[In the final entry of this three-part series, Austin Belisle and Brett Anderson team up to put together an in-depth NFL Draft plan for the Minnesota Vikings. Part 1 and 2]

Introduction

Cameras click and lights flash during the first round of the NFL Draft, but it’s often the players out of the spotlight that make the biggest impact. We’ve seen prospects taken in later rounds — Danielle Hunter (third round, 2015) and Stefon Diggs (fifth round, 2015) — contribute more than many of their first round counterparts. While the first round is important, constructing a competitive team requires thorough planning, scouting, and strategy that extends all the way through the 256th-overall pick.

We began this process in early February, when we laid out a vision for the future of the Vikings. Later that month, we took to the virtual phones, signing free agents and making a few controversial roster-building moves along the way. We’re taking the same approach to the NFL Draft, crafting a plan that not only allows us to add the right talent to the team, but to do so in a way that sets the Vikings up for long-term success.

As of now, our depth chart is nearly set:

VT Offseason Plan - Roster Post-Free Agency
The Minnesota Vikings roster after all free agent moves.

But we still have holes to fill, including wide receiver, strong safety, and a handful of other depth-deficient positions. Follow along as we run through the NFL Draft and make our vision for the Vikings a reality.

The Big Board

Vikings Offseason Plan Top 50 Big Board
The top-50 prospects from the Vikings Territory Big Board.

Establishing a board is critical in the draft process, as it allows us to quickly and easily evaluate the best players available. Without one, it becomes difficult to determine where talent ranks, particularly in the later rounds of the draft.

As is tradition, Vikings Territory put together a comprehensive big board for our use (and your viewing pleasure). It attempts to take all of the best, highest-regarded big boards out there and average them into a board that gives you a far-reaching, consensus look at the top 300 prospects available. Thankfully for us, it became a great tool for this part three of our offseason plan, and was used exclusively to help make decisions about the best players available when we were on the clock.

Off to the side here are the top-50 players from our board. The full board, featuring the top-300 prospects from this year’s draft, will be made available soon.

Draft Strategy

The Big Board is our pseudo draft guide. It allows us to pinpoint the top talent in the draft and determine who should be available when we’re on the clock. More than that, it informs our draft strategy, giving us the ability to select the best players available (BPAs). Our draft strategy, in one sentence:

Draft the best player available with little emphasis on taking players because of perceived need

In real life, the Vikings need offensive linemen, a starting strong safety, and help at the wide receiver. Obviously, Rick Spielman’s needs differ from our needs, but regardless, we approach the draft in much the same way. Say, for example, we’re on the clock with the 23rd-overall pick. If a consensus top defensive tackle falls to us, but we need to draft a guard, we’d almost always select the top-10 prospect. Why pass up the chance to add a generational talent to the roster for a player we may not love?

And that’s how we approached the draft. We planned to take the best players available when possible, all while avoiding the urge to draft players because they fill a specific need.

Here are the picks we had at our disposal:

Round 1 – Pick 23
Round 2 – Pick 1 (Acquired from Cleveland via Adrian Peterson trade)
Round 2 – Pick 23
Round 3 – Pick 23
Round 5 – Pick 2 (Acquired from Cleveland via Adrian Peterson trade)
Round 5 – Pick 21
Round 6 – Pick 23
Round 7 – Pick 19
Round 7 – Pick 23

The First Round

Before we get started on the first round, let’s take a second to review our draft process and the tools we used to conduct this exercise.

We simulated a seven-round draft by using Fanspeak’s very useful (and fun) “On The Clock” Mock Draft Simulator. By upgrading to the premium version of this tool, we were able to perform trades. The simulator allows you to select a big board to use when making decisions for other franchises. Obviously, we stuck to our own, but the other teams made their decisions based off of their own needs and the “Drafttek” big board.

Of course, when a computer makes decisions for the 31 other franchises, we’ll be left with some questionable picks. However, we felt this was the best tool available to simulate in actual draft without making 225+ picks ourselves.

