical jump and broad jump.
7. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Another name many people would expect to be among the top five, Manziel drops a bit in this board. He's been compared favorably to Fran Tarkenton, the Vikings' Hall of Fame quarterback drafted in their first year of existence.
The problem with that comparison is that Tarkenton played in an era where defensive linemen were not nearly as big and fast as they are today. Just to prove my point, check out this video from Sports Illustrated of a simulcam of the 40-yard dash between Manziel and Clowney. Clowney clearly wins the race by a good two steps.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com, Manziel was a top performer in every category. Unfortunately, he decided not to participate in the passing drills.
As B/R NFL Columnist Dan Pompei points out, "He is short. He is unconventional. And he might be incapable of doing business from the pocket."
That doesn't sound like a good combination in today's NFL, where it's very difficult for a quarterback to play an entire season.
In only two seasons at Texas A&M, Manziel had 93 touchdowns—63 though the air and another 30 on the ground.
8. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Vikings desperately need to upgrade the interior of their defensive line. Last season, they drafted Kevin Williams' replacement with the selection of Sharrif Floyd. Now they need to find someone to play alongside him.
Nix is considered the top defensive tackle in the draft by CBSSports.com and WalterFootball.com, as well as by Mike Mayock from NFL.com. Projected as a top-20 pick in the NFL draft, he could be a huge addition to the defensive line. At 6'2" and 331 pounds, he has the size to command a double-team.
The downside is he is coming off a season-ending injury that required surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee. He would be an ideal selection for the Vikings if they acquire another first-round draft pick, or move down to the second half of the first round.
Because of the injury, he could potentially fall into the second round of the draft.
9. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Perhaps the last position the Vikings need to draft is wide receiver. However, if Watkins were to be available to the team in a situation where they have a second (or third) first-round pick like the last couple of seasons, he would be a great addition.
The Vikings need to decide what to do with wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who is a free agent. There's also the fact that Greg Jennings will be 31 this season. At 6'1" and 200 pounds, Watkins, along with Cordarrelle Patterson, would give the Vikings two big receivers to build around. Last season, he caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.
If by some odd chance the top wide receiver in the draft drops to the Vikings with the eighth pick, it would be easy to say they got the best player available. Another benefit in the selection is preventing the Detroit Lions from drafting him.
10. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Rounding out the top 10 is arguably the best cornerback in the draft—depending upon whom you believe. WalterFootball.com ranks Dennard second, while CBSSports.com ranks him first and a potential top-10 pick. If the Vikings don't have a shot at Gilbert, Dennard is a pretty good option.
The senior finished with four interceptions last season for the Spartans and had 10 over the last three seasons. At 5'11' and 199 pounds, he's only an inch shorter than Gilbert.
Check out how close Dennard is in the 40-yard dash against Gilbert in this tweet from NFL.com.
11. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Despite the fact that the Vikings closed the season with former seventh-round draft pick Audie Cole starting five games at middle linebacker, the team still needs to find someone to take over for Erin Henderson.
Mosley is considered the top inside linebacker in the draft and a top-20 pick, according to CBSSports.com. He did not participate in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and a tweet from Louis Riddick of ESPN identifies at least one concern.
At 6'2" and 234 pounds, he may need to pack on some pounds to play middle linebacker in the NFL. Like Mack and Barr above, Mosley has the potential to fill one of two positions for the Vikings. According to the analysis on NFL.com, Mosley is an "instinctive, fast-flowing, every-down linebacker" who can play either in the middle or on the weak side.
Last season, he led the Crimson Tide with 108 tackles, with nine of them for a loss. It was the second consecutive season he finished with over 100 tackles.
12. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Shazier did not participate in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but that didn't prevent him from proving he is one of the top linebackers in the draft. He showed off his athleticism by topping the list of linebackers in the vertical and broad jumps. He was also a top performer in the three-cone drill. According to a tweet from Rotoworld's Josh Norris, Shazier's 42-inch vertical jump was the second-best performance for a linebacker in the combine since 2006.
Last season, he led the Big Ten with 144 tackles. In three seasons with Ohio State, he had 45.5 tackles for a loss, with 23.5 of them coming last season. He also had seven sacks last season. At 6'1" and 237 pounds, he is very close to Mosley in size.
He would be another good option late in the first round as a second pick, or as the Vikings' second-round pick.
13. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
If the Vikings don't re-sign defensive end Everson Griffin, they will have to find someone to help pick up the slack left behind by the departure of Jared Allen. Ealy is considered the second-best defensive end in the draft behind Clowney.
In the NFL Scouting Combine, he topped the list for defensive linemen in the three-cone drill with a time of 6.83 seconds. His 22 reps in the bench press were one more than Clowney. At 6'4" and 273 pounds, he has the size to play in the NFL.
Even though he finished second to teammate Michael Sam in sacks for the Tigers last season, he has a much greater upside in the NFL. According to Rob Rang of CBS Sports, Ealy's flexibility to play anywhere along the defensive line helps improve his stock. Rang points out that Ealy was also able to play standing up as a linebacker.
14. Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
An interesting player, Ford is ranked as an outside linebacker by WalterFootball.com and as a defensive end by CBSSports.com. I'll use the fact that he is listed as a defensive end by NFL.com as the tiebreaker. At 6'2" and 252 pounds, it's easy to understand the confusion. He's built more like a linebacker than a defensive end.
Unfortunately, Ford had to withdraw from the combine for medical reasons. According to a tweet from Pro Football Talk, a lower back issue prevented him from participating. Last year for the Tigers, he led Auburn with 14.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks.
15. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
With all the needs on the defensive side of the ball, not to mention the Vikings still are looking for any answer at quarterback, it might seem odd to have a guard on the list. Charlie Johnson is going to be a free agent, and the Vikings need to find his replacement. Adding the top guard in the draft to play alongside Matt Kalil on the left side of the line could result is a very dominant line for years to come.
Like many of these players toward the bottom of the list, the most likely scenario for them to be drafted by the Vikings is if the team acquires an extra pick toward the end of the first round.
At 6'6" and 315 pounds, Yankey brings a big frame to the NFL. According to the analysis on NFL.com, Yankey started all 42 games he played at Stanford.
16. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Jernigan is considered one of the top defensive tackles in the draft, behind Nix and on par with Aaron Donald. I like Jernigan over Donald just because of his size. At 6'2" and 299 pounds, he's slightly bigger than Donald and very close to the same size as Floyd, who the Vikings selected in the first round in 2013.
Last year, Jernigan led the Seminoles with 11 tackles for a loss and was second on the team with 5.5 sacks. The problem is he plays the same position as Floyd, who was considered the top defensive tackle in last year's draft.
17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Clinton-Dix is another player the Vikings might consider as a late first-round selection as a second pick in the round. Two years ago they upgraded the position by drafting Harrison Smith as their second pick in the first round of the 2012 draft.
According to B/R AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz, Clinton-Dix has the ability to play both free safety as well as strong safety. This would give the Vikings a little more flexibility in their defensive backfield.
The analysis from Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com:
[Clinton-Dix] is a lean, athletic, physical, instinctive free safety with starter-caliber range, coverage skills and tackling ability. Was not an omnipresent ballhawk or violent eraser, but should step into a starting role right away and solidify the position.
This is exactly something the Vikings could use. At 6'1" and 208 pounds, he's just a tad smaller than Smith (6'2", 212 lbs). Last year for Alabama, he finished with 51 tackles and two interceptions.
18. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
There is some disparity on Verrett's ranking in the upcoming draft. WalterFootball.com ranks him 10th and as low as a fourth-round pick, Mike Mayock from NFL.com has him ranked fourth and CBSSports.com has him ranked third—behind Dennard and Gilbert.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Verrett was a top performer in the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump. A tweet from B/R and Draft Breakdown writer Ryan Lownes nails the one problem with Verrett:
At the combine, he measured 5'9" and 189 pounds—the same size as former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. In 2012, Verrett led the Horned Frogs with six interceptions.
19. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young
Van Noy is projected as a late first-round draft pick by CBSSports.com. He gets a huge endorsement from Rob Rang who compares him to Chad Greenway. Rang states that Van Noy has the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and is able to drop back into coverage.
This past season, he led the Cougars with 17 tackles for a loss and was tied for the team lead with four sacks. He was also credited with seven passes defended. In four seasons, he intercepted seven passes, returning two of them for touchdowns.
20. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
As you can tell by now, the emphasis has been on defense. Ebron is only the fourth offensive player listed outside of the top five. The top-ranked tight end in the draft, Ebron is considered a matchup nightmare. According to the analysis from NFL.com, he is an advanced route-runner.
As a junior for the Tar Heels, he led North Carolina with 62 receptions and 973 yards. Paired with tight end Kyle Rudolph, Ebron would give the Vikings the double threat at tight end they were hoping for when they signed John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract.
21. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Since the Vikings absolutely need to upgrade the cornerback position, it should be no surprise that there are four of them on the board—as many as there are quarterbacks, outside linebackers and defensive tackles. Roberson is ranked third by WalterFootball.com and fourth by CBSSports.com.
The Vikings have taken cornerbacks out of Florida in each of the last two drafts. In 2012, it was Josh Robinson from Central Florida in the third round, and Rhodes from Florida State last year in the first round.
Last season, Roberson only played in seven games due to injury. He also missed one game for breaking team rules. Projected as a late first-round pick, Roberson would be a good addition after addressing another position earlier in the draft.
22. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman's stats from last season don't fully indicate how good he is. He only had two sacks and 38 tackles, but he led the Gophers with 13 of them for a loss. At 6'6", he has the height to play defensive end, and at 310 pounds the bulk to play on the interior of the line.
At the combine, he finished third among defensive linemen with 32 reps in the bench press. He landed among Mike Mayock's top five defensive tackles.
23. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Ranked as the second safety in the draft behind Clinton-Dix by both CBSSports.com and WalterFootball.com, Pryor is a tackling machine. The last two seasons for the Cardinals, he had 175 tackles, the second most on the team. The analysis on his combine profile page calls him a lights-out hitter. At the combine, he was a top performer in the bench press with 18 reps.
At 5'11" and 207 pounds, Pryor is slightly bigger than Vikings' safety Jamarca Sanford.
24. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Even though Donald is the lightest of the four defensive tackles on this board at 285 pounds, he led the NCAA with 28.5 tackles for a loss. At 6'1", he's just as tall as John Randle, who is the Vikings' franchise leader in sacks.
Donald was a top performer for defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash, bench press and the three-cone drill. As B/R's Matt Miller points out in this tweet, Donald is an explosive player.
25. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
It was inevitable that Carr would end up on this list. Earlier this month, I broke down 50 mock drafts, and in 21 of them Carr was the projected player taken with the eighth pick. It seems that Carr has slowly slid down many draft boards.
He is still the fourth-best quarterback in the draft, but in the latest mock draft from WalterFootball.com, he isn't drafted until the second round.
This past season, Carr led the NCAA with 5,083 yards, 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. At the combine, he was a top performer, finishing fifth in the 40-yard dash, second in the vertical jump and third in the 20-yard shuttle.
There's a very good chance he will be available with the eighth pick, but that would be a reach for the Vikings with so many other needs on defense.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.