We're in the heart of mock draft season, and I'll continue to do roundups every few weeks to talk about some of the prospects commonly associated with the Vikings and the No. 14 overall pick. In the most recent one, I gave my thoughts on five players –– three defensive linemen, an offensive lineman, and a wide receiver –– and how they would fit in Minnesota.
But in addition to those roundups, I'll periodically break down individual mock drafts from some of the top experts in the industry. When a mock plays out in a particularly bold, unusual, or interesting way for the Vikings, I want to specifically call attention to that scenario and what I would do if the board fell that way.
Today's mock draft is the first of the season from NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, a well-respected, plugged-in analyst whose hundreds of scouting reports each year are an invaluable resource. The top three picks are pretty standard, although Zierlein notably picks BYU's Zach Wilson over Ohio State's Justin Fields for the Jets. Then things get interesting with the fourth and fifth picks. Here's the top five:
- 1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
- 2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
- 3. Miami Dolphins (from HOU): Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
- 4. Atlanta Falcons: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
- 5. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The vast majority of mocks have the Falcons taking a quarterback at 4, although that's no sure thing with Matt Ryan still around. Pairing Surtain, the top cornerback in the draft, with last year's first round pick A.J. Terrell would give Atlanta an extremely talented corner duo to build around. The Cincy pick is also an atypical one. They almost always go with an offensive lineman –– either Oregon's Penei Sewell or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater –– to protect Joe Burrow. But I can get behind the idea of giving Burrow an incredibly dynamic and versatile weapon in Pitts. As Zierlein points out, the Bengals "also have the 38th overall pick and loads of cap space to address [the O-line]."
Here are picks 6 through 13, leading up to the Vikings' slot:
- 6. Philadelphia Eagles: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
- 7. Detroit Lions: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
- 8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
- 9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
- 10. Dallas Cowboys: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
- 11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
- 12. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, NDSU
- 13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Upon first glance, there's nothing too crazy about any of those picks. But do you notice someone missing? Yep: Fields is still on the board. The Falcons pass on a QB, and so do the Panthers at 8. Instead, Carolina takes Slater, who some consider to be the best OL prospect available. The Broncos and Giants also pass on a QB, and the 49ers go with Lance over Fields. After the Chargers take Darrisaw, the Vikings are on the clock with a ton of options. Here's a look at ten of the top players available for Rick Spielman and Minnesota in this scenario.
- Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
- Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
- Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
- Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
- Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
- Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
- Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
- Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
- Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
- Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The question here –– and why I wanted to focus on this specific mock –– is what the Vikings would do if one of the top four QBs fell to them. There are some concerns about Fields based on his play in 2020 against teams like Indiana and Northwestern. He can struggle to make the correct progressions off of his first read at times, but Fields also has incredible upside. He showed that throughout the 2019 season and in 2020 games against Penn State, Rutgers, and most importantly, Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals. His athleticism, arm talent, and poise are traits that give Fields a chance to go as high as No. 2 overall to the Jets.
Based on Kirk Cousins' performance over the past two seasons and his contract status after signing an extension last summer, there's been very little talk about the Vikings drafting a QB this year. But if someone like Fields or Lance were available at 14, would the Vikings have to consider it? A lot of the discussion rests on whether or not Cousins is traded at some point in the coming months. If he's on the roster on March 19th, his $35 million base salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed. But that doesn't guarantee that Cousins is the Vikings' quarterback for two more seasons. The Vikings could theoretically draft a QB this year and trade Cousins this offseason or next.
However, for the same reasons that I don't think Cousins gets traded, I don't think the Vikings will take a QB this year. Spielman and Mike Zimmer need to win in 2021 to protect their jobs. Unless they get approval from ownership to start building for the future, I think they'll view this year as one last shot to prove that the win-now window is still open. And that means drafting a player at 14 who can help right away. There's also the possibility that they could trade back with a team hungry to move up for a QB like Fields, Lance, or Mac Jones.
Here's what Zierlein has the Vikings doing:
- 14. Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
"One of the most surprising developments from the 2020 college season was Vera-Tucker's play at left tackle after transitioning from guard. Needless to say, he'll offer guard/tackle flexibility at the next level and would be an instant upgrade on the Vikings' O-line."
Zierlein isn't the first major analyst to mock Vera-Tucker to the Vikings at 14. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. also did so in his first mock draft, which I wrote about in last week's roundup. The USC product would be an instant upgrade for the Vikings at guard who also has the versatility to play tackle going forward. Vera-Tucker's athleticism and versatility makes him a great fit in Minnesota, but I do wonder if the Vikings could trade down and still land him.
The very next pick in Zierlein's mock is the Patriots taking Fields at 15. Wouldn't that be something?
If the board fell this way, I'd have a hard time passing on the upside of Fields, regardless of Cousins' presence and contract. Otherwise, I'd look to trade back. With all of the talented prospects at positions of need still available, the Vikings could move back into the late teens or 20s and still land an impact contributor.
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