The Vikings should have plenty of intriguing options available tonight, when the first round of the NFL Draft arrives.
Two top options for the Vikings in Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft appear to be Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (left) and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
Mark Rebilas, Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
By Brian Hall
FOX Sports North's Brian Hall provides complete coverage of the Vikings and the 2014 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. Today is the final day of his Vikings draft previews. You can find the entire series here.
Spielman is now hours away from being on the clock in the first round of the NFL Draft. Spielman has run through all the scenarios with his staff. He knows the options in play for the -- for now -- No. 8 pick and he says he has a good handle on what to expect with the first seven picks in Thursday's first round.
"People get tired of talking about everything, but the more I hear things, the more I can put ourselves in scenarios," Spielman said. "When it comes up on draft day, that's what you have that you already kind of experienced what the worst thing that can happen to you on draft day and how you can react. I think that's really helped, especially over the last two years of knowing when to move down, when to move back up, when to go get players that you covet. That has been beneficial and I love to be active on draft (day)."
As of Tuesday, Spielman said he's the only one who knows which direction Minnesota will go. Expect Spielman to be very open to the possibility of trading down from No. 8. Also Spielman won't be shy about jumping back into the late first round if there is someone he covets, as he's shown the past two years.
If Spielman finds the right "dance partner" for No. 8, he'll move down a few spots and accumulate more picks. But if Spielman and the Vikings sit at eight, here are a five options for when they finally get on the clock:
Here's where we find out if expectation meets reality. Quarterback has been the easy connection for Minnesota throughout the evaluation period and a popular position for the mock drafts -- even though Spielman said the mock drafts are missing some names for the Vikings at No. 8. Count that as pre-draft subterfuge. Minnesota's likely selection is likely to come from names we've heard all along.
Quarterback is certainly a need and Spielman has openly said the team will draft a quarterback at some point this week. Bortles has a high upside and here's to the belief he is probably the highest-rated quarterback on Spielman's board. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is essentially the driving influence on the quarterback pick. He was tasked with meeting and evaluating all the quarterbacks. And if Turner's history is any indication, he likes a big, strong quarterback who's accurate and able to drive the ball down the field.
Bortles' arm strength doesn't quite match the hype yet. It's strong and accurate, but could even become better as he improves his footwork and mechanics. He also is a very good athlete and can make plays with his feet.
Bortles doesn't have the uncanny playmaking ability of Manziel and isn't as polished as Teddy Bridgewater. But he does have all the tools NFL teams look for and room to grow. He could sit for at least one season and learn while Matt Cassel guides the Vikings' offense.
We'll leave you with this quote from Turner last week:
"The number one thing that I look at as an evaluation is where they can be in two or three years," Turner said. "There's a lot of guys that are polished and have been extremely well-coached and they're ready to go and you may not see a big upside. What you're look for, to me, is guys that in two or three years can be a Pro Bowl-type . . . player."
Minnesota has seemingly been in the market for cornerbacks for a decade. Chris Cook proved not worthy of his status as the team's top pick in the second round in 2010. In 34 games with the Vikings, Cook never had an interception. Yearly the cornerback depth was ravaged by injury and Minnesota never seemed to be able to get its preferred set of cornerbacks on the field.
The Vikings then drafted Xavier Rhodes in the first round last season and things started to look up. They added Captain Munnerlyn in free agency this year. But Minnesota isn't done addressing the position. The saying is "you can never have enough cornerbacks" and the Vikings have proven it true over the years. Adding Gilbert to go with Rhodes and Munnerlyn would change the outlook dramatically.
Gilbert is a big cornerback at 6-foot and 202 pounds. He enjoys playing to his size but he can also run, posting a sizzling 4.37-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He had the fastest time among defensive backs and fourth-fastest time among all players at the Combine. Gilbert was also third among all cornerbacks at the Combine with 20 repetitions on the bench press.
Playing in the Big 12 Conference, Gilbert's used to seeing pass-happy teams, which he'd certainly face in the NFC North. And he has the production. Gilbert led the Big 12 with seven interceptions last year, returning two for touchdowns. He finished his college career with 12 interceptions and was also dangerous as a returner with six return touchdowns.
The Vikings allowed the most passing touchdowns and second-most passing yards in the NFL last year and were tied for the eighth-fewest interceptions. New head coach Mike Zimmer is known for his work with defensive backs, in particular. How would Zimmer like designing a defense with Gilbert, Rhodes and Munnerlyn?
Is there fire where there's smoke? Donald has been linked to Minnesota a lot in the days leading up to the draft. On the surface, the move would be curious for the Vikings, who drafted defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd with the 23rd pick last year. Donald and Floyd essentially play the same position and Floyd hasn't had the chance to fully show what he's capable of in Minnesota.
