After getting off to a great start to the draft on Thursday night by trading down and still landing massive left tackle Christian Darrisaw, the Minnesota Vikings were loaded with picks in the third round on Friday — four of them, to be exact.
GM Rick Spielman previously suggested that the amount of draft capital they acquired by trading down during the first round would allow them to come up into the second for a player they coveted. But as the second round played out, he found the asking price for a move up to be too high, and liked the way the board was falling based on their needs and prospect rankings.
So the Vikings stayed put, making four selections in a 25-pick span from No. 66 to No. 90 that lasted around 80 minutes in real time. They kicked things off with an eye-popping move, taking a quarterback prior to Day 3 for the first time in seven years, and followed that up by landing two defensive front seven prospects and another offensive lineman with a great chance to be a starter from day one.
Let's take a look at all of these picks and give each one a grade.
QB Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (No. 66 overall)
The Vikings ponied up for Kirk Cousins in free agency three years ago thinking he could help get them over the hump, and they extended his contract after a strong season in 2019 that included a playoff victory. But overall, the Cousins era has been a disappointment, with only one postseason appearance in three years. Despite playing at a top-ten level for stretches, inconsistency and limited physical tools have limited Cousins' ability to carry a Vikings team that has had issues on the offensive line — and in 2020, on defense — during his time in Minnesota. More importantly, Cousins' hefty contract is a major obstacle for the Vikings when it comes to keeping all of their best players and building a Super Bowl-caliber roster.
So it makes sense that the front office began thinking about a succession plan this offseason by doing their homework on a number of quarterbacks in the draft. On Friday, they passed on the opportunity to go after a top-tier passer like Justin Fields or Mac Jones, but they got their guy in Mond with the second pick of the third round.
Mond is someone the Vikings spent a lot of time looking into in the pre-draft process. They met with him at the Senior Bowl (where he won MVP of the showcase game), had a presence at his pro day, and had QBs coach Andrew Janocko travel to Texas to put him through an individual workout, in addition to all of the time they spent with him on Zoom. Spielman and college scouting director Jamaal Stephenson mentioned Mond's mobility, arm strength, and steady improvement during a four-year career at A&M as a few of the reasons why they're enamored with his potential.
I think this pick makes a lot of sense. There's a three-year sample that tells you Cousins, whose career record in the NFL is 51-51-2, probably isn't going to win a championship in Minnesota. So why not take a swing on a guy with a lot of the physical tools that many of the game's current elite QBs possess? Specifically, I'm talking about the athleticism to make things happen outside of the pocket — a trait notably lacking in their current starter.
There are obvious reasons why Mond fell to the third round. His college tape shows a player who is inconsistent with his decision-making, accuracy, timing, and pocket awareness. He needs to become more confident and aggressive in taking shots downfield, as well. There's a lot of growth and improvement that needs to happen in order for Mond to develop into a competent NFL starter, much less an upgrade from Cousins.
But the ceiling is there. NBC Sports analyst and former quarterback Chris Simms, who has an impressive recent track record of pre-draft QB rankings, famously slotted Mond as his QB4 this year, ahead of Fields and No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance. Mond has the arm talent, he has the mobility, and he put together his best season in 2020 by improving his pocket presence and taking care of the football. His extensive experience playing in a pro-style offense should allow him to hit the ground running as a rookie. As a side note, athleticism and experience are two reasons why I think Minnesota chose Mond over Stanford's Davis Mills, who went to the Texans one pick later.
Spielman said this move was just about adding competition behind Cousins, but it was clearly also about bringing in someone who could potentially take the reins of the offense in the near future. If Mond can come in and soak up knowledge from Janocko, offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, and Cousins, there are scenarios where he takes over the starting job in 2022 or 2023. Is that the most likely outcome? I'm not sure. But even if all this pick does is light a fire under Cousins, it might end up being worth it.
The Vikings never almost never draft quarterbacks early — they hadn't done so since Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, and Mond is just the eighth QB taken in the third round or earlier in franchise history — but they needed to be proactive about doing something at the position this year. Mond gives them a massive upgrade at the backup spot, presents a completely different look from Cousins, and has the upside to theoretically become a middle-round success story a la Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott.
This is an exciting pick. I'm on board with it. Let's see what the coaching staff can turn him into.
LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina (No. 78 overall)
As the 78th pick approached, I assumed the Vikings would address one of their pressing needs, specifically guard or edge rusher. Maybe they'd take a defensive back or wide receiver, two spots where they also need young depth. Instead, they went with the surprise choice of Surratt, an athletic and ultra-competitive linebacker from UNC who I previously only knew as the guy getting pancaked multiple times by Darrisaw in the Tar Heels' victory over Virginia Tech last fall.
