I doubt the Vikings will select any of the targets I choose today or any of the targets I mentioned yesterday. Regardless, it’s clear the kind of picks the Vikings have made so far have been relatively blind to “need” in a traditional sense—or at least in the sense of having any real level of predictability. That said, it will be fun to track a number of players and see if the Vikings attempt to pick them up. The Vikings have been making almost purely “board” picks—choosing the best player available, regardless of their perceived need.
Spielman was fully willing to acknowledge the problem at defensive back when I asked him about it, but he was also ready to point out that you don’t just build a team in the first two days of the draft and that the process isn’t over—there’s still an opportunity to sign players after the draft as well.
That said, there are a few prospects to target on Day 3 that might intrigue Vikings fans, even if they’ve been too unpredictable to project so far.
To recap some players I’m still interested in:
Pierre Desir, CB Lindenwood
Desir is the top cornerback left on the consensus board and happens to be my favorite CB of who’s left as well. Outside of fulfilling Zimmer’s desire to grab smart, tough players that he can teach, it’s specifically at his favorite position to teach: defensive back. The small-school prospect is “raw” in the sense that he’ll need a year or two of seasoning before he has the jam techniques, footwork and general positioning to start, but for a Division II player he is remarkably refined.
Largely self-taught, Desir shows the kind of ability that Spielman has coveted in the past with the Patterson and Barr picks: unusually large learning potential. He also happens to fit the length/height prototype that Spielman found so intriguing when he grabbed Xavier Rhodes. His 6’1″ frame is bolstered by an over 77 inch wingspan (nearly 78), larger than any of the top CB prospects and only behind Walt Aikens, Loucheiz Purifoy and Keith McGill of the commonly draftable CBs.
His feet are explosive and his hips are fluid, giving the tall CB the agility of a 5’10″ player instead of a 6’1″ player, and he’s shown to be comfortable in a variety of coverages to press, off-man, zone, bail, etc. He likes to create turnovers (25 interceptions is impressive at any level of football, placing in the top ten of total career interceptions for DII) and get to the ball (52 career pas breakups). He’s not the fastest CB, but he’s faster than average and he could improve his physicality—though his competitive desire is clearly there. His biggest area of improvement will come in route recognition and so should take some time.
Desir’s talent level may demand a mid-2nd round pick, but it’s a well-stocked class and a lot of CBs have already come off the board for teams. A dearth of new DBs in the second round may mean treasure for the Vikings.
Phillip Gaines, CB Rice
I’m honestly not a big fan of some of these second-to-third tier CBs, like Keith McGill or Stanley Jean-Baptiste. But I can get behind Phillip Gaines. Gaines is exactly the kind of player Zimmer would love—he has all the tools, physically and mentally to be a top-tier CB, but just needs technique coaching. His footwork is at a high level and he mirrors receivers very well, both in press and off coverage.
He’s a high-character player with a great work ethic and a two-year team captain. That work ethic has turned into the kind of film study turned into four interceptions this year and nine pass breakups (he had 18—18!—last year) and holds the school record in PBUs. Aside from a mediocre bench press, he’s athletically fit to be one of the best CBs in the class, and isn’t just the fastest over 40 yards but closes well in short spaces, having the absolute fastest 10-yard split among CBs, too. He does this at 6’0″ and has long arms as well. His agility in small areas as well as the fluidity throughout his motion make him an underrated athletic prospect.
His bench isn’t even a problem, as he is one of the better CBs in the class at aggressive press principles, and consistently jams receivers off the LOS. Sometimes he plays with zone instincts in man coverage, and that’s an issue that can lead to problems. Further, he hasn’t had a ton of experience in backpedal and he doesn’t always turn potential interceptions into takeaways despite consistently being in the right spot and he needs better tackling fundamentals.
But the tools, talent and technique are there for him to be one of the top CBs in the class. Moreover, he could fall to the third round.
Jaylen Watkins, CB/S Florida
Brother of Sammy Watkins, Jaylen Watkins has the kind of agility his brother is known for, though not quite t the same degree. He has experience in every kind of coverage and has shown the growth curve that Spielman loves to see over the course of a kid’s college career, turning from a coveted recruit into a star defensive back.
