Who the Experts Say the Minnesota Vikings Will Select in the 2015 NFL Draft
With the draft a mere 30 days away, predicting who the Minnesota Vikings will pick has become more and more difficult, with mock drafts changing by the week.
This year, it seems harder than ever. Last year, it was no mystery that Minnesota was in the hunt for a quarterback (though its first pick was a surprise), and cornerbacks and receivers were easily the top positions in play in 2013 for the two picks in the first round (which eventually became three). In 2012, it was an open secret that the Vikings would select Matt Kalil.
The Vikings head into 2015 with ill-defined needs: Each underperforming position from the previous season has young backups with upside who could conceivably fill in or players whose careers are not written in stone.
Still, general manager Rick Spielman must select someone, and there are no shortage of experts willing to prognosticate.
Who are the leading draft industry experts mocking to the Minnesota Vikings?
CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State
As time goes by, it's becoming more popular to select a cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings, and no cornerback dominates those selections than Trae Waynes of Michigan State.
Waynes was selected for the Vikings by two CBS analysts (Will Brinson and Dane Brugler), one NFL.com analyst (Charlie Casserly), two Walter Football analysts (Walter Cherepinsky and Charlie Campbell), the Ourlads site, Nick Klopsis at Newsday, Josh Norris at Rotoworld and Robert Davis at Football's Future.
Though Josh Robinson performed excellently to start the season and, aside from one game against Chicago, followed through with solid play, it's been the general consensus that he isn't the answer on the outside. He only graded in the red twice in coverage all year in Pro Football Focus' player grades, but with snaps only coming in rotational play, it's not easy to confidently say he's a solid starter.
Captain Munnerlyn played better in the slot for Carolina than he did for Minnesota, but there's a good chance he can once again find his form.
Many see Waynes as the answer to the Vikings' problems in pass coverage, where they ranked 23rd in passer rating allowed. Waynes presents upside and worry, but some phenomenal plays, too.
Working with Michigan State's quarters coverage defense, Waynes can be a tough evaluation at times. Often confused for man defense, Michigan State plays the vast majority of its snaps in zone coverage, and the corners benefit from inside help from the safeties and linebackers.
Though this means MSU cornerbacks are more experienced in press coverage than most college corners (off coverage is the defense du jour throughout most of college football), it does hide stiffness from cornerbacks, one of the biggest issues Waynes faces.
He retested his short shuttle at his pro day, and it's true that his 4.19 shuttle time is better than the 4.39 time he put up at the NFL combine, it still isn't stellar and doesn't erase the stiff play seen on film.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle was not too impressed with the idea of Waynes as a physical marvel, either:
It's fair to say Waynes has some trouble changing directions and with his lateral movements based on his short shuttle (4.19) and three-cone (7.06) times.
When you combine and average his time in the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and short shuttle, he ranks 15th out of 23 cornerbacks with completed times in those categories from this draft class. Looking at the complete picture of Waynes' speed paints a much different picture than a guy touted as an elite athlete at cornerback.
The notion that he has good size and length is also false. Waynes is on the lighter side for a cornerback at 186 pounds, he has slightly below-average arm length at 31 inches and his 8.25-inch hands are tiny for any position. This gives Waynes below-average dimensions for an NFL cornerback, which can be even more worrisome for a guy who plays as physical as he does in press-man coverage.
It is true that his length and size are overemphasized given his physical tools, but it is unfair to say that Waynes isn't one of the better cornerbacks in the draft. Even after adjusting for concerns about the system he came out of, it's true that Waynes plays with excellent recognition, phenomenal ball skills and great patience.
Patience is an underrated skill for a defensive back, and it's hard to find. It forces receivers, especially against press coverage, to declare their routes before a defensive back reacts and gives up less ground.
Waynes' footwork is also very good in press coverage, and he has a lot of tools to work with for an enterprising coach like Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer. His purported grabbiness could be an issue but is definitely resolvable; Xavier Rhodes (who had a far worse showing in the short shuttle, 4.65, at his pro day) had the same issues coming out of Florida State, but his physical tools were far too good to pass up.
Despite the fact that Waynes has neither the height nor arm length of Rhodes (Waynes is 6'0" and Rhodes is 6'2", while Waynes has 31-inch arms to Rhodes' 33.75-inch arms), he could be in the same category of player.
WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
The prospect of giving young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater more weapons certainly seems enticing, and there exists no more enticing an option than Bridgewater's former teammate at Louisville, wide receiver DeVante Parker.
