2014 Minnesota Vikings Mock Draft: “Alabama-style” Edition
It’s time for another mock draft, if only because I feel like it. Because mock drafts provide more fodder as a “what if” than a genuine prediction, I’m not really taking them seriously unless I’m actually composing a round-by-round wishlist, which I’ll do on occasion anyway.
At the same time, mock drafts are no fun without rules. Naturally, I can’t just project that the Vikings draft Bridgewater in Round 1, Clowney in Round 2, Mack and Watkins in Round 3 and so on—I’ll hold myself to availability models that I find around the internet—generally speaking that means Drafttek and Bleacher Report because there are not many other seven-round mock drafts that provide a good clue of who will be available.
For kicks, I’ve added another rule: in this mock, the Vikings are only allowed to draft players that fit the mold of a Nick Saban Alabama player. That means big, smart, pro-ready players that aren’t necessarily fast and can’t backpedal. They might also be susceptible to knee and back injuries, but have good character.
This doesn’t mean they can only draft players from Alabama (though I won’t prevent myself from doing that either), just players who fit that mold at certain positions. Just like last time, this isn’t really the strategy I think the Vikings should pursue, just one way to think of a mock draft.
One last note: all highlight videos should be considered NSFW unless you mute. Except, of course, the Draft Breakdown videos.
Pick 8: C.J. Mosley, ILB Alabama
It may be cheating to start off with an actual Alabama pick, but the ideal scenario is to trade down. Just like my last gimmick draft, there’s a small reach here, especially as Mosley has injury concerns that make him a big risk. Otherwise, there aren’t many players that fit both the profile of a Minnesota need and an Alabama-type player.
For the second time in a decade, Minnesota drafts a player named C.J. Mosley (this time in the first round) and it will turn out to be a great pick if his knees hold up. Mosley is an extremely intelligent and instinctive linebacker who complements his nose for the ball with length and athleticism.
He’s fluid in coverage, can play in a complex pattern-matching scheme and keeps up with tight ends and running backs with ease, in part due to his excellent route recognition skills. He also does a great job recognizing the development of the run, takes on blockers well and can get to the ballcarrier with ease, sometimes through heavy traffic.
Mosley isn’t necessarily the strongest player nor is he a fundamentally sound tackler, but he gets the job done and can make an impact right away. He’s clearly the best ILB in the draft, and can play OLB just as well.
Pick 40: Bashaud Breeland, CB Clemson
Long, tough and smart, Breeland perfectly fits the mold of an Alabama CB, especially because he’s really good at the things he’s asked to do a lot and fairly bad at the things he hasn’t done much of.
He’s good with his feet and hips, and plays with both agility and smart technique. He has an excellent click-and-close, using his burst to cut underneath routes or hit the receiver in the air. This comes from a combination of acceleration and recognition, and that same set of skills allows him to be a ballhawk as well.
He’s also an asset in the run game, with good instincts, discipline and physicality. That physicality is there in nearly every aspect of his game, actually, and sometimes causes trouble with the officials.
His top-end speed isn’t very good and he can get burned deep. He’s also limited in bail technique and a lot of other skills that rely on a good backpedal despite his fluidity. A lot of his play at Clemson came in off-man, and he’ll need more experience elsewhere in order to shore up technique issues. He’s another player who could work on tackling technique, but makes up for it by getting to the ballcarrier early and with force.
Pick 72: Brandon Thomas, OG Clemson
Say what you will, but Spielman loves drafting players from the same school. This time, it’s Brandon Thomas—who actually plays a lot like Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, but with less quickness. Thomas is a tackle who often uses his physical gifts to make up for his technical problems—and may have been the only tackle last year to take on Jadeveon Clowney well without help. His long arms (34 3/4″) allow him to play with less lateral agility and choppy kick-slide. In the NFL, it may be better to put him at guard to hide those problems.
Thomas is an incredibly strong player with big hands, decent hand placement and great punch. His mobility in space is better than you’d guess from his combine scores, though it’s not elite by any means. He performs combination blocks well and can get to the second level and find his assignment with ease, playing with excellent awareness in the run game, though he needs a little more in the passing game.
An excellent run blocker and a pass blocker whose results exceed his technique, Thomas won’t likely last this far. But with two different mocks making him available, he was too good to pass up. Most of his weaknesses will be hidden at the guard position and his strengths will be on full display.
Pick 96: Brandon Coleman, WR Rutgers
In some ways, picking a Rutgers player is by default picking an Alabama player given how close the coaches at the programs are and their similar philosophies. Here, Coleman can provide the Vikings with a long-term option to replace Jerome Simpson. He’s an enormous receiver who plays faster than he looks because of his sheer size, and is underrated as a route runner.
