Minnesota Vikings: Ideal Draft Picks for Each Position of Need
As it stands today, the Minnesota Vikings hold the 11th overall draft selection in the 2015 NFL draft. Due to the number of holes on the Vikings' roster, general manager Rick Spielman and his staff could elect to utilize this pick in multiple ways.
If Minnesota does end up making a selection at the No. 11 overall position—this is by no means a guarantee given Spielman's history of making draft-day trades—it will have an opportunity to draft an impact player.
The Vikings have needs on both sides of the football, with their most pressing needs—by most experts' accounts—being outside linebacker, wide receiver and offensive tackle. While the 2015 class is especially deep at defensive end and defensive tackle, there are plenty of above-average talents at each of these three positions of need.
In addition to the aforementioned positions, Minnesota could look to add a talented inside linebacker, cornerback or safety. Despite rostering starting-caliber players at each of these positions, acquiring a difference-maker could prove to be the most beneficial option.
Let's take a look at a few players who represent ideal options for Minnesota at its positions of need.
OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington
With players such as Shaq Thompson, Dante Fowler Jr. and Vic Beasley expected to be available, the 2015 class includes plenty of high-upside players at the outside linebacker position.
Beasley and, more recently, Fowler Jr. have commanded more attention from draft experts since the 2014 NFL season concluded, but Thompson appears to be the best fit for Minnesota.
Thompson, who played both outside linebacker and running back at Washington, is an extremely versatile player. His 6'2", 231-pound frame allowed him to have success both on defense and as a running back, recording 71 combined tackles and also 456 rushing yards during his junior season.
The 2014 Paul Hornung Trophy winner (awarded to the nation's most versatile player) does possess the necessary height to play outside linebacker in a 4-3 base defense, but he will need to add bulk to contain offensive players in the NFL.
At his current size, however, Thompson does fit the ideal mold of an NFL safety. Since the Vikings also have a need at strong safety, as Robert Blanton doesn't project as a difference-maker opposite Harrison Smith, Thompson could still be effectively utilized, even if he doesn't meet Mike Zimmer's standards at outside linebacker.
Thompson possesses great instincts, top-tier athleticism and an outstanding work ethic. Additionally, he is an above-average tackler, is excellent in coverage and has excellent range when defending against the run. While he may end up playing safety in the NFL, this skill set would be a major asset to a Vikings linebacker corps that struggled to tackle consistently and was frequently inefficient in coverage.
As reported by the University of Washington's student newspaper, Thompson recently elected to forgo his senior season in order to make himself eligible for the NFL draft:
If Thompson is still available when Minnesota makes its draft selection—and it is expected he will be—it will be difficult for Spielman to pass on his electric and versatile skill set.
WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
The 2015 class isn't expected to produce as many talented wide receivers as the 2014 class, but there is still plenty of talent available at this position.
Although the Vikings have plenty of talented wide receivers on their current roster, the team lacks a red-zone threat and a true difference-maker. Minnesota could potentially fill both of these needs by drafting dynamic Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker.
Parker, who possesses a 6'3", 209-pound frame, is a developed talent with big-play ability. He is an above-average route-runner who creates separation at the line of scrimmage with relative ease. Parker has shown an ability to track the ball effectively and excellent body control in the air, which allows him to dominate against one-on-one coverage.
In just six games this past season, Parker totaled 43 receptions, 855 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a senior. A big reason for his enormous yardage total (142.5 yards per game) is his ability to gain yards after the catch. He is dangerous in the open field and consistently showed above-average effort with the ball in his hands.
Not only is Parker naturally talented, but he is also a high-energy, confident player who has improved in preparation during his four-year tenure with the Cardinals.
Additionally, Parker was the No. 1 option of Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater during both his sophomore and junior seasons. The two combined for 1,599 yards and 22 touchdowns from 2012-2013.
Alabama's Amari Cooper may be dubbed the best wide receiver prospect in the 2015 class, but Parker's size, upside and chemistry with Bridgewater make him an ideal draft option for the Vikings.
OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Now that Bridgewater has been established as Minnesota's franchise quarterback, the Vikings need to build around him. With the Vikings offensive line struggling to consistently protect Bridgewater during his rookie season, Minnesota may decide that upgrading the offensive tackle position is its top priority.
The 2015 offensive line class is loaded with potential, but unlike previous years, there isn't a definitive left tackle option. However, Iowa's Brandon Scherff has the size and ability to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Many experts regard Scherff, who stands 6'5" and weighs 320 pounds, as this year's best offensive line prospect. He is a tough, mauling run-blocker who consistently finishes his blocks with authority. If he is to become a franchise left tackle, however, Scherff will need time to develop as a pass-blocker.
As a result, it would make sense for Scherff to spend his rookie season playing either right tackle or guard, moving over to left tackle a couple of years into his NFL career.
While Matt Kalil is the offensive lineman most fans would say needs to be replaced, he still is under contract with the Vikings for another season. In addition, he is a former Pro Bowler and showed improvement toward the end of the 2014 season, which should be enough to grant him one more season to find his 2012 form.