However, while Spielman is still the one making the decisions, a new coaching staff is in place and might see something in Donald. Spielman will say he prefers to go with the best-player-available philosophy, as well. Could the arrows be lining up for Donald, who's considered one of the best defensive tackle prospects in the draft in years?
No one knows what selecting Donald would mean for Floyd, who is likely entering his first year as a starter after Kevin Williams wasn't retained in free agency. Zimmer has always had productive, disruptive 3-technique tackles to go alongside a big run-plugging nose tackle. Minnesota picked up the nose tackle in Linval Joseph and is looking for the Geno Atkins -- an All-Pro tackle for Zimmer in Cincinnati -- next to Joseph.
The Vikings could feel Donald is simply too good to pass up. About the only knock on Donald is his height (6-foot-1). He tested very well at the Combine with some of the best numbers at his position in the 40-yard dash, bench press and 3-cone drill after impressing at the Senior Bowl. He was an All-American, the Bronko Nagurski and Outland Trophy award winner after a senior season in which he had 28.5 tackles for loss, which led the nation, and 11 sacks.
The linebacker Spielman, Zimmer and the Vikings would probably like is doubtful to drop to No. 8. Perhaps the best-case scenario for Minnesota would be Buffalo's Khalil Mack sliding to No. 8 where the Vikings could pick up a premier prospect, a future All Pro-type talent who could slide in seamlessly as a starter from Day 1 at outside linebacker for Minnesota.
However, the chances of Mack slipping appear slim. But the Vikings have a true need at linebacker. They can afford to take the best linebacker available and sort out where their players line up later. That could lead to Mosley being a strong selection. Mosley would likely fit as a middle linebacker in Minnesota's 4-3 scheme and likely start right away.
Mosley had a productive college career at Alabama and was named the Butkus Award winner this season for the best linebacker in college football. He's a smart, instinctual player who could captain the middle of any defense. He's quick and fluid and is a good tackler and could be the run stopper in the middle Zimmer likes to employ in his defenses. But Mosley can also drop in coverage as a nickel linebacker for the Vikings.
Selecting Mosley at No. 8 would be considered a mild reach, but he's a quality linebacker who has Pro Bowl potential. Mosley is considered a bit of an injury risk. He's been dealing with a shoulder injury and didn't run or lift at the Combine. If Minnesota is focused more on finding an outside linebacker, it could look to Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, a speedy, athletic player who also would be considered a slight reach at No. 8.
Want a darkhorse, possible surprise? Carr is about as close as you could get when you're talking the No. 8 pick. There are too few things that could happen before eight that would really throw a wrench into Spielman's plans. Last year it was hard to predict what would happen when Minnesota's first pick was at No. 23 overall.
But if there's a "reach," quarterback might be the position where it happens. The Vikings were reportedly impressed with Carr at his Pro Day for Fresno State. Carr seemingly has everything Minnesota and Turner would be looking for. He has perhaps the strongest arm of any quarterback in this class. He is a willing downfield thrower. He's accurate, has worked in multiple offenses and is underrated as an athlete, showing an ability to escape pressure. When he runs, he stays focused on passing instead of tucking the ball and running right away.
With his strong arm, it's surprising Carr hasn't been named alongside Manziel, Bortles and Bridgewater more. The two biggest knocks on him are his talent and his performance in one game. Carr is the brother of David Carr, who flopped as the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans in 2002. Instead of shying away from the comparisons, Derek says he can learn from the mistakes made by his brother.
Many can't get away from Carr's performance against Southern Cal, either. In perhaps the biggest game of his college career, he struggled the most in a loss to the Trojans in the Las Vegas Bowl. Carr didn't show a poised pocket presence and was inaccurate in completing 29 of 54 passes for 217 yards, throwing two touchdowns and an interception.
Carr doesn't have ideal height, but he's competitive, instinctive and has a good arm and is the type of project Turner could possibly see developing into the best quarterback in the draft. Like Bortles, Carr seems to fit what Turner likes to do best. While needing work, like Bortles, Turner could be the type of coach to get the most out of Carr on the NFL level.
When it's all said and done, Minnesota will select a quarterback, but not at No. 8. Spielman might still be too shell-shocked from the swing and miss on Christian Ponder at No. 12 in 2011 to mortgage such a valuable pick at No. 8 on another uncertain quarterback.
The defensive-minded head coach in Zimmer likely sees real impact players available at No. 8. Minnesota went 5-10-1 last season while blowing a lead in the final minute five times. Here's to believing the Vikings won't be able to pass up on a talent like Gilbert to add to the secondary.