While he doesn’t have Simpson’s speed, he’ll find ways to get open even playing deep. His suddenness allows him to play the full route tree and he even has some of the more subtle moves down. If need be, he can play a possession role and allow the other receivers to shine while creating space or be the fulcrum of an offense.
With a natural ability to box out other players and a matchup headache, Coleman will always be ready to find a job in the NFL, especially as a willing and effective blocker.
The issues that drop Coleman to the bottom of the third are fair because they create serious evaluation problems: with four different offensive coordinators and some of the worst quarterbacks in college football throwing to him, it’s tough to tell whether or not Coleman genuinely has poor chemistry and timing or if he has been hampered by his environment. Moreover, his drop rate is higher than most players in the draft, but he has also had to deal with some of the worst ball positioning a receiver can ask for.
Given that he doesn’t fight for the ball at the catch point quite like he should, there’s a question about his real use value as a red zone threat, but he was at the very least effective there as a college player and that should be a transferrable skill.
Pick 108: Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
A game manager with a knee problem seems quintessential Tuscaloosa. Murray’s efficiency and game smarts should make him an appealing pick for the Vikings, and he fits the mold of a rhythm passer.
In an ideal situation, Murray looks like a top quarterback, with clean mechanics, excellent accuracy, and solid anticipation. Murray can throw on the move, and has room to improve his arm strength, which is adequate as it stands right now.
He can’t throw the “deep out” or challenge the tight windows as they close, but certainly he can function in an NFL offense without too much trouble with the throws.
Like A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy, the issues with his arm strength won’t go away. The same can be said with his issues under pressure. He reacts too early to pressure he sees and his mechanics deteriorate over the course of a game as a result. If he can maintain his rhythm, however, he’s an excellent passer that can work in a complex offense against complicated defenses.
Pick 148: Arthur Lynch, TE Georgia
Another school pair that fits the model, Lynch is a jack-of-all-trades receiver who has sufficient talent and tools to be a pass-catcher, but excels at nothing in particular. As a blocker, however, Lynch is one of the best tight ends in the class.
He has quick feet and good technique as a pass blocker and can hold his own when attacked with a variety of moves. He usually makes contact first and has excellent leverage as well. As a run blocker, he’s even better because he can move with agility and power, finding his assignment and demolishing it. He opens up wide lanes and finishes defenders, whether they’re defensive ends, linebackers or defensive backs. Good awareness as a blocker and solid hand placement, it’s difficult to beat Lynch for blocking.
As a receiver, he really needs to have more speed and explosiveness. His routes are run fairly slow, but he has good hands and on occasion will get separation. He has a good intuition against coverage, but for the most part will be taken out of plays by quicker linebackers and safeties.
Pick 184: Marion Grice, RB Arizona State
There’s not a lot of room on a Tide roster for “scat backs” or running backs with character flags like Isaiah Crowell or James Wilder, Jr (both of whom would be excellent value here for teams more willing to take a risk in the sixth round). Despite looking lean, Grice is a powerful back that can perform a backup role for the Vikings or a starting role elsewhere.
In all honesty, I’m not sure why Grice is available here in both mocks. Obviously, it’s an incredibly deep running back class and it can be difficult to distinguish the feature backs from each other in terms of their individual skills, but Grice is a third-round talent, if not better.
Grice is good not just because he’s powerful (and not just for his size) or has plus acceleration hitting the line, but also because he has good vision to see blocks developing and almost always makes the right decision. He’s excellent at lowering his pad level and can either dish out punishment or sidestep contact as the situation dictates.
Despite not playing greedy, Grice gets big plays without a lot of speed. It’s difficult to tackle him with one defender and he displays excellent balance. In addition to all of that, he’s a phenomenal pass-catcher. Very few running backs catch passes or run routes like Grice does, and ASU used him well. He attacks the ball, adjusts in the air extremely well, has glue for hands and can run receiver routes.
I don’t expect him to be here. But he was, so I took him.
Pick 223: Vinnie Sunseri, S Alabama
This pick was easy to make for a couple of reasons—it fulfills the desire of Spielman to continue drafting players from the same schools, a team can never have too many defensive backs and his knee problems will force him to fall much more than he should.
The first thing nearly every scouting report says about Sunseri is that he’s a coach on the field. He ran the complex defense at Alabama, where Kirby Smart forced Alabama to innovate far beyond even his NFL counterparts. He consistently corrects his teammates while also finding himself in the right spot despite below-average athleticism.
He shouldn’t be put in too many coverage situations against speedy receivers; he’s more of an in-the-box safety. But he knows where to be, is usually there before the ball and plays with aggression, instinct and skill.
Mock drafts are nonsense, so I think it makes more sense to create new challenges every time. This time, I attempted to answer the question of how the Vikings could draft if they liked the mold of players produced at Alabama. Next time, who knows?