There was no traditional NFL scouting combine this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but 150 top draft prospects recently traveled to Indianapolis for medical evaluations. Those exams are arguably the most important aspect of the combine in a typical year, as team trainers and doctors get a chance to do a detailed review of highly-touted players or those with any past injuries.
The draft is incredibly important, and teams don't want to risk selecting a player in the early rounds without having all of the information about that player's medical status.
With that in mind, let's take a look at five players with some degree of injury concerns or an injury history who could be options for the Vikings.
Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips
If he didn't have any injury concerns, Phillips would pretty clearly be the top edge rusher in this year's draft (in my opinion, at least). He's a physical freak who wowed at his pro day in front of Vikings GM Rick Spielman. Combine Phillips' athleticism with his incredible tape from last season, and you can argue that he's a top-ten overall player in this draft class, or even better.
The issue is that his medical concerns are very significant. Phillips, once the top recruit in the nation, had a promising UCLA career ravaged by injuries. He hurt his ankle, his wrist, and most notably, suffered multiple concussions. That led him to medically retire from football in 2018 before returning to the game last year. If he stays healthy in the NFL, Phillips has a chance to be a steal and become a star. But the Vikings — and every other team in the market for a first-round EDGE — need to do their homework and determine how they feel about his medical situation.
I think it's a risk I'd take at No. 14. Phillips' upside is that high.
Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley
Once considered the consensus top corner in the class and a likely top-ten pick, Farley's stock has been falling after he recently had a microdiscectomy procedure (minor surgery on his back). He apparently got good news at his medical check in Indy and will probably still go in the first round, but being selected in the top 10 feels unlikely now.
Corner wasn't much of a need for the Vikings as of a week ago, but the Jeff Gladney incident might've changed that. With Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander both on one-year deals, the Vikings could use another young building block at the position, especially with Gladney's future very much up in the air. Farley's size, speed, and ball skills give him the upside to be a star NFL corner who shines in press-man coverage, but back injuries are now joke. If the Vikings feel good about his medical situation, would Mike Zimmer push to draft him at 14? It could be a more palatable risk after a trade down.
Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little
There are plenty of players in this year's draft that haven't seen game action in over a year, whether due to an opt-out or something else. Then there's Little, whose last full season was back in 2018. Heading into 2019, he was considered a potential first-round pick in the future due to his impressive sophomore tape and physical tools. Then he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the year. After opting out in 2020, Little is a very difficult evaluation because there's no way to know how he's developed in the past two-plus years.
If he's still around in the third or fourth round, I think Little could be worth the risk for the Vikings. His upside is tremendous with his combination of size, anchoring ability, athleticism, and technique. There's just no way to know exactly what he'll look like in the NFL after missing all this time.
Syracuse safety Andre Cisco
Cisco is one of my favorite safety prospects in this year's class. He's an incredible playmaker, with 13 interceptions in 24 career games, and is solid as a tackler as well. Cisco's range and athleticism complement an impressive frame and give him the potential to develop into a good starting safety in the NFL. His issue is getting out of position at times by being overly aggressive or biting on double moves, but he's a lot of fun to watch.
The medical concern with Cisco is that he tore his ACL last season (roughly six months ago) and is still rehabbing the injury. Will he be the same player after surgery? That's a question teams need to ask. He could be a good target for the Vikings in the third or fourth round.
Vanderbilt defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo
Speaking of fun prospects, do yourself a favor and watch some Odeyingbo tape. He's not a major name because he played at Vanderbilt (which went 5-28 during his career), but he can really play. He's got powerful hands, explosive athleticism, and an intriguing arsenal of pass rushing moves. Odeyingbo has the versatility to rush from the inside or outside, but bulking up and moving to three-technique might be the best move for his career.
Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles in January while preparing for the draft. That's a pretty big blow to his stock, but it could result in him being a steal on Day 3.
Honorable mentions: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama IOL Landon Dickerson, Florida State S Hamsah Nasirildeen, East Carolina OT D'Ante Smith
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