In the previous seven drafts with Mike Zimmer as head coach, the Vikings have taken four offensive players and four defensive players in the first round. Next Thursday, the tie will be broken.
The Vikings hold the No. 14 pick in the April 29-May 1 NFL draft, and the big question is whether they will look to take an offensive lineman or a defensive end at that spot. With Zimmer coming off the worst defensive season in his tenure, NFL Network draft analyst and CBS game analyst Charles Davis predicted what he thinks Minnesota will do.
“I always joke about the Zimmercratic oath,” Davis said of the defensive-minded coach. “It’s like the Hippocratic Oath. First, do no harm to that defense, and they weren’t what they’ve been (last year).”
That’s why Davis’ mock draft has the Vikings taking Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips to help a team that had just 23 sacks last season. But another reason Davis believes Minnesota will go defense in the first round is due to depth at positions in the draft.
“There’s probably a little more depth on the offensive line than on the defensive line if you’re looking for those real difference makers in the draft,” Davis said. “That might sway you a bit.”
While trades could shake up their draft order, the Vikings don’t have a second-round selection but do hold the Nos. 78 and 90 picks in the third round. If they take a defensive end in the first round, such as Phillips or Michigan’s Kwity Paye, they still might have a chance to get a starting-caliber offensive lineman later in the draft.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper agrees with the strength of offensive linemen in the draft, calling it the “third-strongest” position group after wide receivers and cornerbacks. But while he doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the Vikings could go with a defensive end at No. 14, he has them selecting Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw in his latest mock draft.
“If you need offensive line help, which they do, this would be the year to get it,” Kiper said.
If the Vikings are looking for a rookie to step in at left tackle in place of the departed Riley Reiff, they likely would want to address that in the first round. But if they’re willing to remain flexible on who will take over for Reiff, that would provide more of an option to take an offensive lineman after the first round.
The Vikings could fill their vacancy at left tackle by shifting right guard Ezra Cleveland or right tackle Brian O’Neill into that spot, which would create another opening on the line. Regardless, they need help at left guard after Dakota Dozier struggled as a starter last season.
If one of the two highest-rated tackles becomes available to Minnesota, either would be tough to turn down in the first round. Oregon’s Penei Sewell is expected to be long gone by No. 14, but perhaps the Vikings might look to trade up for a shot at him. And if Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater slides to No. 14, he might be a no-brainer pick.
If Sewell and Slater are both out of reach for Minnesota, then it gets more interesting. But draft analyst and former Vikings safety Corey Chavous believes Darrisaw, a three-year starter in college, is in a similar category with those players.
“He’s an outstanding prospect,” said Chavous, who played for the Vikings from 2002-05 and has put out the 492-page Corey Chavous’ 2021 NFL Draft Guide/Free Agency Review. “He’s one of the top-ranked players on our board. If they could get him at No. 14, that would be grand larceny.”
Also intriguing at No. 14 could be Alijah Vera-Tucker of USC, who played left guard in 2019 before moving to left tackle in 2020; he is considered to most likely be a guard in the NFL. How rare would it be for the Vikings to take a guard in the first round of the draft?
They’ve done it just once in their 60-year history, making Randall McDaniel the No. 19 overall pick in 1988. McDaniel went on to make the hall of fame.
“To me, he’s an immediate starter,” Davis said of Vera-Tucker. “He’s got Pro Bowl potential.”
Nevertheless, Davis still projects the Vikings to take Phillips.
“He looks more like Danielle Hunter to me,” said Davis, referring to the Vikings’ two-time Pro Bowl defensive end. “He’s got flat-out speed to the quarterback. I think he’s got creativity in the pass rush. But you have to step back, and this is where the medical side gets involved.”
Phillips had unspectacular seasons at UCLA in 2017 and 2018 before he was advised to retire after suffering three concussions. He also had two wrist surgeries after a 2018 moped accident. But he resurfaced to produce eight sacks in 10 games for Miami in 2020.
“He would be a major risk (at No. 14),” Chavous said. “And then you’ve got the one-year wonder of it. I’d like to see another year of production.”
Both Davis and Chavous agree Paye would be a “safer” pick if the Vikings were to go with a defensive end at No. 14. Paye had 8½ sacks in 16 games the past two seasons, but Davis expects those numbers “would go up” after leaving a scheme in which sack numbers were spread out among a number of players.
“His versatility helps,” Chavous said. “He’s a guy that Mike Zimmer could move all over the place.”
If the Vikings go with a defensive end in the first round, that almost certainly would lead to them taking an offensive lineman in the third round if they don’t trade up for one in the second round. Intriguing linemen who could be available as late as the third round include guards Wyatt Davis of Ohio State, Deonte Brown of Alabama, Aaron Banks of Notre Dame and Ben Cleveland of Georgia; and tackles Walker Little of Stanford, Brady Christensen of BYU, Dillon Radunz of North Dakota State, Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa and James Hudson of Cincinnati.
Chavous believes the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Hudson, who started his college career at Michigan before transferring, could be a steal in the third round.
“If the Vikings got him, he’d start right away,” Chavous said. “I think there is more tackle depth in the draft than some people might realize.”