 Tennessee Logo
1. Tennessee (3-13) // Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
 Cleveland Logo
 2. Cleveland (3-13) // Jared Goff, QB, California
 San Diego Logo
3.  San Diego (4-12) // Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Dallas Logo
 4. Dallas (4-12) // Jalen Ramsey, FS, Florida State
 Jacksonville Logo
 5. Jacksonville (5-11) // Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA
 Baltimore Logo
 6. Baltimore (5-11) // Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
 San Francisco Logo
 7. San Francisco (5-11) // Deforest Buckner, DE, Oregon
 Miami Logo
 8. Miami (6-10) // Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
 Tampa Bay Logo
 9. Tampa Bay (6-10) // Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
 New York Giants Logo
 10. New York Giants (6-10) // Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
 Chicago Logo
 11. Chicago (6-10) // Noah Spence, DE, East Kentucky
New Orleans Logo Censored
 12. New Orleans (7-9) // Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
 Philadelphia Logo
 13. Philadelphia (7-9) // Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
 Oakland Logo
 14. Oakland (7-9) // Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
 Los Angeles Logo
 15. Los Angeles (7-9) //  Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
 Detroit Logo
 16. Detroit (7-9) // Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
 Atlanta Logo
 17. Atlanta (8-8) // A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
 Indianapolis Logo
 18. Indianapolis (8-8) // Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
 Buffalo Logo
 19. Buffalo (8-8) // Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
 New York Jets Logo
 20. New York Jets (10-6) // Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
 Washington Logo
 21. Washington (9-7) // Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
 Houston Logo
 22. Houston (9-7) // Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
 Minnesota Logo
 23. Minnesota (11-5) // Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State
 Cincinnati Logo
 24. Cincinnati (12-4) // Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
 Pittsburgh Logo
 25. Pittsburgh (10-6) // Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
 Seattle Logo
 26. Seattle (10-6) // Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
 Green Bay Logo Censored
 27. Green Bay (10-6) // Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Kansas City Logo
28. Kansas City (11-5) // Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
 Arizona Logo
 29. Arizona (13-3) // Kevin Dodd, OLB, Clemson
 Carolina Logo
 30. Carolina (13-3) // William Jackson, CB, Houston
 Denver Logo
 31. Denver (12-4) // Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana


Vikings Selections

R1P23 | Ezekiel Elliot, RB – Ohio State

Considered by most to be a sure-thing, Ezekiel Elliot is one of the safest picks in this year’s draft and is a no-brainer at pick 23. The NFL-ready Ohio State powerhouse has All-Pro potential and is capable of being one of the best backs in the league. Well rounded, Elliot excels in all aspects of the game. As a pure runner, Elliot is smooth, elusive, quick and strong. He consistently runs through arm tackles, breaks off big runs frequently and rarely loses the ball in the process. As a pass-catcher, Elliot has soft hands and is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield. As a blocker, Elliot has shown he is more than capable of picking up blitzes and blocking for other players when called upon. Though Elliot does not possess Chris Johnson-esque elite speed, he is near-perfect in pretty much every other regard. Elliot is as consistent as they come and was the workhorse that carried Ohio State to a National Championship in 2015.

Despite being comfortable with the running back duo of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, adding Elliot into the mix gives the Vikings one of the best running back units in the league. He is simply too great of a prospect to pass up on, regardless of need. Immediately, Elliot would become the Vikings’ lead running back. Teaming him up with Jerick McKinnon, though, creates a very dynamic, dangerous duo and instantly makes the position one of the Vikings’ biggest strengths.

Adrian Peterson has been, and arguably still is, the NFL’s best pure rusher. However, Elliot offers so much more in other aspects of his game that would be equally as critical to the Vikings’ offensive success. When we established our vision in Part 1 of this offseason plan, we said the running back of the Minnesota Vikings should be able to run effectively and efficiently from the shotgun, but also have play-making ability catching the football. Elliot is that and more, and is an excellent first-round selection for the Vikings that we “ran to the podium” to make.

R2P1 | Josh Doctson, WR – TCU

The Vikings have plenty of supplementary options at wide receiver, but they’re still missing the weapon we described in Part 1 of this offseason plan: A true No. 1 wide receiver who has the size, speed, and physicality to make contested catches downfield and in the red zone.

Josh Doctson is that player, and it was a no-brainer to select him with the first pick of the second round (32nd-overall). Our trade with the Cleveland Browns netted us this selection, which essentially gave us two first round picks. And Doctson’s fall in the draft was likely the result of a broken wrist suffered last November; an injury that should have no ill effects come the start of training camp.

In terms of our needs at wide receiver, Doctson checks all of the boxes. At 6’2” and with the leaping ability to jump out of the gym (41 inches), he has all of the tools to win 50/50 matchups in the red zone. He’s a “hands” catcher who snatches the football out of the air and understands how to use his body to box out smaller cornerbacks. Described by CBS Sports analysts Dane Brugler as an “unselfish, dependable and hungry worker,” Doctson is exactly the player we want in Minnesota, both on the field and in the locker room.

For more information on Josh Doctson and his fit with the Vikings, check out our full scouting report.