As I've read more about Surratt, I can understand why the Vikings made this pick. Having voluntarily converted from quarterback to linebacker prior to his junior season, there's reason to believe his best football might still be in front of him. Surratt is an outstanding athlete, which is why he was able to stuff the stat sheet and make two straight All-ACC first teams immediately after making a position switch that seems like it should've been remarkably difficult.
Spielman and Stephenson harped on Surratt's instincts and intelligence in addition to his explosiveness and play-making skills. With his abilities in coverage, as a blitzer (he had 12.5 sacks in 24 career games at LB), and in pursuit of ballcarriers, they don't think he looks like someone who has only been playing the position for a couple of years. Surratt fits the mold of linebacker that they're looking for, with a physical profile and game that is somewhat reminiscent of Eric Wilson. He'll compete with Nick Vigil and Troy Dye for defensive snaps as a rookie while also playing on special teams while he develops.
Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't skeptical about this pick. Surratt is already 24 years old, which makes me wonder how much upside is really there. He's undersized for the position and struggles against the run as a result of his inability to get off of blocks and wrap up as a tackler. In that sense, he definitely sounds like Wilson, the ex-Vikings LB who was originally a UDFA.
If Minnesota wanted someone to possibly take over Anthony Barr's every-down role when the veteran likely departs next spring, I think they should've gone with LSU's Jabril Cox or Ohio State's Baron Browning, both of whom have more experience and slightly bigger builds. Maybe Surratt turns out to be excellent, but this one was the biggest head-scratcher of the evening for me.
G Wyatt Davis, Ohio State (No. 86 overall)
Much to the delight of their fanbase, the Vikings drafted a guard with a top-100 pick. And not just any guard, but a two-time first team All-American who many expected to be drafted in the second round. Davis was 53rd on the consensus board, making him the best value of the day for the Vikings according to analyst projections. He and Minnesota have long been a popular match in mock drafts, and now Davis will officially be wearing purple and gold this fall.
Much like the Darrisaw pick one night earlier, this selection was part of a directive from head coach Mike Zimmer to get bigger on the offensive line. He doesn't just want athletic guys who can operate the zone blocking scheme, he knows the Vikings need some strength in pass protection as well. Spielman and Zimmer feel like Darrisaw brings an excellent combination of those two things, and they share that same sentiment about Davis.
The Ohio State product is simply fantastic as a one-on-one pass blocker. He plays with great balance and power and finishes plays with tenacity. Davis also has the awareness to recognize stunts and quickly adjust to keep the pocket clean. And of course, he wouldn't have been picked by the Vikings if he didn't have the mobility to make reach blocks and climb to the second level.
I don't have a whole lot more to say about this pick. Davis presumably fell due to some medical concerns with his knee, which gave the Vikings the opportunity to pounce and receive incredible value in the middle of the third round. I fully expect him to beat out Mason Cole in camp, start at guard for Minnesota right away, and provide a significant immediate upgrade from Dakota Dozier. Down the line, I think he has a chance to make multiple Pro Bowls.
This was a no-brainer pick.
DE Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh (No. 90 overall)
Last but not least, the Vikings rounded out their night by giving Andre Patterson the team's earliest edge rusher draft pick since Danielle Hunter went at No. 88 overall in 2015. Jones is no Hunter (who is?), but he fits into the same general category along with 2020 fourth-rounder D.J. Wonnum as a long, athletic DE with an enticing ceiling if he can put it all together.
The positional choice here makes a lot of sense. The Vikings desperately needed another edge rusher to compete with Wonnum and Stephen Weatherly opposite Hunter, who missed all of last season with a neck injury. I thought they might take a DE even earlier than this, but it clearly was something they wanted to prioritize before the day was over.
Jones had more consistent production in college than either Hunter or Wonnum, with 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles as a junior in 2019 and nine more sacks last season. He already has an impressive arsenal of pass rushing moves, which are an effective complement to his strong initial get-off and high motor. Jones has a prototypical frame for the position, which is a big selling point for him. However, he's not the bendiest player around the corner. Jones also needs to add strength in both his upper and lower body to maximize his bull rush and hold up against the run.
There were a couple edge rushers available here that were rated higher by the consensus board, most notably Oklahoma's Ronnie Perkins and Jones's Pitt teammate Rashad Weaver, but Jones was the highest player on the Vikings' board, and that's all that matters when decisions are being made.
I'm not exactly sold on this pick right now, although I don't dislike it by any means. I just think there may have been better options out there. I'm willing to give Patterson and the Vikings' scouting department the benefit of the doubt when it comes to defensive ends, so we'll just have to wait and see how Jones pans out (and if Wonnum takes a leap in year two, for that matter). I like the choice to take a DE here and think Jones's frame and college production suggest he could play a large role as a rookie.
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