Every Sunday during Draft Season, Carl and the team at Vikings Territory release scouting reports on sleeper prospects. They’re players many may not recognize, but should get to know as the 2016 NFL Draft approaches. This time of the year, the biggest names dominate the headlines, but other players taken in the later rounds can often have more of an impact than the top-32 picks.
Players like Danielle Hunter (3rd-round) and Stefon Diggs (5th-round) were more important to the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 than Trae Waynes, the team’s 11th-overall selection. Each made significant contributions on defense and offense, while Waynes was relegated to a role as the punt team’s gunner. He played well in spot duty, especially against the Seattle Seahawks, but to say he outperformed his teammates would be lying.
Sometimes, it’s the players we least expect who have the most immediate success in the NFL. That’s why I’ve asked the team here to name their favorite under-the-radar prospects; the players they love that no one’s talking about.
Who is one draft prospect you love that no one is talking about?
Brent: Rashard Higgins, WR – Colorado State
Everyone thinks the Vikings should take a wide receiver early, but no one seems to be talking about Higgins. At 6’2″, Higgins has good height and could prove to be a nice downfield target for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Recording 96 receptions for 1700+ yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore, Higgins was one of the top wideouts in the nation. Higgins calls himself ‘Hollywood’ which is enough to have everyone roll their eyes, but his play on the field can serve as justification for a gaudy nickname.
Carl: Dominique Alexander, LB – Oklahoma
Alexander is an undersized inside linebacker who has the speed and agility to project well to the weak side in a 4-3 system. As a freshman, he won Big-12 defensive freshman of the year honors starting the final eight games and collecting 80 tackles. Alexander eclipsed the 100-tackle mark in his sophomore and junior seasons, earning All-Big 12 accolades in 2015. He is a tough and durable defender who can generate exceptional closing speed to deliver the big hit. Aggressive in the box, with quickness to avoid blockers and speed to create havoc at the line of scrimmage.
He sports a compact frame with rare agility for an inside linebacker. Alexander lacks the size and strength as a true inside thumper and his real fit is on the weak side in a 4-3 scheme. Because his fit at the next level is limited, his buzz will continue to be minimal. His teammate, Eric Striker, seems to get most of the attention, but don’t surprised if both of those talented Sooners’ linebackers are on the Vikings mid-round radar.
Adam P.: Riley Dixon, P – Syracuse
It is safe to say that Jeff Locke has not lived up to the expectations the Vikings had for him when they selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. His punting numbers have regressed in each of his three seasons, and Minnesota may decide to do something about it as soon as this offseason.
If the Vikings want to shake things up with their punter, why not select one of the best available in the upcoming draft? Dixon is not only a skilled punter, but at 6’5″, 219 pounds, Teddy might want him to line up as a wide receiver once he sees him on the practice field.
Compared to Locke’s 41.6 yards per punt average last season, Dixon averaged 43.7 yards per punt in his senior season at Syracuse in 2015. Since Syracuse is one of the few teams in college football that plays their home games inside a dome, his experience punting indoors could come in handy when the Vikings open their brand new indoor palace next season.
Matt Falk, Draft Season: Rashard Higgins, WR – Colorado State
Sure he plays at a smaller school, but Higgins has been one of the most product wide receivers in college football for the past 2 years. Has great hands and is a very reliable target in the passing game and has proven he can go up and get the ball. Needs to beef up a bit but could end up being a steal in the 3rd – 5th round range. Not surprising with a name like “Hollywood” but he has quite a bit of confidence and swagger, something I like to see in a wide receiver, as long as they can back it up. Might take him a year or two to adjust to the speed of the NFL but longterm I think he can be a very solid wide receiver.
Nik Edlund, Draft Season: Miles Killebrew, S – Southern Utah
The one draft prospect that I love that no one is talking about is safety Miles Killebrew from Southern Utah. Okay, maybe we can’t say NO ONE is talking about him, but he sure as heck isn’t getting enough love. This kid absolutely explodes off the tape when you watch him play. Killebrew is thickly built and can fly to the ball carrier. When he gets there, he lowers his shoulder, and just lays down punishment. He’s instinctive and smart and reads the play before reacting to the ball. He’s got exceptional ball skills and can make game-changing plays.
Killebrew has good overall and is a true enforcer at the position. There are some concerns though. It’s fair to argue about the level of competition he’s faced in college, and he wasn’t asked to drop back in coverage very often. Killebrew did quiet some of those concerns at the Senior Bowl with a solid showing. His stock could shoot up if he blows up the Combine the way I think he could. I think he’d be an excellent fit in purple, and I salivate just thinking of him lined up next to Harrison Smith. Killebrew is my favorite for the Vikings second round pick and I pray to God he’s there, and I hope to hell Rick Spielman takes him.
Austin: Jordan Howard, RB – Indiana
Howard is a bruising back with more potential upside than Matt Asiata. I wrote about him as part of our Sleeper Sunday series, and I think he’s a talented player with the skill set to thrive in Minnesota, especially as an option at the goal line. This is, of course, if the Vikings miraculously trade Adrian Peterson and hand the keys to Jerick McKinnon. But who am I kidding?