Minnesota Vikings Mock Draft: Fresh 7-Round Predictions Post-Week 1 Free Agency
The Minnesota Vikings have been busy during the first week of free agency, addressing several positions on both offense and defense. With an overhauled coaching staff, general manager Rick Spielman has worked together closely with new head coach Mike Zimmer on the players that will best fit his vision for the future.
Specifically on defense, the Vikings made some aggressive moves in the external market, adding nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to help bolster a squad that finished 31st in total defense last season.
Minnesota also re-signed promising defensive end Everson Griffen to a five-year deal, spelling the end of the road for Jared Allen. With Brian Robison signing a contract extension last year and Sharrif Floyd now entering his second season, the starting defensive line appears to have solidified.
On offense, the signing of veteran quarterback Matt Cassel helps to temporarily stabilize the signal-caller position, but it does little to change the strategy heading into the 2014 NFL draft. The Vikings are still in desperate need of a franchise quarterback with plenty of talent to choose from in a relatively deep class.
Given the new look of the club after some holes have been filled and other players have walked away, let's run through what effect that could have for Minnesota heading into the draft.
Round 1 (No. 8): LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Despite the attention given to the defense right out of the gate in free agency, a major weakness still exists for the Vikings at linebacker.
Buffalo's Khalil Mack is one of the top defenders in this year's draft class and would be a major contributor on the outside.
In addition to his impressive statistical resume over his career in western New York, he showcased pure athletic ability at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash and posting a vertical jump of 40 inches.
With an uncertain roster at both middle and weak-side linebacker—not to mention the decline in performance by Chad Greenway last year—Mack provides Zimmer with an instant playmaker who has excellent vision and a nose for the football.
The only question may be whether Mack is available for the Vikings at No. 8, where they could look to select another outside linebacker with Anthony Barr out of UCLA. Either player would be an upgrade for Minnesota with a defensive approach in the first round.
Round 2 (No. 40): QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Considering how the 2011 draft played out for the Vikings, which saw Spielman reach for Christian Ponder at quarterback, it's easy to believe that Minnesota's GM may be a little gun-shy of making a similar mistake this time around.
Spielman recently provided a glimpse into his mindset regarding quarterback earlier this month, via Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune:
I think you can find quarterbacks in the second round and the third round, as well. We’ve started that process on the evaluation part. I think we’re scheduled to go out there and see a lot of these quarterbacks through the spring and get to know them a little bit better. The one thing that I want to make sure we don’t do is box ourselves into having to take a quarterback if there’s another player that’s very significant at another position.
Based on the selection of Mack at No. 8—a very significant player at linebacker—the team could still wait until later rounds to draft a quarterback, but Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo would be an excellent addition to Norv Turner's retooled offense.
Garoppolo won the Walter Payton Award in 2013, given out to the most outstanding offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). He threw for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns last season, finishing his career with 13,156 yards and 118 touchdowns.
What stands out most with Garoppolo's game is his extremely fast release, shifting from threading the ball in a tight window to throwing a nice deep ball with a soft touch for his receivers.
He needs to get more practice under center, primarily operating out of the shotgun in college, but he offers plenty of talent and long-term potential for this selection.
Round 3 (No. 72): CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Last season, the Vikings finished 31st in passing yards allowed, recording just 12 interceptions, which was tied for 24th in the league.
Although the signing of Munnerlyn certainly helps in this department—not to mention parting ways with Chris Cook—the team must still focus on adding superior talent to its woeful secondary.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste brings size and athleticism, measuring 6'3" and 218 pounds, while recording top marks at the combine with a 41.5-inch vertical and 128-inch broad jump among all corners.
By adding Baptiste, the Vikings would be gaining a player who can compete against the likes of Calvin Johnson (6'5") and Brandon Marshall (6'4") in the NFC North, whether he remains at cornerback or shifts to free safety.
The Nebraska prospect led his team with 12 passes defended in 2013 and was tied with four interceptions. Baptiste possesses good hands and will contend for jump balls, all characteristics Minnesota has struggled with the past few seasons.
