Without a second-round pick, the Vikings have enough ammo in the form of two third-round picks and four picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds to move up into the second round or at least make the middle of the day interesting. Should any number of intriguing prospects at positions of need fall for the Vikings, expect them to be aggressive in picking them up. The Vikings will enter today with a number of frameworks already in place for a trade, and expect them to pull the trigger if their potential trade partners lose “their guy” earlier in the draft while the Vikings see “their guy” fall. Who should “their guy” be?
No clue, but I’m willing to speculate because this is a blog.
1. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG UCLA.
I’ve written about him as a “school pair”-type pick, but he’s also the best player available who happens to fit a need for the Vikings, and he honestly should have gone earlier in the draft. He’s on the consensus board at 33, and is the seventh-most highly rated player left on that board. Specifically, the evaluators liked Su’a-Filo as the second-best interior linemen and he’d be #1 if you project Zack Martin to the outside.
It’s not often you see a player described as “nimble” at 307 pounds, but he is certainly that once he gets into space. His awareness in space makes him a reliable second-level blocker, though his technique erodes when he’s blocking in space a little bit. He is one of the strongest players in the draft and can play either tackle or guard position well and projects well for either base blocking system—a boon for the Vikings, who run a complex blocking scheme that mixes both power and zone concepts. That said, the Vikings shouldn’t move too early to get a guard.
This may be the best draft for offensive guards in a long time if only for its depth. Should Su’a-Filo go, Gabe Jackson, Joel Bitonio, Cyrus Kouandjio, David Yankey, Weston Richburg, Billy Turner, Marcus Martin and Cyril Richardson may all fall. And while there’s some disagreement among the draft intelligentsia on the value of Martin or Richardson even in the third round, there is a very, very good chance that an extremely good prospect for the guard position that would go in the first round of many drafts will still be there midway through Day 2.
2. 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.
3. Lamarcus Joyner, FS/CB Florida State
I’ve consistently been sold on Joyner’s capabilities, and I think Tyrann Mathieu’s success at an NFL level really speaks to the kind of play you can expect from a special safety/corner hybrid even if they don’t quite have ideal height (he is a smidgen shorter than Mathieu and is 5’8″ even). The comparison makes sense outside of height as well.
Joyner and Mathieu are both shockingly physical players and are willing to lay the wood, though will slide off against the bigger running backs at times. More importantly, their instincts in the passing game are incredible and serve their ball-hawking style perfectly, allowing the two of them to jump routes with anticipation and leverage their prodigious on-field intelligence into playmaking opportunities.
The five-star recruit has a smooth, unimpeded running style that hides his burst and acceleration, going full-bore in no time. His technique in coverage isn’t just sound—it’s a model for other professional defensive backs to follow. He has excellent play diagnosis skills (though at times will be out of position because of play fakes), and his timing, footwork, anticipation geometry all serve him well.
Were he four inches taller, he’d be a top five pick in any draft, and a potential number one overall in a lot of them. He’s not, so he isn’t and that’s not nothing. But playmakers are always worth looking into. The fact that the Vikings addressed their nickel corner in the offseason and don’t have a huge need at safety means nothing here. If Joyner’s size forces him to start falling through the second round and into the third, the Vikings should make a move.
4. Kyle Van Noy, OLB BYU
Add ten pounds to Van Noy’s frame (and make him a year younger) and you have a mid-first round pick. As of now, he should be a high second-round pick, but is worth keeping an eye on if the draft goes sideways for him.
I don’t particularly care that the Vikings have secured one more linebacker simply because one linebacker position wasn’t the problem—it was all three. It’s eminently possible that Michael Mauti or Audie Cole could man the Mike spot (I’d put my money on Mauti) or that Gerald Hodges could take the Will, but my guess is that only one of those three linebackers ends up as a starting quality player, with Audie and Gerald playing excellently as a reserve. That would leave Chad Greenway to cover the Will, and after having three really poor seasons in the last four years, I’m not confident the Vikings would do well sticking with Greenway and Van Noy can provide an extra oomph to make the linebacker corps a position of strength from one of the worst in the league.
Van Noy has played every linebacker position—3-4 OLB, 4-3 OLB, 3-4 ILB and 4-3 ILB—all in the same year and he’s done it with style. As a linebacker, Van Noy has excelled in the run game and passing game. He’s incredibly instinctive and those instincts show up all over the field. As a coverage linebacker, he’s shown an ability to cover some of the better tight ends in the game with excellent ball skills, fantastic play diagnosis, smart footwork, sound spot drops and more, versatile enough to play in zone or man schemes playing press or off as need be. He can pass-rush extremely well up the middle or through the edge, with explosion and technique.
He has a high motor and is relentless. He has some issues getting off of blocks and isn’t as strong as his contemporaries at the position, with a lower ceiling to get that strong due to age and frame concerns. His acceleration isn’t the best even if his reaction time is, but he is an excellent player.
5. Telvin Smith, OB/SS Florida State
Another electric, Florida State playmaker that’s undersized but incredible, Telvin Smith may be asked to move to the strong safety position at the NFL level because he’s 218 pounds. He’s rangy, loose and aggressive, willing to drive through his tackles and hits so he knocks down players harder than athletes 40 pounds heavier.
He’s going to be a nickel subpackage terror where ever he goes and his speed will serve his team well. He’s agile, fluid and a solid space player who can break down tackles and anticipate angles. His fast play is anything but reckless, however and his on-field action is marked with fantastic body control. He knows exactly what to do with his feet and hands in zone coverage, man coverage, or rushing the passer.
He has eyes for the ball and it starts with his ability to read the quarterback, bait him and break on the ball. He plays with a lot of balance, and Smith shows up all over the field—it’s hard to keep the ball away from him. I doubt the Vikings go here except to convert him to SS. Zimmer said yesterday that he liked “big guys.”
If he’s a target, he’ll be a target at the bottom of the third round and they should find interesting ways to use him. As a pure LB he can get swallowed up by blockers and moved around once they lock on. He needs to dial back on the hit stick and focus more on fundamentals when tackling and some TEs have physically overpowered him at times in coverage. Smith may fall all the way to the fourth, but it really depends on how teams value his play and projected position.
6. 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.
7. 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.
Honorable mention: Chris Borland, MB Wisconsin
Borland is a bit of the opposite from Van Noy, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting of a pick. I suspect he’ll drop through the second round late into the third, and there simply aren’t enough good middle linebackers in the draft to really feel like you have the luxury of avoiding that if you can.
His on-field play has been great, but when you combine the fact that he’s 6’0″ with the shortest arms of any player at any position in this year’s draft (behind Maine’s Kendall James by 1/4″), there’s a lot of questions about his ability to cover or provide enough to really clog passing lanes. Moreover, his testing was bad at the combine… really, really bad.
But I would not mind picking him at all. He plays faster on film than in shorts, is an instinctive run-stopper and he has worked around his limitations time and again. When engaged in blocks, he gets swallowed up and immobile, but he generally does a good job sifting through the trash and making it to to ballcarrier. He’s disciplined and rarely bites on play-action and has unreal technique and fundamentals through every part of the position. He has a high motor and is a fantastic on-field leader.
The only reason he’s an honorable mention is that I do not know the extent of his medical issues and whether or not that surgery should move him off the board entirely. It could be another Michael Mauti situation.