With the bulk of free agency wrapped up, its time to get into the mock draft business for the first time this year. A little over a month out from the draft, things are still fluid as teams begin to stack their boards in roughly 3-4 weeks. But at this point you can start to get an accurate idea of who teams may be targeting as they build their rosters for the 2017 campaign. Although this is just a Vikings mock I will plan on posting my initial top 5 by position early next week.
2 (48): Trade down with Oakland for 2 (56) / 4 (130) / 6 (208) – Through FA the Vikings have lost some of their depth on both sides of the ball as they focused on fixing the offensive line. Trading down in the 2nd gets the team to the ever so coveted 10 picks in this years deep draft class to stock up on depth in the mid to later rounds.
2 (56): Pat Elflein [C/OG Ohio State] – Early in FA the Vikings were able to find some stability at tackle with the additions of Riley Reiff & Mike Remmers, interior depth is still lacking. An eye to the future also needs to be placed on Joe Berger who will be 35 prior to the 2017 season. Elflein is a powerful run blocker and locker room leader out of Ohio State. He can immediately challenge Joe Berger for the starting center role while also offering some indirect competition to Sirles at right guard. ‘Elf’ is clearly being viewed as the center of the future and a potential leader in the O-line room. A long-term solution in the middle of the line can solidify the collaboration between each of the O-lines working parts both now and in the future.
3 (79): Duke Riley [WLB LSU] – Based on how the Vikings defense operates the WLB spot is not a massive hole due to the amount of time spend in the nickel, that doesn’t mean the team won’t look to upgrade the position. The Vikings were enamored with Deion Jones in 2016 and were planning on selecting him in the 2nd round before Atlanta took him off the board. Another athletic LSU linebacker in Duke Riley could be just as attractive in 2017. Riley doesn’t have volumes of tape since he hit the field as a senior, but he made a impact in games. He has the athleticism to hold the edge and play in coverage. He is the type of LB that could allow the Vikings to sit in their base defense more often and stuff the run at a higher rate. Lamur may be the opening day starter, but Riley could compete immediately and would allow Robinson to stay on the strong side where he is more comfortable.
3 (86): Bucky Hodges [TE Virginia Tech] – Taking a run at Jared Cook in free agency confirmed the hunch I’ve had that the team would like a vertical receiving threat at TE to compliment Rudolph over the middle. Being able to dictate matchups using TE’s can lead to a lot of easy yardage and pull players out of the box for an offense. Hodges is more like a super sized WR than TE, but that fits the Vikings well. In Shurmur’s offense Rudolph can line up within the formation with Hodges isolated on the outside or in the slot. At Virigina Tech he proved to have the long speed to beat DB’s and LB’s down the field and the size to overwhelm slot DB’s. Although he isn’t a pure receiver in the sense that he can double catch the ball at times it hasn’t been a major issue in college. This pick not only bring a TE to compliment Rudolph but also hedges against a lack of outside receiver depth.
4 (121): Justin Evans [S Texas A&M] – Prior to the 2016 draft the Vikings had done plenty of work on the premiere safeties in the draft class only to see them go off the board prior to their first pick. During the year Sendejo was a pleasant surprise and had a career year next to Harrison Smith. I don’t think a single season will prevent the Vikings from looking at a potential long-term starter next to Smith and quality depth on the back end. When either Sendejo or Smith couldn’t get on the field the Vikings pass defense had a clear weak link in Harris/Kearse. Evans is the all-around safety who is not afraid to come downhill in the run game but also has the skills to play center field over the top. Just watching a single game of tape, you walk away knowing he can install fear in WR’s trying to work across the middle. Evans likely wouldn’t be a day one starter but has the potential to be an above average pairing with Harrison as early as 2018.
4 (129): Kareem Hunt [RB Toledo] – Entering 2017 the Vikings should not have an issue at RB with their current committee of Latavius Murray & Jerrick McKinnon. It would still be foolish to pass on a back in this deep of a draft class however. Kareem Hunt is not the fastest or strongest, but he has enough to get the job done and be an all-around back in the NFL. Working primarily out of the spread at Toledo, Hunt has an natural ability to read his blocks up front and hit the hole. Once in the open field he is capable of breaking tackles with a deceptive speed to his game, balance, and proper pad level. He won’t push the pile at the end of runs but doesn’t leave much yardage on the field. In the passing game he will need to develop as a pass protector but provides good hands and shows the same ability to make things happen once the ball is in his hands. Overall, you can expect Hunt to develop into a potential 3-down player once he gets a conceptual understanding of NFL pass protections.
4 (130): Nico Siragusa [OG San Diego State] – Sticking with the earlier theme, depth along the interior line needs to be replenished in this years draft. Siragusa is a prototypical right guard who likely isn’t ready to make an immediate impact on day one. Siragusa needs to learn how to play more functionally with his hands and understand leverage at the NFL level in pass protection. When playing downhill he can clear holes in the run game with his pure mass. With the selection of Elflein above, there would be no pressure to plug and play Nico. However, once 2018 rolls around he could be called upon to be the starting RG.
5 (160): Zane Gonzalez [K Arizona State] – It is always hard to judge where kickers will be drafted since teams always value special teams differently. Tampa Bay drafting a kicker in the 2nd round last season likely will scare teams off a bit. On the flip side Gonzalez is one of the best kickers I have ever personally scouted. Zane has a big leg with the consistent accuracy to hit the ball dead center through the uprights, which is a testament to his NCAA scoring record. On kickoffs Gonzalez’s big leg comes through in the form of touchbacks. Kai Forbath was not bad for the Vikings in 2016 but lacks the upside you look for on kickoffs. Finding a long-term solution at this juncture makes sense from a value perspective.
6 (199): Ryan Switzer [WR North Carolina] – Unless the Vikings are able to add another presences on the outside Jarius Wright is likely your slot receiver entering 2017. Hodges can likely play on the outside from time to time, but he isn’t going to consistently line up as a receiver. Wright took a step back in his ability to get on the field last season and deserves some competition for motivation. Switzer is a pure slot threat with good hands. He isn’t the most physically intimidating guy, but he got the job done and was a go to receiver for Trubisky.
6 (208): Jeremy Cutrer [CB Middle Tennessee] – This is a guy I have recently caught onto that may appeal to the Vikings bump and run strategy. Cutrer has the size and length you look for in an outside corner and plays in an off-man system at Middle Tennessee that translates well to MN. Cutrer consistently shows the ability to mirror his man in off coverage before breaking downwards on routes. If you want a good example of how he plays against NFL level talent throw on his film against Alabama. His ball skills are a bit underwhelming but he finds himself around the football which shows there is some upside for improvement. It is unlikely Cutrer will develop into a #1/#2 CB but he has the potential to develop into a rotational piece that can take snaps down the road.
7 (232) Jeremiah Ledbetter [DT Arkansas] – The addition of Datone Jones’ versatility really pushed a need for a 3-tech DT down the list. With the hopeful return of Sharrif Floyd the Vikings should be able to generate an ever so important interior pass rush. Ledbetter needs a good coaching staff to take advantage of the raw ability he does possess. As of now he has a very quick first step that can get him upfield and after the QB. He lacks the secondary pass rushing moves and understanding of leverage to be a threat immediately. However, you can’t teach his size/speed/length combo. Giving him to Zimmer is the best change he is going to get to succeed in this league.