Mike Fanelli | April 3rd, 2020
Entering the offseason, the Minnesota Vikings faced several critical decisions. With basically no cap space, the Vikings had to let go of several veterans. Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph were released while Everson Griffen and Trae Waynes were just a few of the free agents the team couldn’t afford to re-sign. However, the Vikings were able to sign Kirk Cousins to an extension that opened up the cap space needed to put the franchise tag on Anthony Harris.
There is speculation that the Vikings will try to trade Harris, especially if they are far apart on a long term deal. Trading Harris wouldn’t be surprising as the Vikings traded Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for the 22nd overall pick this year as well as multiple day three picks. While the trade leaves the Vikings with a big hole to fill at wide receiver opposite of Adam Thielen, removing Diggs should lower the drama in the locker room. The only big name free agent signing the Vikings made was replacing Joseph with former Baltimore Raven Michael Pierce, signing him to a three-year deal worth $27 million dollars. The Vikings enter the draft with 12 picks, including five within the first three rounds.
To help with this mock draft, I used The Draft Network mock draft simulator.
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Round 1, Pick 22: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
The three starting cornerbacks from last year (Rhodes, Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander) are now on other rosters. This leaves 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes and several undrafted or late-round players at cornerback. Hughes has struggled with injuries, missing 12 games so far in his two years in the league, while Nate Meadors, Holton Hill, and Kris Boyd have zero career interceptions combined. While Jeffrey Okudah is clearly the best cornerback in the draft class, Fulton is arguably the number two guy. During his final season at LSU, Fulton was dominant, recording 14 passes defended. With Hughes’ injury history and the lack of proven depth behind him, Fulton is all but guaranteed a starting spot come week one.
Round 1, Pick 25: A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Picking again three spots later, the Vikings add Epenesa to replace Griffen. While Danielle Hunter is arguably the most underrated edge rusher in the league, he needs a running mate. Ifeadi Odenigbo, Anthony Zettel, and Eddie Yarbrough are the other edge rushers currently on the roster and they have 15.5 career sacks between them. By comparison, Griffin had 13.5 sacks over his last two seasons despite missing six games during that span. Meanwhile, Epenesa is one of the most established pass rushers in the draft class. Over his last two seasons at Iowa, Epenesa totaled 22 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss. With Hunter demanding a double team on the other side, Epenesa could easily reach double-digit sacks as a rookie.
Round 2, Pick 58: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Starting to catch a theme with this mock draft? After trading away Diggs, the Vikings signed former Tennessee Titan Tajae Sharpe to compete with Olabisi Johnson to take over Diggs’ starting spot. However, you can’t go from a Pro Bowl talent like Diggs to two backup quality receivers. With so much depth in this draft class at the wide receiver position, teams could hold off on drafting wide receivers early for other needs, pushing the wide receivers down the board. If the Vikings can get Higgins this late in the second round, it would be a steal. Over his last two seasons at Clemson, Higgins was near unstoppable. He caught 118 balls for 2,103 yards and 25 touchdowns. Even as a rookie, Higgins should easily win the starting spot opposite of Thielen.
Round 3, Pick 89: Rashard Lawrence, DL, LSU
Even after signing Pierce to replace Joseph at defensive tackle, the Vikings need to spend a mid-round pick at the position. The other starting defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and Pierce have easy outs in their contracts after next season while top reserve Jaleel Johnson is entering the final year of his deal. During his time at LSU, Lawrence had 120 total tackles, 20.5 for a loss and nine sacks. He would provide depth on a rotational basis as a rookie, then push for a starting spot in 2021.
Round 3, Pick 105: Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia
Riley Reiff struggled at times last season and the team can open up at least $8.8 million dollars by releasing him. Even if he isn’t released this offseason, he will turn 32 years old next year and will likely be a cap causality then. Brian O’Neill has the other starting tackle spot locked down but the depth is thin. Wilson is a raw prospect but at 6’6” and 350 lbs, he has a lot of upside. It would be best if Wilson can spend his rookie year as a swing tackle while he develops. However, if given a year to develop, he could take over as a starter, replacing Reiff, next season.
Round 4, Pick 132: Brandon Jones, SAF, Texas
After placing the franchise tag on Harris, the Vikings have back their starting safety duo for next season. While Harrison Smith is an All-Pro player, Harris could end up playing the season on the tag and even if he doesn’t, there is no depth at the position. Over his last two years at Texas, Jones was productive, recording 156 total tackles and forcing six turnovers. He can play in either safety role and could start as a rookie if the team decides to trade Harris.
Round 5, Pick 155: Lamar Jackson, CB, Nebraska
Needless to say, the Vikings need to add multiple cornerbacks during the draft given their current depth chart. Even after adding Fulton in the first round, the Vikings double down and grab a bigger cornerback here in the fifth round. Rhodes was the Vikings’ tallest cornerback last season at 6’2”, yet currently the Vikings have just one cornerback taller than 6’0” on the roster. Jackson is a big and long cornerback, standing at 6’2” with 32 plus inch arms. While Jackson will likely never turn into an above average starter, adding some size at the position is a smart move to make in the fifth round.
Round 6, Pick 201: Darryl Williams, iOL, Mississippi State
Starting left guard Pat Elflein is a free agent after the 2020 season and will likely be allowed to sign elsewhere in free agency. The depth along the interior of the offensive line this thin at best. Williams has experience starting at several spots along the offensive line while at Mississippi State. He would provide depth as a rookie and push for a starting spot next year.
Round 6, Pick 205: Trevis Gipson, EDGE, Tulsa
Remember what I said earlier about lack of production at edge rusher outside of Hunter? Well, the Vikings decide to double down and take another edge rusher in the sixth round. While the trio of Odenigbo, Zettel, and Yarbrough have a combined 15.5 career sacks, Gipson was productive at Tulsa. Over his last two seasons, Gipson totaled 145 tackles, 24 for a loss, and 12 sacks. Despite coming from a smaller school, Gipson could develop into an impactful rotational pass rusher.
Round 7, Pick 219: Alex Taylor, OT, South Carolina State
Back to the offensive line. Even after drafting Wilson earlier, the Vikings would be wise to spend a late-round pick on the offensive line. Taylor is a big man at 6’8” and 308 lbs, and he offers upside. While he comes from a smaller school and needs time to develop, the Vikings can afford to give him a year to redshirt, whether on the active roster or practice squad. With O’Neill coming due for an extension after next season, investing a late-round pick at a potential replacement is a smart move.
Round 7, Pick 249: Aaron Fuller, WR, Washington
Even before the team traded way Diggs, they needed help at wide receiver. The addition of Sharpe helps but adding a wide receiver this late in the draft is a smart investment. Fuller would push Dillon Mitchell, Chad Beebe, and others for a roster spot. His ability to make an impact on special teams and in the return game should give Fuller the inside track to making the final roster.
Round 7, Pick 253: Khaleke Hudson, LB/SAF, Michigan
With their last pick, the Vikings add a versatile player who can fill several roles on the team. Hudson has experience at linebacker and safety. With limited depth at both spots, he can come in and provide depth at both positions while also carving out a critical role on special teams.
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