As March caps its first week, several mock drafts are leaning toward Kwity Paye of Michigan for the Minnesota Vikings 1st-Round selection. The draft does not transpire for about seven weeks, so even Paye’s stock could fall by the wayside in that timeframe. Doubtful – but not impossible.
Credible mock drafts have the Vikings choosing the best lineman available, either offensive or defensive.
But on Thursday, Brad Gagnon from Bleacher Report suggested that Minnesota may select Mac Jones from the University of Alabama to back up Kirk Cousins. The analysis predicts each NFL team’s starting quarterback for 2021. On the Vikings, Gagnon noted:
“Both head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have reaffirmed their love for Cousins of late. He’s essentially unreleasable and I’m not sure anyone would want to trade for his contract anyway. He’s due $76 million the next two seasons. Still, it would make a lot of sense for them to grab somebody like Mac Jones midway through the first round of the draft.”
This would indicate that the Vikings had aptly addressed depth-chart needs at defensive end, defensive tackle, offensive guard, free safety, and cornerback all in free agency on a tiny budget. Or – the team strangely says “the hell with those needs” and dances with a quarterback prospect instead.
Jones Slides Up and Down Draft Board
Choosing a signal-caller in Round 1 would assuredly drum up excitement for the Vikings, but Jones is not a sure-thing prospect. Depending on the mock draft of the day, Jones goes as high as the Top 10 to a team like the Carolina Panthers – or outside of the 1st Round altogether.
Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com compares Jones to Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Matt Barkley:
“I think Jones could end up being a similar quarterback to Barkley in the NFL. Some team sources agreed with the Barkley comparison, others said a shorter A.J. McCarron, and another suggested a stronger-armed Jake Fromm. Barkley (6-2, 234) and Jones are similar in size with some skill-set limitations.”
Of course, scouting reports are fallible. Yet, a Matt Barkley prognosis should not be on the menu for the Vikings or things might get reminiscent of the Christian Ponder era. Not a good look.
QB at #14 May Be a Reach
Don’t be misled – this is not to say that the choice of a quarterback is entirely silly. The reluctance on choosing a quarterback in 2021 per Bleacher Report’s musings pertains to the specific quarterback. Jones is not a regular attendee at the top [or even in the middle] of mock drafts. In this draft class, Jones has vibes he could be chosen super early by a team desperate for a quarterback – or he could tumble down, to the surprise of no one. It seems risky for the Vikings to enter these sweepstakes, particularly when their current quarterback is rather prolific.
On the selection of quarterbacks in the 1st Round this April, this draft has the ingredients to get funky. Three notable passers have already been jettisoned to other teams – Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz. Others are theorized to join the party, even some household names like Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. Also, the NFL Combine did not happen in 2021, so the draft board might get nuts in the virtual environment.
Due to this uncertainty, a quarterback like Justin Fields or Trey Lance could conceivably fall to the Vikings. Then, the front office and fans would be all ears for a quarterback at No. 14. Why? Because that might satisfy the “Best Player Available” philosophy of the draft.
For the time being, though, the Vikings are stuck with a forecast of Mac Jones in the draft’s midsection.
Groom Jones for Later, Evidently
If general manager Rick Spielman believes his free-agent moves are “enough” to fill roster holes on the defensive line, offensive line, and at free safety and cornerback, then finding a future quarterback to take over Cousins is reasonable. After 2021 [and maybe 2022], the Vikings will have nearly a half-decade of Cousins material. This is probably enough time to determine if he is the horse to ride to a Super Bowl.
The Mac-Jones-or-whoever strategy works in this realm. The hypothetical quarterback selected in 2021 should be job-ready on day one proceeding the Cousins era. And that is an asset. Think Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes on this – those players “sat and watched” and were not thrust into action during Week 1 of their rookie seasons. It paid off.
Vikings loyalists can get on board with a Cousins contingency plan, but the right quarterback must be on the menu. For now, Jones is severely a maybe in that scenario.