Vikings Pre-Draft Mailbag Part 2: Overall Approach, Punt Returners, Day 2/3 Options and More

Will Ragatz

With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, I wanted to take some time to answer your Vikings questions, whether draft-focused or otherwise. This is my first time doing an InsideTheVikings mailbag, so thank you to everyone who submitted questions on Twitter. Before you read Part 2, make sure to check out Part 1 of the mailbag, which touched on Trent Williams, the offensive line, and trading down.

I'd like to do more mailbags going forward, so make sure to follow me @WillRagatz to see when I ask for questions. Let's get to the rest of your questions.

Do you think the Vikings will approach the draft in a more "win now" mode (trading up for "their guys," disregarding positional value in favor of need like last year etc.) or long-term looking, considering Spielman and Zimmer's contract situations?

- Alessandro Cozzi (@AleCozz1)

This is an excellent question from Alessandro, and one that I don't have an exact answer to. Like all of you, I'm fascinated to see what Rick Spielman's approach to this draft ends up being. Will he make use of all of his draft capital and trade up in the first round? Will he, as usual, trade back several times? I will say that while Spielman and Mike Zimmer's contracts are set to expire after this season, that shouldn't be considered a major factor in any decisions the team will make. The Vikings like both of their leaders, and both men will be around for several more years at the very least. They're coming off of two playoff wins in three years and have no reason to be worried about job security (for now).

The discussion about taking the best player available versus drafting for need – and the consideration of positional value – is an interesting and complex one. Almost always, a prospect is some combination of both BPA and need. Teams look towards filling the holes on their roster, but only between players that they have given similar grades. Early on in drafts, teams usually have enough needs that they can find a player at one of those positions who isn't considered a reach based on their board. That was true last year when the Vikings took Irv Smith Jr. and Alexander Mattison on Day 2; those players filled needs for the team but were also ranked highly on their overall big board. As you mentioned, that was arguably a "win-now" approach based on positional value, but Smith and Mattison play important positions in Gary Kubiak's offense and should be key pieces for years to come.

This year's Vikings need help at corner, receiver, offensive line, defensive line, and safety, primarily. They should absolutely prioritize BPA over need, but they should be able to do that while still focusing on those positions. For example, just because a linebacker or running back is the best player on their board in the first round doesn't mean it necessarily makes sense to take that player. A quarterback – such as a falling Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert – might be another story.

I don't think the Vikings will take either a strictly "win-now" or a strictly long-term approach, but if choosing between the two, they should look to the future. You want players who can help you as rookies, but it's a lot more important to find players who will be stars a few years down the road.

Who are some day 2 corners that would fit the Vikings mold of physical guys who can play man and tackle well?

- A House Divided Podcast (@vikesandpack)

While I agree that your description of the Vikings' corner mold is accurate across recent years, it's worth wondering if the team might go in a different direction after moving on from Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander this offseason. This could be a chance for Spielman and Zimmer to change up the profile they look for in corners. One thing that's for sure is that any corner the Vikings target will have to be versatile and able to handle the wide range of responsibilities Zimmer gives to his corners.

If they do stick to their mold and want a Rhodes/Waynes-type player on Day 2, there will be plenty of options. Jaylon Johnson (Utah), Jeff Gladney (TCU), and AJ Terrell (Clemson) are all potential first-round guys with excellent coverage skills and physicality who could slide into the early second round. However, none of them are expected to be available at 58. If the Vikings stay put with their second-round pick, Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) and Damon Arnette (Ohio State) would be two great fits as press-man guys.

A couple outside corners who match that description and are likely to be available in round 3 are Bryce Hall (Virginia) and Reggie Robinson (Tulsa). At the nickel spot, I'd love to see the Vikings wind up with Amik Robertson (LA Tech) or Darnay Holmes (UCLA).

No one has talked about the punt returner we really don't have. Who fills that position in the draft? Do we even like our kick returner?

