Minnesota Vikings' 7-Round Mock Draft Ahead of Free Agency
NFL free agency starts at 4 p.m. ET on March 11, but don't expect the Minnesota Vikings to make a big splash by signing any big-name free agents. Their recent strategy has been to wait things out and not overpay while getting more involved beyond the top tier of free agents. Even though the Vikings have somewhere between $31 and $33 million in cap space, general manager Rick Spielman seems to prefer building through the draft.
Right now the Vikings have eight picks in the 2014 NFL draft. In a Star Tribune story last month, Spielman indicated that he wants to increase that number to at least 10. They came very close to that over the last three years with a total of 29 draftees.
The focus should be mainly on the defensive side of the ball—especially with how poorly the defense played last year. The team needs to find some help at almost every position on defense—defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback.
On offense, the biggest gap is at quarterback—one of the hardest positions to fill, which the Vikings know well. They may be a little hesitant to draft a quarterback early in the draft for fear of making a similar mistake as in 2011. That's when they reached by taking Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the first round.
Here's my look at the Vikings' mock draft just before the free-agency feeding frenzy begins.
Round 1, Pick No. 8: Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack
At some point over the past couple of months, most mock drafts have had one of the big-name quarterbacks falling to the Minnesota Vikings with the eighth pick. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel have all been projected as a Vikings draft pick since the college season ended.
Last month, I broke down the projections of 50 mock drafts. The player who was projected the most for the Vikings was Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.
It's unlikely that any of the top three will fall to the eighth pick. It's also unlikely that if Bortles, Bridgewater and Manziel are all off the draft board, the Vikings will reach for another quarterback in the first round.
Minnesota needs help on defense—badly. If Khalil Mack is available when the Vikings choose, then it should be an easy decision. The University of Buffalo linebacker has the potential to fill one of two needs for the Vikings: outside linebacker or defensive end.
Last season, Mack, who is 6'3"and 248 pounds, led the Bulls with 100 tackles, 19.0 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. Not only was he a pass-rushing machine, but he led the team with three interceptions—returning two of them for touchdowns—and was second on the team with seven passes defended.
A versatile defender, he would be a starter in 2014.
Round 2, Pick No. 40: Cornerback Marcus Roberson
In Round 2 of the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings continue to address the defensive side of the ball.
Last season they drafted cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the first round, taking him 25th overall. He rewarded them by leading the team with 10 passes defended after breaking into the starting lineup midway through the season.
They need to find another cornerback who can play on the other side of the field from Rhodes. This will be the third straight year they draft a cornerback within the first three rounds—all of them out of the state of Florida.
In 2012 they selected Josh Robinson from Central Florida, and last year it was Rhodes from Florida State. This year, a great addition would be Marcus Roberson of Florida—to make up the three "R's" of defense.
He is ranked sixth by CBSSports.com among cornerbacks. At 6'0" and 195 pounds, he has the size that the Vikings need at the position.
Round 3, Pick No. 72: Quarterback Zach Mettenberger
Some people are probably thinking it's about time for Minnesota to take a quarterback.
With the recent success of quarterbacks who were taken outside of the first round (Russell Wilson and Nick Foles in 2012 and Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick in 2011), the Vikings should not be in a hurry to draft a quarterback.
The Vikings are in need of a signal-caller—actually in desperate need of at least two. With only Christian Ponder under contract, they need to find a starter and a reliable backup.
In his last two seasons at LSU, he threw for 5,691 yards with 34 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions. At 6'5" and 224 pounds, he's a sturdy pocket passer. A pass-only quarterback last season, he finished with minus-133 rushing yards—that's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the increased risk to running quarterbacks.
According to Dane Brugler from CBSSports.com, Mettenberger has a strong arm and is capable of delivering the ball under pressure.
Round 3, Pick No. 96 (from Seattle): Defensive Tackle DaQuan Jones
The Minnesota Vikings need to find some depth at defensive tackle, especially with the recent release of starting nose tackle Letroy Guion, per the team's website, and the impending departure of free agents Kevin Williams and Fred Evans. Sharrif Floyd, last year's top draft pick, is poised to replace Williams, but the Vikings could use someone to play alongside him.
Last season, Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones spent plenty of time in the opposing team's backfield. He led the Nittany Lions with 11.5 tackles for a loss.
At 6'4" and 322 pounds, he brings more bulk to the interior of the defensive line than Guion (6'4" and 295 pounds) or Fred Evans (6'5" and 307 pounds).
Round 4, Pick No. 104: Inside Linebacker Shayne Skov
The Vikings have drafted six linebackers over the past five years; that trend is sure to continue this year. While the selection of outside linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round is a great addition, the Vikings still need to find some depth in the middle.
Last season, Audie Cole, a seventh-round draft pick from 2012, took over for Erin Henderson and started five games at middle linebacker. The problem is that came about two weeks after the Vikings had waived him from the team before re-signing him so he could start.
If inside linebacker Shayne Skov from Stanford is still on the board when the Vikings select in the fourth round, they should not hesitate drafting him. He is considered the fourth-best inside linebacker by both CBSSports.com and WalterFootball.com. Last season, he led the Cardinal with 109 tackles and finished second on the team with 13 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks.
Round 5, Pick No. 136: Offensive Guard Spencer Long
The Minnesota Vikings will most likely allow starting left guard Charlie Johnson to leave as a free agent, leaving a hole that needs to be plugged. Last year, they drafted a couple of offensive linemen, Jeff Baca in the sixth round and Travis Bond in seventh. They eventually lost Bond to the Panthers, who signed him off the practice squad.
At 6'5" and 320 pounds, Nebraska guard Spencer Long is bigger than Baca or starting right guard Brandon Fusco—who were both sixth-round draft picks.
According to Mike Huguenin from NFL.com, Long was projected as a potential second-round pick before he suffered a season-ending knee injury last season. He has huge upside as long as he has no problems returning from knee surgery.
On Tuesday, he was awarded the 2014 Wayne Duke Postgraduate Award by the Big Ten. The award is given to a senior student-athlete who is pursuing a postgraduate degree. That means Long has some brains to go along with his bulk.
Round 6, Pick No. 168: Defensive Lineman Jeoffrey Pagan
With the release of Letroy Guion, the Minnesota Vikings have only five defensive linemen under contract for 2014. Of those five, only two of them have started a game in the NFL: defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
The Vikings need to find at least five more players to fill out the defensive line.
At 6'3" and 310 pounds, Alabama defensive tackle Jeoffrey Pagan has the size to play along the interior of the defensive line. According to Rob Rang of CBSSports.com, Pagan anchors well at the point of attack and is difficult to move. Last season for the Crimson Tide, he finished with 33 tackles with 3.5 of them for a loss and two sacks.
Round 7, Pick No. 200: Running Back Storm Johnson
If the Minnesota Vikings don't re-sign running back Toby Gerhart, the only backups to Adrian Peterson would be Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard. Both backs entered the NFL as undrafted rookie free agents.
According to the Star Tribune, the Vikings offered Asiata, who is an exclusive-rights free agent, a one-year deal worth $570,000. Drafting a running back with their final pick will provide some depth and competition at the position.
If they select Central Florida running back Storm Johnson, he would be only the second running back taken by the team since Minnesota drafted Peterson with the seventh pick in 2007.
Last season for the Knights, the junior rushed for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns. Over the last two seasons, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry.