Minnesota Vikings Pre Free Agency Seven Round Mock Draftby James Dudko March 10, 2021 1 comment
The Minnesota Vikings endured a rare down year in 2020, finishing 7-9, just the second losing season since Mike Zimmer became head coach in 2014. Zimmer’s teams have been built on strong defenses, but that strength deserted him last season when the Vikes ranked 29th in points allowed, and 27th in yards surrendered.
Those numbers make that side of the ball a priority for Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman in the 2021 NFL Draft. They’ll have 10 picks to held fix obvious weaknesses at defensive tackle, safety, and a feeble pass rush. However, it won’t all be about defense. Not when Kirk Cousins could use another safety valve after the team dumped clutch tight end, Kyle Rudolph, in a cost-cutting move.
To help with this mock draft, I used The Draft Network’s mock draft simulator.
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Round 1, Pick 14: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Paye falling in the Vikings’ lap with the 14th-overall pick is a dream scenario for Zimmer. The Michigan game-wrecker would repair the damage of Spielman’s sabotage act last year. Minnesota ditched Everson Griffen and traded a second-round pick for Yannick Ngakoue. Those moves destroyed a deep and talented pass-rush rotation. Ngakoue ended up being traded to the Baltimore Ravens for a third-rounder to spare everybody’s blushes.
The Vikings logged a mere 23 sacks last season but have begun addressing this flaw. Stephen Weatherly recently returned to the team after being one-and-done with the Carolina Panthers. Weatherly is a versatile lineman who can play end or three-technique. He’s a high-motor guy but ultimately just a rotational piece.
What Zimmer needs is a legitimate playmaker to bookend with Danielle Hunter. Paye is an ultra-athletic phenom who fits the bill perfectly. The road out of the NFC North with still go through the Green Bay Packers as long as Aaron Rodgers is upright, so the Vikes must put more heat on a quarterback who torched them for seven touchdown passes during two meetings last season.
Round 3, Pick 78: Tommy Togiai, DT, Ohio State
Minnesota’s run defense hasn’t been the same since Linval Joseph left town. Michael Pierce doesn’t control the point of attack in the same way. Shamar Stephen is a serviceable starter, but he’s also a potential salary-cap casualty thanks to a gaudy $3.75 million owed him this year. Togiai would be a more active presence than Stephen after living in opposing backfields during his time with the Buckeyes, making 8.5 tackles for loss last year. Pierce brings the beef at 345 pounds, so Togiai would offer a quicker complement at the heart of the pits.
Round 3, Pick 90: Hunter Long, TE, Boston College
Long would be a different type of tight end to Rudolph. The Boston College product is more of a moving target rather than a traditional in-line blocker. Long led the nation’s tight ends in targets with 89 and receptions, 57. There are some h-back qualities to his game, meaning Cousins would get a valuable underneath weapon to ease the burden on wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
Round 4, Pick 119: Talanoa Hufanga, S, USC
The initial eye test would tell you Hufanga is merely a downhill thumper, an effective box safety. However, there’s more to his game than bone-jarring hits. Hufanga is also a flexible defensive back who can handle multiple coverage assignments. Such versatility would make Hufanga a natural successor to Anthony Harris, who played under the franchise tag in 2020 but is likely to draw a crowd in free agency this year.
Round 4, Pick 125: Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
The Vikings have bigger needs than running back, but they won’t matter if Sermon is still on the board with the 125th pick. Zimmer’s fondness for the ground game is almost a running joke in Minnesota, and he would quickly warm to a tough and savvy grinder like Sermon, who thrives running behind zone-based blocking. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison are a solid one-two punch in the backfield. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to have a third dynamic ball-carrier, especially with Ameer Abdullah ticketed for free agency.
Pick 4, Pick 134: Daelin Hayes, EDGE, Notre Dame
Hayes is another player who is likely to appeal to the Vikings regardless of other needs. There are shades of Anthony Barr about the player who lined up at multiple spots along the Notre Dame front seven. Hayes created pressure from a two-point stance and also put his hand on the ground. He’d be a superb fit for Zimmer’s A-gap pressure schemes and a potential successor to one of the incumbents, Barr or Eric Kendricks.
Round 4, Pick 143: Tre Brown, CB, Oklahoma
More depth and competition can improve a rotation of young cornerbacks routinely burned during the 2020 season. Brown has the nasty streak of a natural man-coverage specialist. He’s handsy and also plays with a fiery temperament. The Vikings need all of those qualities in a secondary that was way too passive a year ago. Zimmer has done exceptional work with cornerbacks dating back to his days running the Dallas Cowboys’ defenses for Bill Parcells, and he could turn Brown into a starter by mid-season.
Round 5, Pick 158: Kary Vincent Jr., CB, LSU
LSU has a proud history as a finishing school for pro-ready defensive backs. Vincent can be the next to make the jump after excelling for the Tigers in 2019 before he opted out of last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vincent had established a niche as a roving cover man who played outside in nickel and even moved to safety in certain sub-package schemes. The Vikings need help at too many spots on the back end to pass on this late-round gem.
Round 5, Pick 172: Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech
Two running backs might be a stretch for a team already blessed with riches at the position, but Herbert is a nice scheme fit for the Vikes. He’d offer greater speed and shiftiness than either Cook or Mattison. The Vikings will be all about the zone running game as long as Gary Kubiak calls the offense. Kubiak knows the value of late-round runners in this scheme from his days working alongside Mike Shanahan with the Denver Broncos. Herbert has the one-cut-and-go juice Minnesota’s offensive coordinator likes.
Round 6, Pick 201: Jaylon Moore, OT, Western Michigan
Zimmer and Spielman will be aware of how much Riley Reiff costs the team. He’s a steady left tackle but not dominant enough to justify the drain he’s putting on a franchise with just $3,559,416 worth of cap space ahead of free agency. A sensible solution would be to restructure Reiff’s deal to free up some more room, then look for a development tackle late in the draft. Moore had the left side all to himself for two years at Western Michigan. His skill-set perfectly fits Kubiak’s system.
Round 6, Pick 222: Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa
Offensive linemen graduate from Iowa as naturally tough and well-coached road-graders. Jackson can be the latest in a production line that has sent Bryan Bulaga, Marshal Yanda, Brandon Scherff, and Tristan Wirfs to the NFL in recent years. He’s 6’5″ and 318 pounds, a true mauler who can operate at tackle but also flashes the potential to kick inside to guard. That’d be a bonus for the Vikings, who may struggle to retain left guard Dakota Dozier in free agency.
Round 7, Pick 236: Mustafa Johnson, DT, Colorado
It’s tempting to finish with a linebacker here, but Barr will return from injury this year, while one out of free agents Eric Wilson and Todd Davis, should be brought back. Hayes is also a conversion project who could join Kendricks in the starting lineup. That makes another defensive tackle worth a flier with Minnesota’s final selection. Johnson makes sense because he’s a beefy end whose style is better suited to an interior role at the next level.