As a fan of the NFL and specifically the Minnesota Vikings, the off–season can be a bleak and desolate stretch. Whereas baseball stretches 8 months from early April all the way through all of November, and basketball stretches for about the same amount of time from late October to mid June, football’s season lasts a measly 6 months. That means not only 2 months less action, but 2 months longer to wait until getting another fix of the gridiron.
There is one thing that keeps me sane during this 6 month wait: The NFL Draft. I get way too into this event every year, and even though the Vikings don’t have a 1st round pick because of the Sam Bradford trade I can’t help but pour through draft material and mock drafts. Fanspeak has a fun simulator tool that allows you to be a GM of your favorite team, and it’s very fun to play around with. While I’m not the first to do this, I think it’s a great way to visualize how you’d put a team together and does a good job simulating some of the chaos in the draft. It even allows trades that match up to the classic NFL trade value chart, so you end up with decently realistic drafts for the most part unless you try to game the system.
I have waited for Arif Hasan’s consensus board to come out, because it is a true aggregate of all of the NFL Draft community and their boards, so you really get a true sense of the average value of each player. I did one draft to start, and decided that I could do better with a re-do so today in this article I ended up with two drafts for you. Much stayed the same the second time, so I kept my thoughts pretty limited.
Before we start, here is how I define the team needs of the Vikings:
Tier 1- Major roster holes
Tier 2- Competition/Depth Needed
Tier 3- Backups needed
When it came time for me to pick, I was offered a trade by the Raiders. I’d trade down 8 spots for a 4th, 5th, and 6th round pick in 2017. With multiple offensive line targets on the board I thought this was a good chance to build depth and have a good shot at some more fliers late.
56th overall R2P24: OT/OG Taylor Moton
Moton is simply a huge lineman who has played both OT and OG. Minnesota has a wide-open RG spot that he would likely fill, but on the off chance that he can stick at the more coveted RT spot in the NFL, Minnesota could slide free agent acquisition Mike Remmers in to RG, where he has also played in the past. Even if Moton does project only at G as a starter, he could certainly be versatile enough to be a backup or emergency RT.
79th Overall R3P15: G/C Pat Elflein
Minnesota’s starting center Joe Berger was rated very highly in 2016, but it’s very possible this could be his last year before retiring, and Minnesota needs to not only address the hole at RG, but build their depth in backup positions. Moton was step #1 in that process, Elflein is step #2. He can compete for the starting C spot or the RG spot as well. In what will be a pattern in this article, he is versatile enough to backup 3 positions on the offensive line as well. If the injury bug were to bite Minnesota again, having young talent waiting in the wings is maybe the best security net you could have.
86 Overall R3P22: G/C Ethan Pocic
This is a similar story to Pat Elflein. Maybe if I’d known Pocic was going to be around here I’d have passed on Elflein, but this pick would allow Minnesota to finally have true depth on their offensive line. In this scenario Moton could be put at RT exclusively with Pocic and Elflein competing at RG and backing up all three interior spots. Best of all these first 3 picks ensure Willie Beavers and TJ Clemmings play for another team in 2017.
120th Overall R4P13: LB Anthony Walker Jr
With Chad Greenway retiring, Minnesota needs an OLB to come in and compete for the starting job. I looked specifically for a linebacker who would be able to cover in the passing game, and allow the Vikings to stay in their base 4-3 more often, which should help Mike Zimmer’s run defense. Greenway was a liability and Minnesota ended up playing more snaps in the nickel than in the base defense, which I am not convinced is totally optimal. Walker Jr solves that problem, and extremely fast and sturdy against the run to boot.
128th Overall R4P21: WR KD Cannon
Maybe I’m showing some B12 bias here, but Cannon is one of my favorite mid round receivers in this draft. Minnesota went after Alshon Jeffrey in free agency, and that tells me that they are looking for a big play receiver to compliment Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Cannon is a burner who ran a 4.41 40 yard dash, and is just explosive on the field. He also could possibly cover a 2nd spot returning kicks. This is especially important as Minnesota just lost one of the best kick returners in NFL history in Cordarrelle Patterson.
129th Overall R4P22: S John Johnson
This pick is simple, while Anderson Sendejo was serviceable last year, he still carries a hefty salary cap hit and a centerfielder playing next to Harrison Smith would allow one of the league’s best safeties to wreak havoc in the box more often. Johnson could also profile into a hybrid LB/S spot, something that Mike Zimmer has talked about this offseason.