He can play loose and stays low in backpedal so that he can sink and explode where ever he needs to be, and his fearless play often means punishment for receivers. At 5’11″, he’s not the height that Rhodes is, but he has enough length to cause serious problems and his instincts allow him to track the ball well in the air.
He plays courageously and without complaint, having played every position in the secondary at his time in Florida. He plays a little too physically at times and may get called for flags at the next level. Beyond that he has to win more at the catch point and his vertical leap of 31.5″ wasn’t amazing. Nevertheless his instincts make him an intriguing pick for the Vikings, who value versatility. He should be there in the middle of the third round.
Jordan Zumwalt, ER/MB UCLA
Often, the Vikings won’t just draft team pairs but position pairs as well (Hodges/Mauti, Childs/Wright and sort of Smith/Blanton) and that could be the case with Zumwalt and Barr. Zumwalt hadn’t received much press until two weeks ago when a soft undercurrent about his potential rise hit the internet draft community.
His first, most obvious, attribute is his mentality. Coaches at the Senior Bowl had to tell him to reel it in because he was too intense during practices and he plays with the same reckless abandon on the field. Zumwalt is a bit light at 235 pounds, but he plays with much more weight and force than his measureable mass implies.
Further, his frame has room to add much more weight, and he could even be a middle linebacker prospect, primarily with run-plugging duties. He’s decisive and instinctive and despite his average agility and speed uses a great first step to get an advantage against the offense and usually plays intelligently in terms of reading keys and playing his responsibility. His aggressiveness will cause him to overrun pursuit and I’m not sure that will ever be fixed. His length and height are positives, but he has a lot of work ahead of him: he’s been easily tricked and does not use his hands very well.
Damian Copeland, WR Louisville
If you can’t get the same position in a school-pair, you might be able to get a familiar partner-in-crime. Damian Copeland played second fiddle to Devante Parker, the more well-known Louisville pass-catcher, but provided consistent, reliable production. Copeland is a good hands-catcher that extends outside of his frame, but lets concentration get the better of him from time to time. He is a quick, fluid athlete that runs good routes, but hasn’t incorporated deception into his game. He also needs to gain strength to be a contributor in the NFL.His toughness is good, and he’s willing to lay himself out for difficult catches. The reason Copeland will fall is twofold: 1) his consistency rarely led to highlight reel plays and big splashes, and 2) players his size (5’11″ 184) usually need to be exceptional in other areas and Copeland was merely “good.”
Shaquelle Evans, WR UCLA
Shaquelle Evans has led UCLA in receiving yards for the past two years—his only years at the school after transferring from Notre Dame. Evans is generally a technically sound receiver with good size and average athleticism, but has inconsistencies holding on to the ball.
The offense doesn’t really have a big possession receiver, for all the weapons they sport and Evans can be that guy. He’s well-built for a receiver, but needs to learn how to use his frame to his advantage and leverage natural strength. A fluid athlete, Evans can run routes well, but not with the kind of adjustment and intelligence that make up top receivers.
His role in any offense will likely be to create outlet passes for the quarterback to allow the team to move the chains when providing relief to the other receivers. He’s an excellent special teams player and should make those coaches happy enough while he provides that kind of reserve capability.
I would also add, that the more I think about it, the less likely they are to draft Desir because of his age (24)
David Yankey, IL Stanford
Just like I didn’t expect Su’a-Filo to last long enough for the Vikings to get within striking distance of drafting, I don’t expect Yankey to be there at the top of the 5th round when the Vikings will make their picks.
Yankey is an extremely intelligent offensive lineman and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a potential center convert down the road, given his awareness and smarts. He also can play offensive tackle in a pinch, giving any team flexibility should the unexpected happen—Yankey is a better kick out option at tackle should an OT go down than most backup OTs and he’s smart enough to be able to make the transition seamlessly.
The first thing that stands out about Yankey is his size and power. He’s very strong, and uses it well—not only using brute force against defensive linemen, but leverage and superior pad level, a good combination to have. He sets up off the stance early and he uses his long arms (34”) to engage defenders, often hitting them before they get the chance to do the same.
He has a powerful punch and strong hands, and his handfighting is one of the better aspects of his game, making him difficult to disengage from; more than one star defensive tackle has been stonewalled by him for long stretches because of his technique. His pass protection is top notch, and his run blocking could be even better.
