After a disastrous mid-season meltdown in 2016, the Minnesota Vikings have a golden opportunity to get back on track during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Last season ended in utter disappointment for the Minnesota Vikings, a team that appeared on the verge of contention. After allowing the heartbreak to dissipate, though, it’s time for them to turn things around and get back into the conversation of potential Super Bowl teams.
With free agency just about over, the 2017 NFL Draft will be the next chance for the Vikings to make any further needed upgrades. And based on the look of this current roster, more upgrades are a must. Between the remaining issues along the offensive line and lack of depth on defense, the draft should be seen as a make-or-break opportunity for Minnesota.
Luckily for the franchise, general manager Rick Spielman has a knack for crushing it on draft weekend. He’s put together some outstanding classes since taking the reins in 2012, and will be hoping for similar results at the end of April. His track record would indicate it’ll be more of the same in 2017.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at my latest seven-round mock draft for the Vikings, created using Fanspeak’s On the Clock tool. Keep in mind that these projections aren’t necessarily hard predictions—instead, they’re meant to comment on Minnesota’s current needs and the stock of the prospects mentioned.
Note: The Vikings traded their 2017 first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford. They also received the Miami Dolphins’ 2017 third- and fourth-round picks as part of a deal for Minnesota’s 2016 third-round pick.
The plan was to use this pick on an offensive lineman—it really was. And then, there were no worthy blockers on the board and a Day 1-caliber safety sitting there. It just seemed like an ideal opportunity to make this Minnesota defense even better than it already is.
I’ve never been a fan of Andrew Sendejo. Sure, he makes the occasional play against the run, but overall he’s little more than a liability in coverage. If the Vikings plan on fielding a truly elite defense anytime soon, they need an upgrade across from Harrison Smith who can be relied upon as a pass defender.
Enter Budda Baker, the Huskies’ outstanding safety prospect who has the makings of a Pro Bowler. While a bit undersized, the Washington product offers outstanding instincts in coverage and has a knack for getting his hands on the football. He plays with standout passion and drive, which helps him wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Baker would be an instant upgrade over Sendejo in coverage. Especially at No. 48 overall, he’s a steal with the potential to pay immediate dividends for the Vikings. Seems like a home run to me, even if the offensive line temporarily goes unaddressed.
It took until the third round, but the front five has finally been addressed. And if this is how the Vikings do it, I believe it would be a step in the right direction. Then again, just about anything would be an improvement based on how bad the Minnesota offensive line was in 2016.
Right now, the Vikings have two glaring holes along the offensive line. Joe Berger is currently slated to start at center, but is no spring chicken and can’t seem to stay healthy. At right guard, Willie Beavers is penciled in as a starter after struggling mightily when forced into action during his rookie 2016 season.
Pat Elflein offers the potential to fix either one of those issues. The Ohio State product starred at center this past season, but spent the two previous years starting at guard. He’s got experience all along the interior, and wins with a relentless motor, intelligence and power at the point of attack.
Elflein is also a tremendous locker room presence, which Spielman highly covets. His leadership skills and contagious work ethic make him an exceptional option here in the third round. Oh, and there’s the whole part about him providing a brighter future for the Vikings at both guard and center.
I know wide receiver isn’t a huge need for the Vikings, but the loss of Cordarrelle Patterson did do some damage. As we saw in 2016, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen can both get cold at times. Put simply, Minnesota needs more reliable options for Sam Bradford/Teddy Bridgewater to throw to.
Look no further than Ryan Switzer, one of my favorite receivers of the 2017 draft class. The former Tar Heel is an outstanding presence in the passing game, and would bring an unparalleled level of dependability to this group. Based on the type of impact he could have, landing him in the third round could be seen as a steal.
While Switzer isn’t a burner and doesn’t have ideal size, he wins with outstanding hands and superb route running. Throughout his career at North Carolina, he could always be counted on to come up with the big catch. Imagine what having him in the slot would do for this Minnesota offense moving forward.
It’s fairly common to see guys like Switzer compared to players such as Wes Welker or Julian Edelman. In this instance, though, I’m confident he’d have a similar impact at the next level. Just throw him the ball and he’ll find ways to keep the chains moving.
There’s a lot of uncertainty for Minnesota at defensive tackle as we inch closer to the 2017 campaign. The position is headed by Pro Bowler Linval Joseph, but the depth is a serious concern. The potential medical retirement of Sharrif Floyd (via USA Today’s Tom Pelissero) makes the future all the more worrisome.
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of most of the Day-2 talent at the position this year. There are a number of Day 1 prospects who could fill the void at the three-technique for the Vikings, but most will be off the board well before they make their first pick. There are a couple of mid-round talents with the upside worth investing in, though.