Round 3 (No. 96): DT Anthony Johnson, LSU
Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson impressed onlookers at LSU with his quickness off the line and ability to shed blocks en route to the quarterback or ball-carrier. At 6'2" and 308 pounds, he projects well as a 3-technique lineman in the Vikings' 4-3 defense.
With this selection, Minnesota would be adding a player to its roster who could split time with or back up second-year tackle Floyd. Regardless if Kevin Williams is re-signed for another year or goes to another team, this pick makes sense for depth and potential starter ability if needed.
Johnson will need to improve his leverage against more sophisticated blockers and ensure his motor keeps running until the whistle. However, with the right development plan and coaching, the LSU standout has a great shot at excelling in the NFL.
Round 4 (No. 104): CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
After selecting Nebraska's Jean-Baptiste earlier in the draft, Minnesota should turn right back around and continue to add depth to the defensive backfield.
Loucheiz Purifoy demonstrates strong man-to-man cover skills, with the ability to mirror receivers down the field. He doesn't have the height or leaping ability of Jean-Baptiste, but he makes up for it with excellent hip fluidity and instincts.
The Vikings would also be gaining a contributor on special teams, potentially on both sides of the ball. Purifoy returned both punts and kickoffs for Florida in 2013.
Although Purifoy has upside, he also needs to develop in several areas, including strength and technique. However, given his athleticism and natural ability, he's positioned well to make an impact at the next level.
Round 5 (No. 136): DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech
While the Vikings locked up both Robison and Griffen to protect the edge and rush the quarterback, a player like James Gayle from Virginia Tech offers a late-round developmental project with upside.
Gayle blends good size and speed—6'4" and 259 pounds—with enough balance to come off a pass rush and leap to bat the ball out of the air. His vertical of 37 inches was tied for third among all defensive linemen at the combine, just a half-inch shy of Clowney.
Gayle isn't without his shortcomings, as you would expect this late in the draft. His lateral movement must improve to cover his assignments, lacking flexibility while having a somewhat stiff approach at times.
With that said, his straight-line pass rush and leaping ability are still coveted in the NFL, and the Vikings would be adding a solid edge defender in Gayle.
Round 6 (No. 168): RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
Minnesota watched backup running back Toby Gerhart sign a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, leaving the Vikings with Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard to relieve Adrian Peterson.
The team originally drafted Gerhart in the second round of the 2010 draft following his runner-up performance in the Heisman Trophy race the previous season at Stanford.
Coincidentally, the Vikings are in position to draft another running back prospect from the Cardinal with Tyler Gaffney.
At 5'11" and 220 pounds, the athletic ball-carrier posted top marks among all running backs at the combine in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 11.36 seconds. He also finished second in the three-cone drill at 6.78 seconds.
Gaffney is a strong back who doesn't avoid contact while reading his blocks. Although his agility is limited, he would fit in perfectly as a powerful runner who could spell Peterson on needed plays and step in to shoulder the load in case of injury.
Round 7 (No. 200): OG Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
Spielman and the Vikings decided to re-sign Charlie Johnson to a two-year, $2.5 million contract during free agency. By no means is that a complete vote of confidence for the veteran guard, although it provides a level of familiar depth at a reasonable price.
Minnesota should still look to add an offensive lineman in the final round of the draft who has a shot at making the final 53-man roster or practice squad, similar to what the team did last year with the selection of Jeff Baca in the sixth round and Travis Bond in the seventh round.
Wisconsin's Ryan Groy fits the bill in this regard and has excellent size to compete for a spot at guard. He stands at 6'5" and 316 pounds, playing with good technique and the ability to gain leverage.
Groy will need to improve his strength and quickness in the NFL if he wants to effectively contribute, but in the seventh round, he's a welcomed addition to a Vikings team looking to improve in every phase of the game.
All statistics, combine results and measurements courtesy of NFL.com, unless otherwise noted.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.