It's almost February, the Super Bowl is right around the corner, and that means draft season is heating up in a big way. The Senior Bowl, which took place this week, is the first major event of the pre-draft cycle. And while there isn't a scouting combine this year, it won't be long before colleges are holding Pro Days on their campuses. The next three months are going to be a lot of fun.
One of the staples of draft season is the endless barrage of mock drafts. The sheer volume of them can be somewhat overwhelming, but mocks are a great way to get a sense of which top prospects could make sense for a team at their specific draft slot.
The Vikings, who have the No. 14 overall pick this year, could go in several different directions with their first-round selection. They badly need help on the offensive and defensive lines, so the vast majority of mocks send a trench player to Minnesota. But there's always a chance they could go back to the well at defensive back or wide receiver, or perhaps do something even more surprising.
Welcome to the third edition of my 2021 mock draft roundups, where I add my own analysis about the fit of players who have recently been mocked to the Vikings by prominent analysts. Let's get to it. (Here's the last one from late December, if you want to check that out).
Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah)
- Date of mock: 1/22
- Full mock
I'm a big fan of Rousseau and his potential at the next level. He has elite length and surprising pass rush polish despite his limited experience at the position. The Vikings' defense took a big step back last year due to an inability to pressure the quarterback.
If you've spent any time perusing mock drafts since the Vikings' season ended, chances are you've seen Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau mocked to Minnesota at No. 14 plenty of times. At the moment, he's pretty clearly the most popular pick at that spot. That's not just an assumption, either; Rousseau is the Vikings' consensus pick according to the NFL Mock Draft Database, with nearly 25 percent of all mocks making that exact selection. Daniel Jeremiah is the example used here, but top analysts from The Athletic, PFF, The Draft Network, and elsewhere have also mocked Rousseau to the Vikings.
This would be a major tendency-breaker for Rick Spielman. I have frequently pointed out that in the 15 years Spielman has been in the front office, the Vikings have never taken a defensive end before the third round. Last year, I explained why it wasn't going to happen. Even in my first mock draft roundup last November, I pushed back against the idea. But last time I did one of these, I started to realize that this might be the year Spielman has to finally change that philosophy. The Vikings desperately need more pass-rushing help, and the odds of getting an instant contributor in the first round are much better than the odds of a fourth-round pick like D.J. Wonnum being ready to produce right away (he wasn't).
So I can absolutely get behind the Rousseau train. He fits the mold of what the Vikings like in edge rushers in that he's long, athletic, bendy, and still somewhat raw. The 6'7", 265-pound Rousseau had 15.5 sacks –– second in the nation behind Chase Young –– as a redshirt freshman in 2019. He opted out of this past season, which creates a bit of uncertainty, but his one season of tape provides plenty to go off of. Rousseau combines an incredible build with good pass-rushing moves and plenty of versatility; he can thrive on the edge or when lined up at three-technique. He still has plenty of work to do at the NFL level, but Rousseau would be an instant impact player with sky-high upside.
Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan (PFF's Steve Palazzolo)
- Date of mock: 1/25
- Full mock
It’s not a banner year for high-end edge rush talent, but Paye is the best of the bunch and could develop into a star. He has incredible athleticism that he just tapped into last season, earning an 87.1 pass-rush grade on only 138 rushes. Adding Paye to the mix is a good start in revamping Minnesota's defensive line.
There's a clear top tier of edge rushers in this year's class: Rousseau and Michigan's Kwity Paye. After those two, the consensus is that there's a bit of a dropoff before the next tier (which includes players like Carlos Basham Jr., Azeez Ojulari, Jaelan Phillips, and Patrick Jones II). If Rousseau is the No. 1 player most commonly mocked to the Vikings, Paye isn't far behind.
It really comes down to preference with these two. Paye is also a freaky athlete, but in slightly different ways. His twitch and quickness (look at this three-cone drill) are absurd for a player of his size. At 6'4", 272, he doesn't have the length of Rousseau, but he makes up for that in power and overall athleticism. Paye is frequently able to just overpower tackles with his bull rush or a rip move at the point of contact. He only played four games in 2020, but showed off his immense potential with two sacks and an additional tackle for loss against the Gophers.
One notable player comparison for Paye, courtesy of The Ringer's Danny Kelly: Everson Griffen. If he reaches that potential, pairing Paye with Danielle Hunter could be a lot like bringing back the Hunter-Griffen duo that was dominant from 2015-19 for the Vikings. Paye needs to develop more pass-rushing moves and counters, but there's no better coach for that than Andre Patterson.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC (ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.)
- Date of mock: 1/26
- Full mock
Vera-Tucker has scouts around the league buzzing after a tremendous season. He moved from guard to left tackle and dominated for the Trojans. At 6-4, 315 pounds, he could play either position at the next level. The Vikings must solidify their offensive line around Kirk Cousins, even after spending second-round picks on Ezra Cleveland (2020) and Brian O'Neill (2018) in recent years, and Vera-Tucker could be the long-term answer on the left side of the line. Cousins plays best when his running game is humming, and Vera-Tucker is a great run-blocker.