One of those prospects is Eddie Vanderdoes, a former five-star recruit with all the potential in the world. The former Bruin seemed destined for greatness early during his career at UCLA. However, after a torn ACL cost him all but one game in 2015, it’s been a bumpy ride. He struggled to bounce back in 2016, which is largely why he may actually be available in the fourth round.
In this case, though, it makes sense to roll the dice with Vanderdoes. Sure, the injury and subsequent play is concerning. However, if the Vikings can get him back to pre-injury form, there’s no telling the type of damage he can do. Plus, Spielman has drafted four Bruins in the last four years, so why break from the status quo?
You can never have too many centers, right? Just kidding.
Much like Elflein, Ethan Pocic is more than capable of playing all three interior positions. In fact, he played at all five spots along the offensive front at LSU. To say he brings versatility to the table is an understatement. That’s exactly what the Vikings need after watching injuries decimate their front five a season ago.
Especially with Berger turning 35 this spring and Nick Easton an underwhelming backup at center, Pocic is an intriguing addition in the fourth round. He provides excellent flexibility, with the potential to take over as a starter at center or guard sooner rather than later.
The former Tiger displays plus athleticism and smarts for the position, playing with a never-ceasing motor. There are concerns about his strength and ability to stand up against bigger, powerful defensive tackles, but he’s shown enough technique and foot quickness to keep the pocket from crumbling.
While not as physically gifted of a talent as Elflein, Pocic plays with the killer instinct that the Vikings need more of. His leadership, football IQ and movement skills along the interior make him a worthy Day 3 prospect for Minnesota.
At this point, the Vikings can’t take enough shots on offensive linemen. The front five was a disaster a season ago, and a lack of capable replacements was a big part of that colossal collapse. So it only seems smart to add yet another blocker to the mix here in the fifth round.
Minnesota made two notable additions at offensive tackle this offseason. The signings of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers give this group a brighter outlook in 2017, but that doesn’t necessarily make the position stable. The top backups are T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles, who both suffered when forced into action last season.
With more depth needed, gambling on a prospect like Collin Buchanan makes sense in the sixth round. The former Redhawk hasn’t received a lot of attention from the scouting community, but has come on late to earn some Day 3 consideration. Based on his physical abilities, there’s a good reason for the sudden interest.
His length could limit him to looks at guard, but Buchanan shows the hand and footwork needed to make an impact at the next level. If he can get stronger and continue to improve his technique, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him carve out a role as a starting guard or right tackle somewhere down the road.
I know it’s a round early, but here is Spielman’s developmental linebacker for 2017. He’s drafted a project at linebacker in the seventh round every year since he’s taken over as GM, but I decided to jump the gun because I couldn’t pass on Connor Harris in the sixth round.
Harris has everything an NFL team is looking for in a young backup linebacker. He’s a tackling machine, evidenced by his NCAA-record 633 career tackles at Lindenwood. The guy just knows how to find the football, and his motor doesn’t stop running until he’s made the play.
As is the case with many sub-FBS prospects, though, Harris does lack some of the typical physical traits of NFL linebackers. He’s only 5-11, 242 pounds, and does fall a bit short in the athleticism department. His instincts, preparation and tenacity, though, help him make plays all over the field.
At the very worst, Harris serves as a quality special teams contributor for a few years. However, the potential is there for him to take on Audie Cole’s role as a top backup linebacker and special teams ace who makes an underrated impact for the Vikings.
Fun fact: Harris also played running back and punter for the Lions (via NFL.com).
At this point, the Vikings may actually be in a better position with Latavius Murray taking over for Adrian Peterson as the lead back. It gives Minnesota a young, proven starter instead of an aging, injury-prone back who thinks he’s worth way more than he actually is.
Still, the depth at running back is a cause for concern. Matt Asiata is still out there on the open market, but may not be re-signed. Jerick McKinnon is a solid No. 2 option, but is a free agent next offseason and could jump ship for a larger role. That could leave the Vikings with C.J. Ham and Bishop Sankey as the best backups on the 2018 roster. Ouch.
So why not spend a late-round pick on a high-upside prospect like Joe Williams? I know there are numerous red flags with the Utah product that must be considered. Williams was kicked off the team at UConn for credit card theft, and then retired before the Utes’ 2016 campaign only to return a month later.
When he did return, though, he looked like a legitimate NFL runner with blazing speed, explosive athleticism and a natural feel for the position. Still, the Vikings will have to be convinced his heart is in the game and his head is on straight. If that is the case, though, Williams is a worthwhile flier in the seventh round with potential to develop into a steal.