- SKOL Lite (@SKOLLite)

This is a good question; special teams are important too! The three players who returned at least six punts for the Vikings last year were Mike Hughes, Marcus Sherels, and Chad Beebe. Sherels, the best punt returner in franchise history, is gone. With Hughes currently the team's de facto No. 1 corner and Beebe coming off of injury, I don't know if either will be a regular punt returner for the Vikings in 2020. I'm not sure who the other in-house options would be. Bralon Addison, who the Vikings signed from the CFL, was a good PR in college and could be a possibility if he makes the team.

As for the draft, two receivers expected to go in the first two rounds were among the best punt returners in the NCAA last year: Jalen Reagor (TCU) and Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State). Reagor averaged nearly 20 yards per return and took two to the house, while Aiyuk returned both punts and kickoffs with great success for the Sun Devils. The Vikings shouldn't take either just because of their return ability, but it's an added bonus if they like their tape at receiver. Aaron Fuller (Washington) and James Proche (SMU) are two late-round receivers with PR experience.

At kick returner, the Vikings brought back Ameer Abdullah this offseason and he'll be the favorite to keep that job. Out of 34 players in the NFL with at least 12 kickoff returns last season, Abdullah's 25-yard average was 10th-best. He has a long track record of success in that role, which likely contributed to the Vikings bringing him back.

Assuming the Vikings cover starting quality OT and CB on Day 1 and then get a good WR in rd 2, where would you want the Vikings to go with 89, 105 & 132? What are some prospects you like as squad depth (the 3 first ones will have to fight for starting positions)?

- Steezo (@steezo999)

I don't know if there's a cutoff after two rounds where players go from being expected to compete for starting roles to being considered depth additions, but I hear what you're saying. In that scenario, I'd expect the Vikings to mostly go with the best player available approach in rounds 3 and 4, with consideration given to their remaining needs: defensive line, interior offensive line, nickel corner, and safety.

One position group I previously examined in that range is edge rusher, where the Vikings could look to add an athletic, high-upside option like Jabari Zuniga (Florida), Alex Highsmith (Charlotte), or Alton Robinson (Syracuse). Another is slot corner; as mentioned previously, I'm a fan of Robertson and Holmes at that position, and other options between 89 and 132 include Josiah Scott (Michigan State), John Reid (Penn State), and Essang Bassey (Wake Forest). There should also be some interesting options at guard and safety. With that said, the Vikings could easily double down on receiver or outside corner or go with an LB, RB, or QB if they feel that player is the best available.

Who are your favorite day 2 and 3 3-tech for the Vikings? Especially ones who can pressure the QB more often. I feel like we can definitely use another DT strong in that area particularly.

- Waz (@MikeWasko1374)

You're absolutely correct that the Vikings could use a three-technique defensive tackle who can rush the passer. Shamar Stephen is a solid run-stuffer, but he creates virtually zero pressure and his skill set is too redundant to new nose tackle Michael Pierce. There are a few in-house options, including Armon Watts, Jaleel Johnson, and the bulked-up Hercules Mata'afa, but none are proven. The Vikings should definitely be looking to add a pass-rushing DT through the draft.

At pick 58, one of Ross Blacklock (TCU), Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M), Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma) and Marlon Davidson (Auburn) might be available. In rounds three and four, two of my favorite prospects are McTelvin Agim (Arkansas) and James Lynch (Baylor). Agim is a high-upside guy who played with Watts in college, and Lynch is a stud athlete who racked up 13.5 sacks last year. As for later Day 3 options, keep an eye on Jason Strowbridge (North Carolina) and Khalil Davis (Nebraska).

Thanks again for all of the questions!

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Comments (3)
No. 1-2

Mr Ragatz, awesome article. I’m a draft geek and with all this downtime I have really dedicated many hrs to this yrs draft. It is crazy how we are in virtual lock step with the players we like. I truly hope we trade back and get an extra 2nd rd pick. I really want one of those 3 DL you mentioned. I would add Gallimore from Oklahoma to that list. What do you think of him? I’ll be banging the table hard for one of those 4. Unfortunately it will be at the hospital break room. I have to work for day 1 and 2. However, I’ll be watching at home for rds 4-7. Skol and thanks again for the nice write!

House Divided
House Divided

Love the analysis. Gotta say you have my favorite Vikings draft takes