R2P23 | Darian Thompson, S – Boise State

Darian Thompson has the size and athleticism to excel at the next level. He is a willing tackler who is aggressive against the run and doesn’t often miss. He is a student of the game and is capable of reading quarterbacks well enough to anticipate their decisions and be in the right spot to make a big play. Thompson had 19 career interceptions for the Broncos – a Boise State record and illustration of his exceptional ability to come down with the ball when the opportunity is there. However, Thompson tends to have stiff hips, which occasionally allows receivers to blow past him and make big plays downfield.

Despite deciding to keep Andrew Sendejo, we recognized that safety was still one of the biggest needs on defense. Luckily for us, Darian Thompson was one of the top-3 players left our board when it came time to make a selection in the second round. In the Vikings defense, Thompson projects as more of a strong safety who will spend most of his time closer to the line of scrimmage and in run defense. This addition will hopefully (finally) give Harrison Smith something long sought after – a capable partner in the secondary.

For more information on Darian Thompson and his fit with the Vikings, check out our full scouting report.

R3P23 | Germain Ifedi, OT — Texas A&M

We’re of the belief that you can never have enough versatile offensive lineman, and knew coming in that we needed to add more talent in the draft. Though Ifedi is a raw prospect, he’s played at right guard, right tackle, and left tackle for the Aggies over his three-year collegiate career. He’s a massive human being, and at 6’6”, 324 pounds, has the size to move inside and assume a similar role to current Vikings guard Mike Harris. Ifedi’s feet are worthy of a first-round selection, but he more often than not relies on size to win at the point of attack. It will take extensive coaching from Zimmer and Tony Sparano to unleash his starting potential, but Ifedi has time to develop behind a line that includes Osemele, Allen, and Harris at his natural position.

R4P9 | Joshua Perry, LB — Ohio State

Perry is solid tackler and a traditional “thumper” at middle linebacker. He may not fit a particular need at the position, but that’s okay; he was too much of an athlete to pass up. At the Combine, Perry measured as the third-heaviest linebacker, but ran the seventh-fastest time among the group. He’d likely slide into the starting lineup immediately, where he’d play middle linebacker. The move would kick Eric Kendricks outside, his more natural spot on the defense. Perry is a cerebral linebacker who would thrive in Zimmer’s complex scheme, especially when diagnosing screen plays or making pre-snap adjustments.

Perry was picked as the result of a draft-day trade: Two Vikings fifth-round picks and a seventh-round pick (23) for the Miami Dolphins’ fourth round (9) selection. We didn’t want to see a prospect like Perry, who was the 57th-ranked player on our big board, slip to another team. We sacrificed two fifth-round picks to ensure we’d have a shot at grabbing one of the draft’s most underrated athletes, and we believe the move paid off in the end.

R6P5 | James Cowser, DE – Southern Utah

James Cowser at his best is a player who could put it all together and become a solid contributor on defense. At his worst, he is a good backup and special teams staple. He is relentless on the field and has a non-stop motor. Cowser shows quickness as a pass rusher, illustrated by his insane 3-cone drill time at the combine. His passion for the game is displayed on the field and off, where he is an avid student of the game and spends his fair share of time studying film. Where Cowser tends to struggle is in his technique and footwork, something we feel can be improved with help from coaches.

There’s no guarantee that Cowser is a sure thing. However, he was the best player available on our board and could be a guy that takes over for Chad Greenway with some development. In any case, at this point in the draft, a solid depth guy and special teamer with upside is about as much as you can ask for.

R7P19 | Drew Kaser, P – Texas A&M

One of our most glaring needs headed into the draft was at punter, as we chose to release Jeff Locke due to his sub-par play since being drafted by the Vikings in 2013. Kaser could very well be the best punter in this class and would be a nice addition in the final round of the draft. Kaser possesses an enormous leg, which allows him to flip field position with ease and almost led to him breaking the SEC career record with a 46.2 career gross average.

Kaser is regularly lauded for his flawless technique and leg speed, a punting trait that is considered unteachable. He also has an uncanny ability to avoid touchbacks with an excellent “coffin corner” kick. Though he has a tendency to get carried away and show off his leg, outkicking his coverage, we feel it’s better to start with a guy who has the leg and work backwards from there. With our final selection in the draft, we are able to add a day one starter and, what we believe, is an immediate upgrade to Jeff Locke.

For more information on Drew Kaser and his fit with the Vikings, check out our full scouting report.

UDFAs

Jordan Payton, WR — UCLA

Payton is a traditional possession receiver with the size and catching ability to haul in most passes thrown his way. He’s not an explosive player, but Payton is regarded for his run blocking and sound route running; skills that will translate well to the NFL

Terrance Smith, OLB — Florida State

A superb athlete who can play either inside or outside, Smith has all of the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. Despite his size and speed, the former high school sprinter and jumper is an inconsistent product on the field who will most likely start his professional career on special teams.

