Vikings Select Jaylon Johnson and Cesar Ruiz in SI Team Reporter Mock Draft
Eight Sports Illustrated team reporters recently got together and conducted a first round NFL mock draft, with each reporter making four total picks, including those for the team they cover. In order to save time and simplify things, there were no trades.
The draft was hosted by Corbin Smith, who covers the Seattle Seahawks for SI. Also participating were myself, Ed Kracz (Philadelphia Eagles), Patricia Traina (New York Giants), Alain Poupart (Miami Dolphins), Pete Smith (Cleveland Browns), Howard Balzer (Arizona Cardinals), and Todd Karpovich (Baltimore Ravens).
There were several surprises early on in the mock, including both the Dolphins and Chargers passing on a quarterback. That resulted in Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert falling to the Jaguars at No. 9 overall and the Raiders at No. 12, respectively. The biggest shocker was Browns reporter Pete Smith passing on Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills to select Boise State tackle Ezra Cleveland for the Browns at No. 10.
Here is the full mock draft, with video of my two Vikings selections as well as written explanations of my decisions.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU (picked by Kracz)
2. Washington Redskins: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State (Smith)
3. Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State (Ragatz)
4. New York Giants: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia (Traina)
5. Miami Dolphins: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson (Poupart)
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa (Smith)
7. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn (Karpovich)
8. Arizona Cardinals: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma (Balzer)
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (Poupart)
10. Cleveland Browns: Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State (Smith)
11. New York Jets: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama, (Traina)
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon, (Smith)
13. San Francisco 49ers: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama (Ragatz)
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville (Kracz)
15. Denver Broncos: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina (Karpovich)
16. Atlanta Falcons: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida (Balzer)
17. Dallas Cowboys: K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU (Traina)
18. Miami Dolphins: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State (Poupart)
19. Las Vegas Raiders: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU (Smith)
20. Jacksonville Jaguars: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota (Karpovich)
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU (Kracz)
22. Minnesota Vikings Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah (Ragatz)
When the Vikings' first pick at 22 rolled around, I had just watched a pair of potential options go off the board within the last three picks in Gladney and Jefferson. With Jefferson taken, I decided it wasn't worth reaching for any of the other available receivers, such as Baylor's Denzel Mims or TCU's Jalen Reagor. Given how deep this year's receiver class is, I figured there would be a player of similar ability available in the second round or even the third.
In the interest of full disclosure – and I explained this in the video of my selection at No. 25 – it slipped my mind that Alabama tackle Jedrick Wills was still on the board. Had I remembered that, he would've been my pick here. But, in my defense, Wills making it into the 20s is highly unlikely, so not selecting him made things a bit more realistic. I was considering an offensive lineman, but decided I wanted to address the Vikings' biggest need: cornerback.
With only Okudah, Henderson, and Gladney off the board at the position, I had my pick of a number of options in the second tier of corners. The three top choices in my mind were Johnson, AJ Terrell (Clemson), and Kristian Fulton (LSU). I went with Johnson because he's an excellent schematic fit and has a lot of the traits Mike Zimmer desires in corners. He shines in press coverage and is versatile enough to play zone, has great ball skills (7 INTs and 21 PBUs in three years at Utah), and brings a good amount of length and physicality as an outside corner.
Johnson had shoulder surgery on March 4th, which caused him to slide a bit in some mock drafts, but he is reportedly "ahead of schedule" with his rehab and expected to make a full recovery without any limitations. He should be able to help the Vikings out right away and has the upside to develop into a potential All-Pro corner in a few years.
23. New England Patriots: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama (Balzer)
24. New Orleans Saints: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State (Smith)
25. Minnesota Vikings: Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan (Ragatz)
My second selection may come as a surprise to some. Wanting to wait at receiver and not loving the value of any defensive linemen available at this point, I decided to use this pick to address the Vikings' perpetually underachieving offensive line. But instead of taking a tackle of the future like Houston's Josh Jones or USC's Austin Jackson, I went with the best interior offensive lineman in the draft in Ruiz.
The Vikings do need to find a left tackle of the future to eventually replace Riley Reiff, but there's some serious risk that comes with taking a developmental player like Jones or Jackson in the first round. Both are scheme fits for the Vikings with their athleticism and have remarkable upside, but they also both have low floors.
Even after taking Garrett Bradbury in the first round last year, the interior offensive line remains a major position of need for the Vikings. Right now, their top three guards are Pat Elflein (who struggled mightily last year), Dru Samia (2019 fourth-rounder with one career NFL game played), and career backup Dakota Dozier.
Ruiz is the best IOL in this year's draft. He played mostly center at Michigan, but also has some experience at guard and can move there for the Vikings. Ruiz is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme with his athleticism and mobility. He's also stout in pass protection, which is the area where Elflein has been unable to hold up in the NFL. Ruiz is one of the youngest players in the draft, having yet to turn 21, and has sky-high potential.
I considered Ruiz to be the best player available at No. 25, so he was my choice. For more on Ruiz and his potential fit in Minnesota, click the link below.
26. Miami Dolphins: D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (Poupart)
27. Seattle Seahawks: Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia (Smith)
28. Baltimore Ravens: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma (Karpovich)
29. Tennessee Titans: Josh Jones, OT, Houston (Balzer)
30. Green Bay Packers: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor (Kracz)
31. San Francisco 49ers: AJ Terrell, CB, Clemson (Traina)
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (Smith)
Here is the video of the entire mock draft.
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