Charlie Johnson, who was arguably as ineffective as Kalil, is a strong candidate to be released this offseason, which would create an opening at left guard. Teams infrequently use a top-15 selection to draft a guard, but in Scherff's case, it may make sense.
Scherff may not be ready to dominate at left tackle, but his skill set and frame project elite results at the guard position. Hypothetically, he could spend his rookie season at guard next to Kalil. If Kalil fails to meet expectations again in 2015, Minnesota could move on from the former first-round pick and insert Scherff into his position the following season.
Drafting Scherff would not only improve the Vikings offensive line in the short term, but would also provide quality insurance for Kalil. Selecting offensive linemen in the first round is never sexy, but as the Dallas Cowboys proved this past season, adding an elite talent like Scherff has the potential to dramatically improve an offense.
ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Jasper Brinkley, who served as Minnesota's middle linebacker this past season, is set to become a free agent this offseason, and the team may look to upgrade the position through the draft rather than bringing him back next year.
Unfortunately, the 2015 class does not have much depth at the inside linebacker position, with Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney being the only option frequently considered to be a first-round selection.
Given that Minnesota will likely be attempting to fill a number of roster holes with young talent this coming May, Spielman could opt to trade down from the No. 11 spot in order to acquire more high-round selections.
If this proves to be the case, the Vikings may look to draft UCLA's Eric Kendricks late in the first round or during the second round.
Kendricks, who stands at 6'0" and weighs 230 pounds, is a bit undersized compared to the typical 4-3 middle linebacker. However, he makes up for his lack of imposing size with great instincts, above-average top-end speed, efficient tackling and an elite coverage ability. Additionally, Kendricks, who served as a captain both as a junior and senior at UCLA, has a great work ethic and a coachable attitude.
While McKinney and Miami's Denzel Perryman possess the ideal size and abilities of a 4-3 middle linebacker, Kendricks is a proven leader and strongly resembles 2014 third-round pick and All-Rookie Team selection Chris Borland.
Kendricks certainly wouldn't be a wise selection at 11th overall, as his lack of size and upside will significantly reduce his chance of being a first-round pick, but his fundamental skill set and leadership would provide the Vikings with a defensive leader to replace Chad Greenway when his tenure in Minnesota inevitably comes to a close.
CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Xavier Rhodes took significant strides toward becoming a true No. 1 cornerback for the Vikings this past season, but his counterparts were underwhelming in 2014.
Josh Robinson didn't have the impact many expected after being moved back to the outside where he feels most comfortable, and Captain Munnerlyn didn't turn any heads after signing a multiyear contract with Minnesota last offseason.
As a result, Minnesota could look to target a high-upside cornerback with its first-round pick, and Michigan State's Trae Waynes currently projects as an ideal option.
While he will need to add some bulk to his relatively lanky frame, Waynes possesses solid mirroring skills and is at his best in one-on-one press coverage. He has excellent recognition skills and has shown an ability to come off his primary target to make a play on the ball in zone coverage. Additionally, like Rhodes, he is a solid tackler who can have an impact in run defense.
As noted by National Football Post, Waynes declared for the NFL draft earlier this month, forgoing his senior season at Michigan State:
Michigan State corner Trae Waynes declares for NFL draft http://t.co/oxkTPSo2u0— NationalFootballPost (@FootballPost) January 5, 2015
Waynes has the height and athleticism to match up with the NFC North's tall, imposing wide receivers, and his strengths correlate well with how Zimmer likes to utilize his cornerbacks. The combination of Rhodes and Waynes, in theory, would give Minnesota a lethal cornerback duo for the foreseeable future and allow Zimmer to run his defense in a similar manner to how he successfully did in Cincinnati.
S Landon Collins, Alabama
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. may have said it best in his recent article ranking 2015 prospects by position (subscription required): "Right now it's [Landon] Collins and everyone else."
While the Vikings do have a viable starter at strong safety in Robert Blanton, Collins projects as a difference-maker in the NFL. Simply, Spielman and his draft team must be salivating at the possibility of pairing him with Smith in Minnesota's secondary.
Over his past two seasons at Alabama, Collins has totaled 156 combined tackles, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown. As a result of his success at one of the most prolific programs college football has to offer, Collins will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports:
Although Collins is still improving his recognition skills, he is a physical safety capable of mirroring NFL-caliber tight ends. He possesses elite athleticism and is capable of delivering decisive blows on unsuspecting receivers.
In addition, Collins is aggressive in run defense and is an above-average open-field tackler. These skills in combination with a strong work ethic and a high motor make the sky the limit for this intimidating Alabama safety.
Blanton certainly is capable of holding his own, especially with Smith out there with him, but Collins could come in and upgrade the Vikings secondary into elite territory if he develops as expected. The Vikings have more pressing needs than safety, but passing on Collins would certainly be difficult.
For more Vikings analysis, statistics and discussion, find me on Twitter @RobertReidell.