If the Vikings don't take a defensive lineman, there's a good chance they could once again address their perpetually underperforming offensive line. Despite drafting Brian O'Neill, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland in the top two rounds over the past three drafts, the OL is still a major weakness in Minnesota, particularly when it comes to pass protection. Adding one more impact piece to that group, along with getting some development from Bradbury and Cleveland, could finally make the line into a unit capable of protecting Kirk Cousins effectively while continuing to create big holes for Dalvin Cook in the running game.
Alijah Vera-Tucker is a major riser after a great season for USC. He has experience at both tackle and guard, so like Cleveland, he would give the Vikings a lot of versatility. He's a well-rounded prospect with the athleticism to play in Minnesota's zone-blocking scheme and, importantly, the frame and power to anchor effectively in pass pro. Vera-Tucker has good anticipation and feel for the game and has some nastiness in the way he finishes blocks. He could be a solid Day 1 starter at guard if Riley Reiff is brought back by the Vikings. If Reiff is a cap casualty, Vera-Tucker could also potentially compete with Cleveland for the left tackle job. Some will question the positional value of using a mid-first-round pick on a player who likely projects as a guard, but Vikings fans know how much of a weakness that position was last year.
The Vikings could also take a tackle like Texas's Samuel Cosmi or Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, but Vera-Tucker gives them more versatility. If you think 14 is too high for him, the Vikings could probably trade down and take the USC product in the late teens or early 20s.
Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama (The Draft Network's Jordan Reid)
- Date of mock: 1/26
- Full mock
With many needs, the Vikings have to find a way to become better in the trenches, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Only registering 23 sacks last season, tied for the third-lowest mark in team history, there should be a gold star beside the defensive line on the depth chart to mark the importance of collecting talent for that group during the offseason. A penetrating 3-technique is vital in Mike Zimmer’s defense. In previous seasons, he’s had players such as Sharrif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson, but the position has been a sore spot since Richardson’s departure to Cleveland.
Taking an edge rusher like Rousseau or Paye would be a great way to add talent to the Vikings' defensive line, but their bigger need might actually be on the interior. The Vikings could survive at DE with Danielle Hunter, Ifeadi Odenigbo (who is a restricted free agent but shouldn't be too expensive to bring back), D.J. Wonnum, a couple other young guys, and a middle-round pick. Whereas at defensive tackle, outside of nose tackle Michael Pierce, all they have is Armon Watts and disappointing 2020 fourth-rounder James Lynch. Like Reid says above, the Vikings could benefit greatly from having a dynamic pass-rusher at the three-technique spot.
In this year's class, there's no better three-tech than Alabama's Christian Barmore. I wrote a whole article about him and his fit with the Vikings after he shined in Bama's two College Football Playoff victories, so go check that out for my in-depth analysis. The quick summary is that Barmore is a very exciting prospect as an interior havoc-wreaker. He's got great size, a quick first step, and a ton of power in his hands. Barmore knows how to get to the quarterback and can be dominant when he's on his game. I would have no issues with this pick.
Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU (CBS Sports's Ryan Wilson)
- Date of mock: 1/26
- Full mock
Yes, the Vikes have needs along the offensive and defensive lines but it's hard to pass on Chase here, especially since it would reunite him with Justin Jefferson, one of the NFL's best rookies in 2020.
This was one of the bolder picks I've seen for the Vikings recently, so I thought I'd include it here for discussion. Do I think there's any real chance that the Vikings take a receiver in the first round for a second straight year? I don't. Do I think it's something that is worth considering from a positional value perspective? Absolutely. Adding someone like Chase would give the Vikings three incredible receivers, which could push them to modernize their offense a bit by passing more and using more 11 personnel. Defenses would have no shot to cover Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen at the same time. At least one would always be open. The added bonus of reuniting Jefferson and Chase is pretty cool, too. Chase was even better than Jefferson on LSU's national championship team, and look how Jefferson turned out.
But I don't think it's going to happen. First of all, Chase almost certainly isn't falling to 14. But even if any of Chase, Devonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle are available at this pick, I can't see Mike Zimmer approving it. Unless the Vikings fundamentally change their offense –– and you can make a compelling argument that they should –– they don't really need three elite receivers because they simply don't have three receivers on the field at a time very often. As long as Zimmer is around, I doubt that changes. If the Vikings don't pick an offensive or defensive lineman, I could see them taking another defensive back before I see them taking a receiver.
Other players mocked to the Vikings recently:
- Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas (The Draft Network's Benjamin Solak)
- Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (ESPN's Todd McShay)
- Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (CBS Sports's Chris Trapasso)
- Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa (The Big Lead)
- Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia (Pro Football Network)
- Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State (Fansided)
Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.