Two NFL.com analysts (Charles Davis and Daniel Jeremiah), a CBS analyst (Rob Rang), Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Eric Galko at Optimum Scouting, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke, and Dan Kadar at Mocking the Draft all selected the rangy receiver for Minnesota.
This is the prime example of a case where the Vikings will need to decide between selecting a player at a position that clearly underperformed last year or trusting in the development of the tantalizing roster at their fingertips.
Charles Johnson, the presumed starter at split end, had a productive if somewhat misleading finish to the season. His athleticism shined through, but his physicality was an issue, as was his route running.
Behind them are Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson, the first of whom has been extremely productive on limited snaps, while the latter still represents peak physical talent that has yet to be molded.
That's a difficult nut to crack, and Spielman could make roster decisions even tougher on game day by selecting Parker, the talented but occasionally forgotten third receiver in the draft.
For all the physical talent that West Virginia's Kevin White displayed at the combine and many times on the field at West Virginia, the conversation about Parker's athleticism has dropped off a cliff. His official time in the 40-yard dash (4.45 seconds) is very fast, particularly for a receiver who measures at 6'3".
Before the combine, the conversation about Parker was that he looked faster than White did on the field, too.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle also wrote about Parker, but this time in his favor:
Nearly everywhere I look, Kevin White is rated ahead of DeVante Parker. Admittedly, it's very difficult to rank these two receivers, and the gap between them is narrow. But this is the very reason it's a surprise to see such a consensus emerge that White is the superior prospect.
If you ask me, it has less to do with the way these guys play football and more to do with the fact that White is the bigger (6'3", 215) and faster (4.35 40-yard dash) athlete. Parker is lighter and ran one-tenth of a second slower in his 40-yard dash.
Both receivers display impressive traits that should yield highly successful NFL careers, and both are projected to be taken in the first round in Matt Miller's latest mock draft for Bleacher Report. Miller has White going fourth overall to the Raiders as the first receiver taken in the draft.
Parker has more functional strength and better abilities to release off the line, and he's a more dangerous prospect with the ball in his hand. Having the edge in these major categories is enough for me to give Parker the edge as a prospect, especially considering both wideouts don't seem to have worrisome issues with drops.
Should it be the case that the gap between Parker and White truly is very narrow, Minnesota will end up with vastly superior value by picking him 11th.
As Riddle suggested, Parker's strengths have to do with his ability coming off the line of scrimmage, and his release and footwork are both at a very high level. He high-points well, as many know, and though he could do a better job in traffic, he creates better opportunities for his quarterback by widening the catch window.
This comes not just from a large catch radius and excellent timing at the catch point but also mastery of some of the smaller concepts when it comes to receiving, including late hands and eyes, excellent body positioning and speed.
That doesn't mean he has most of the details of being a receiver down, merely the part of the process where he has to fight for the ball. For his route running, he needs a lot of work and consistency. For all his speed and after-the-catch agility, he needs to show more snap in the routes and create explosion at the route stem.
Beyond that, he needs to improve his deception (though his ability to fake out defensive backs is underrated) in order to be a more complete receiver who does more than win jump balls.
If he is to be just a jump-ball receiver, he will need to add significant weight as well.
There's a lot there to be tempted with in Parker's case, and Minnesota may see enough to start him quickly even if he's limited in his role early on.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
The trouble with consensus is that it is not terribly exciting.
After Waynes (10 selections) and Parker (seven), Alabama receiver Amari Cooper is far behind at third with two selections from major media and draft outlets. He's the only player with two selections from those outlets, too.
For all the uncertainty regarding the Vikings' possible draft prospects, it certainly seems like experts have done a good job at narrowing it down.
Cooper would be an intriguing pick for the Vikings, as it would immediately introduce a more pro-ready and route-diverse prospect to the roster. After cutting Greg Jennings, the Vikings have an excellent slot receiver but limited route-runner in Jarius Wright and no real possession element to their passing game.
A year ago, it would have been odd to imagine Bridgewater playing with an offense almost exclusively geared toward big plays, but that's how the roster is shaping up.
Without an outlet option, the Vikings could be a very boom-or-bust offense, even with an improving quarterback who seems to prefer smart plays to risky ones. Adding a smooth and accomplished route-runner like Cooper may balance the offense and give it the kind of diversity it needs to be a threat on every down.
Cooper doesn't have the natural catch radius of Kevin White or DeVante Parker, and his route running is by no means perfect, but he can provide technical sophistication to a corps that currently has none.
He will need to improve on his communication with the quarterback and perhaps work harder than either Parker or White at developing that chemistry, but if Cooper drops all the way to No. 11, those are small gambles to make.