Dan Vitale, SB — Northwestern

Vitale is a jack-of-all trades who made a reputation for himself as the “Super Back” at Northwestern. He’s solid in many areas, but not exceptional in any particular phase of the game. It’s Vitale’s leadership, work ethic, and attitude that will earn him a spot on the roster as a key special teams contributor.

Jake Brendel, C — UCLA

Brendel’s ceiling is very low, as he projects as nothing more than a center in the NFL. He’ll battle and work hard to sign as a member of the practice squad, but Brendel’s upside is very limited. If anything, he’s a high character player who will fit in nicely during offseason workouts and training camp.

Ryan Malleck, TE — Virginia Tech

The roster is chock full of tight ends, and Malleck joins the team as a potential special teams ace and practice squad body. He’s not the most athletic, flashy, or explosive tight end, but Malleck is the type of player who does everything well, from blocking in the run game to catching the football down the field.

Parker Ehinger, OG – Cincinnati

Though Ehinger possesses the size to be a tackle at the next level, he doesn’t have the athletic ability to quickly kick out and protect the edge in pass protection, and will likely end up inside at guard. The fact that he has a good amount of experience at tackle, though, makes him a valuable addition to a unit where we’ve put an emphasis on the ability to play multiple positions.

Dominick Jackson, OG – Alabama

Though certain aspects of his game are being picked apart during the draft process, Jackson has shown he is capable of consistently performing against some of the best competition college football has to offer. Jackson plays with great strength and very rarely gets pushed around. Though there are some areas he needs to improve technically, Jackson is a solid addition to a crowded offensive line group desperately searching for an answer at multiple positions. The quantity is there; now we’ll just hope that some quality shines through and allows a couple guys to stick.

Michael Caputo, S – Wisconsin

“As a three-year starter for the Badgers, Michael Caputo served as the heart of a stout and stingy Wisconsin defense. Caputo takes pride in his intensity and tackling ability and it shows on the football field.” (From Carl Knowles in this detailed scouting report of Michael Caputo.) Though he possesses average speed and athleticism, Caputo is a strong run defender, a good tackler and his college production and experience is impressive. More competition at a position of need makes Caputo a valuable camp body.

De’Vondre Campbell, OLB – Minnesota

Campbell’s exceptional athleticism and NFL size make him exactly the type of player you want to add as a UDFA. A raw prospect in need of some coaching up at the next level, “Campbell is just scratching the surface of his potential. Mike Zimmer knows what to do with a diamond in the rough, and Campbell will more than likely be drafted ahead of players with better instinct and technique.” (From Carl Knowles in this detailed scouting report of De’Vondre Campbell.)

Daryl Worley, CB – West Virginia

From a physical standpoint, Worley perfectly fits the size mold the Vikings have worked hard to establish since Mike Zimmer became head coach in 2014. His long frame and arms allow him to, more often than not, win 50/50 battles. However, Worley doesn’t possess good enough quickness to keep up with receivers underneath. Seen by some as a potential Day 3 selection, Worley is a solid UDFA add with enough upside to potentially make the roster some day.

CAMP BODIES

DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB
Jalil Carter, CB
Bobby Vardaro, OG
Chrishon Rose, DT
Josh Kaddu, LB

REVIEW

Vikings Offseason Plan - Roster Post-Draft
The Minnesota Vikings roster after the draft, UDFAs and adding camp bodies.

CONCLUSION

This is it. These are our 2016 Vikings, for better or for worse. What began as a crazy idea between the two of us is now a massive, three-part series detailing our every exploit as general managers of our favorite Minnesota team.

We’ve spent hours researching, planning, and putting our plan to virtual paper. We’ve made tough choices, like trading Adrian Peterson, and we’ve celebrated monumental moments, like signing Kelechi Osemele in a tightly-contested free agent race. We’ve enjoyed the process, and truthfully, it’s bittersweet to see it end.

You may not agree with all of the decisions we made, and that’s okay. Who knows what you’d do if you were sitting at Rick Spielman’s desk. But that’s the beauty of this offseason plan; it’s unique, and it’s allowed us to gain a better understanding of the Vikings’ offseason process. Sure, some players weren’t signed, and others stayed in Minnesota, but these decisions were made collectively, and at the end of it all, we’re proud to call this work our own.

As we transition to the craziness that is free agency and the NFL Draft, save these posts. Reflect on it as you try to predict what they Vikings will do this offseason. Criticize our moves, come up with your own plan, but most of all, enjoy reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.

Skol Vikings!