With all this, you’d expect him to be a slower guard, but he’s not. He’s fantastic getting to the second level, with quick feet. He pulls extremely well and he worked well within the timing framework of the Stanford offense. Despite a 40-time of 5.48, he gets to his spot on the field with enough time.
That isn’t to say he’s extremely quick—he’s not a pure zone-blocking guard—but he’s faster than people seem to think. He has some inconsistencies with otherwise excellent footwork and some balance problems, but he’s a great fit, especially for the complex Vikings running scheme.
Marcus Martin, IL USC
Marcus Martin has been a little bit controversial among those in the know for the draft, and opinions on him vary, but should the Vikings draft him, it would continue a long line of guard draftees that played center in college.
Despite playing one of the more cerebral positions in the NFL, Martin is definitely “raw”—which is to say he has the incredible athletic potential that the Vikings have been coveting for some time. He could be an even better center than Weston Richburg, drafted in Day 2, simply because of everything he can do.
He doesn’t have Yankey’s awareness in space, especially at the second level, but he certainly has his strength with an even more consistently good pad level. In fact, he’s one of the few centers to be able to consistently take on those big-body, 330+ pound nose tackles by himself. His power is evident when picking up free rushers, too—stopping some of them dead in their tracks.
Also with 34” arms, his length is an advantage in fending off free rushers, and a combination of solid footwork and smart positioning allows him to cut off defenders shooting gaps and redirect them consistently. He’s more agile than Yankey and has better short-area quickness, allowing him to mirror defenders in protection or do a better job finding good angles to take them on at the second level.
He still has a lot of hand technique and footwork issues to fix, and his weight and balance both need to be watched; more so than someone like Yankey. Martin will eat dirt sometimes simply because of his need for better balance instead of simply losing the block.
That said, Martin is definitely the “quick-learning, high-potential” athlete that the Vikings seem to love.
Rashaad Reynolds, CB Oregon State
Unlike a lot of the corners I’ve added to the watchlist, Rashaad Reynolds is a savvy player who has a lot of technique down already. An incredibly quick player, Reynolds plays with savvy and has a natural ability to play in the slot or on the outside despite his 5’10″ frame. He has played in fairly complex schemes and in diverse fits, as a press-zone, press-man, off-man, bail, etc. player. He even has the complex art of pattern-matching added to his resume, an extremely demanding skill that requires excellent route diagnosis skills and a lot of film work. He has all of that to his name, and has great anticipation because of it.
Reynolds is a fantastic athlete on the film, and it is surprising that his workouts were only “really good” instead of “stellar” but shuttle times of 4.00, a 3-cone 6.72 and a 37.5″ vertical is nothing to sneeze at. He also benched 20 reps despite weighing 189 pounds. Only four other players benched more than that many reps while weighing below 200 pounds. And he has the longest arms of any player who benched 20 reps at 200 or fewer pound, making him one of the strongest pound-for-pound players in the draft.
His change-of-direction ability is top-tier, and his straight-line speed is matched by his fluidity and backpedal.
To me, his only real knock is his size, but his long arms (31 5/8″) should help make up for that. He’s had some minor issues allowing separation, but I really like him.
Antone Exum, CB/S Virginia Tech
Exum is another strong CB, but he is imposing in a way Reynolds can never be. He’s built like a small linebacker and he plays that way, with a lot of violence. His 2012 tape was phenomenal, but an injury derailed his ability to enter the draft and impacted his film this year. But he’s fully healed now and a top player that can player either CB or Safety. At 6’0″ with 32″ arms, he’s incredibly fluid, with good transition skills and experience in man and zone coverage.
In man coverage, he reads the CB well and knows when to get his head turned around, while in zone coverage he does a great job reading the quarterback’s eyes and breaking on the ball. He’s stellar in run support and plays it like a linebacker.
He’s a bit too physical downfield and will get called for interference and his agility isn’t the greatest, but at least he knows how to use his body and stay in position. His aggressiveness also translates to how quickly he attempts to jump routes. While this helps him, it does lead to some blown coverages.
This isn’t exhaustive. As always, check the consensus big board to see which players might end up being a great value.