160th Overall R5P16: DL Jarron Jones
Jones is a boom or bust prospect on the interior DL. He’s mostly a 3 tech but could probably play NT in a pinch. With Shariff Floyd possibly not being able to play, this is a little insurance mixed with a high upside play.
168th Overall R5P24: K Zane Gonzalez
You love this pick or you hate it. Recent evidence may say drafting kickers isn’t more effective than getting them as UDFAs, but I’d like to guarantee my shot at the one I want and at this point these picks are longshots to make a roster like Minnesota’s anyway. I think the potential to get a top tier kicker is better if you draft the top prospect, even if getting a mid-tier kicker is relatively easy after the draft.
199th Overall R6P15: RB Elijah Hood
Hood is a downhill back who can pass block as well. Simply put I think he brings a little different dimension to the slight-but-freakishly-athletic Jerrick Mckinnon and the big upright running style brought by free agent signee Latavius Murray.
208th Overall R6P24: DT Stevie Tu’Ikolovatu
This is just a shot in the dark at the best DL available, best case scenario he provides depth at NT behind Linval Joseph.
232nd Overall R7P14: KR/WR Speedy Noil
Some character concerns here, but this pick is purely a shot at an electric athlete and returner. If he could make himself stand out as the best returner on the team he could have an outside shot at a roster spot.
TL;DR: Minnesota trades back to acquire more picks, and loads up early on high upside OL depth that should compete for starting spots. We then address adding competition to the 3rd LB, S, RB, and DL spots before adding the #1 kicking prospect and a few high upside fliers to close the draft out.
I am quite pleased with most of this draft, but if I could go back and change it I would do two things: I would likely take a RB earlier on in place of one of the interior linemen, and I would take a shot at a QB to occupy the 3rd spot on the roster or possibly the practice squad. I took another crack and it and this is where I ended up after 3 minor trade downs, loading me with more 3rd and 4th round picks:
56th Overall R2P24- G Dan Feeney
The best G prospect that could possibly be available
79th Overall R3P15- C/G Pat Elflein
86th Overall R3P22- RB Kareem Hunt
One of my favorite RBs, probably my favorite for the value. Future stud at RB in the NFL. He’s got great balance and can catch the ball out of the backfield. I think he’s a 3 down back and would be excited to add him.
97th Overall R3P33- S Eddie Jackson
Went earlier on my ballhawk safety. Much higher chance to oust Sendejo next to Harrison Smith.
120th Overall R4P13- LB Anthony Walker Jr
128th Overall R4P21- WR KD Cannon
129th Overall R4P22- TE George Kittle
S is taken care of so this pick switches to a minor need, and that’s TE. Kittle is just an all around TE and Iowa always produces TEs that have long careers in the NFL
160th Overall R5P16- QB Joshua Dobbs
Dobbs can be a cheap 3rd QB while Bridgewater is on IR after Taylor Heineke and Case Keenum compete for the spot behind Bradford. He could possibly be slipped to the practice squad one Teddy gets healthy.
199th Overall R6P15- K Zane Gonzalez
232nd Overall R7P14- KR/WR Speedy Noil
In this draft I believe I did a more balanced job of drafting. Hunt is a much bigger difference maker at RB as is Jackson at safety, Feeney is a lock to start at RG even though you lose the chance at a starting OT in Moton. A 3rd interior OL was a luxury and was well worth correcting this time through.
So, there’s my ideal draft. I filled both Tier 1 spots aggressively, addressed all Tier 2 spots except RT and DT, and hit every need in my 3rd Tier as well. The odds that Minnesota even takes one of these players I have listed might not be great, but I believe the most important area of focus for me is the positions that get addressed. I don’t know if Kareem Hunt is the top RB on the board for Minnesota at #86 overall, but I do know that they should address RB early. I don’t claim to be an expert scout or even an average one, but I do think that the positional roster management is a much clearer picture to put together.
Regardless of who my Vikings take next weekend, I’m just happy to get a little taste of my favorite sport in the middle of the football desert that is the off-season. Fans of every team see the draft as an oasis not just for their sports fix, but for their team in a league where any team can make huge strides in just one off-season. We’ll have to wait until the fall to find out which teams found an oasis and which were following a mirage, but until then I’m going to enjoy the process and the hope of possibility that comes every spring in sport’s most exciting draft.