An underrated athlete with astounding quickness and very good straight-line speed (who may have run faster than popularly thought, as Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported his 40 time was given to teams as between 4.35 and 4.38 seconds), Cooper does an incredible job getting open and making the quarterback's job easy.
Coaches love players who work back to the ball or adjust to scrambles, but Cooper's natural movement on the field is to constantly create space and find holes in zone coverage. Not a spot receiver, Cooper can make plays within the constraints of the offense and matches excellent timing with phenomenal deception.
It is doubtful he'll fall this far, but if the Vikings truly do have a need at receiver, it would be impossible to say no.
There are a number of players selected for the Vikings by only one prominent draft voice, often players over- or undervalued by the person doing the mock relative to the general media. Most of the time they make sense and only end up in one selection because of the preponderance of people selecting Waynes and Parker, while at other times they may cause some head-scratching.
CB Marcus Peters, Washington
Selected for Minnesota by Steve Shoup at FanSpeak (home of an excellent Mock Draft simulator), Peters makes sense for similar reasons as Waynes, though he may be significantly more talented and fluid as a player.
The reason Waynes is often selected above Peters has less to do with on-field talent and more to do with off-field concerns. Peters has had run-ins with two coaching staffs at Washington and was suspended for one game by one staff and kicked off the team by the other. Reports (later denied) that Peters choked an assistant coach are often peppered with phrases like "the best cover corner prospect in 14 years," as with Stephen Cohen's report for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
It's a fine line, though the Vikings are doing their due diligence by bringing him in for an interview, according to KSTP's Darren Wolfson.
OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson
The community of evaluators and the predictive software they work with ended up with the exceptionally talented Vic Beasley falling to the Vikings at No. 11, at which point he was snapped up.
Targeted for a position conversion from pass-rusher to off-ball linebacker, Beasley would follow a similar route as Anthony Barr, but this time from the "Will" linebacker spot, with a defensive tackle in front of him to take on blocks. Instinctive and fluid, it would be another outside-the-box pick for Mike Zimmer's defense.
OT La'el Collins, LSU
Collins shouldn't be a surprising pick, but Todd McShay at ESPN was the only one who had him for the Vikings.
Though Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff was mocked to the Vikings by a few others earlier in the process, he seems to be going to the Giants or the Rams in recent mock drafts. As a result, the Vikings, who had a bad offensive line last year, would be left with the second-best OL prospect, which in this case is LSU's La'el Collins.
Collins would likely play guard for Minnesota and be insurance for left tackle Matt Kalil in case his last chance to restore his rookie form doesn't pan out, but this is still generally higher than Collins is going.
A strong and mean player, he should provide an upgrade to Charlie Johnson at the very least.
S Landon Collins, Alabama
The Vikings do have question marks at safety, but the only reason Pete Prisco at CBS was the only one to actually select one for Minnesota has less to do with the perceived positions of need for the Vikings and more the weak draft class at safety.
Collins is excellent inside the box and is a superior option covering running backs out of the backfield or tight ends in man coverage. He's one of the better run-defense safeties in the draft but has massive difficulties covering.
If the Vikings transition Harrison Smith back to more of a free safety role, this could be a fit, but it may not match what the Vikings are looking for.
DE Bud Dupree, Kentucky
Bleacher Report's Scott Carasik selected Dupree for Minnesota in a mock he did for Pro Football Spot, and his reasoning is sound, even if it's longer-term than it is for the other players selected for the Vikings.
Dupree is a rare and extraordinary physical specimen who can leverage what he can do with alarming explosiveness, even if he lacks regularity. The argument isn't that Dupree would replace starting defensive end Brian Robison on day one but that he could iron out the kinks and replace Robison soon.
Still, it would be a startling pick, if only because the Vikings have a number of needs to address now and the picks to address them soon.
DT Danny Shelton, Washington
Perhaps the most confusing pick from a major media outlet, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein's reasoning makes sense at first glance but doesn't hold up to much deeper analysis.
That the Vikings were weak against the run is no secret (they gave up the ninth-most yards per carry), but the reason has little to do with the defensive tackles. Sharrif Floyd has become a terror, and the nose tackle that Shelton would replace, Linval Joseph, isn't just extremely stout in run defense but somewhat costly to replace given the contract he signed last year.
Shelton simply wouldn't replace a player who is underperforming or aging, and he isn't so overwhelmingly good that "best player available"-type drafting would make sense. Zierlein is a gifted evaluator, but this pick is odd.