Pete Prisco Sends LB to Vikings in Latest Mock Draft

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Seemingly daily, a new mock draft is released by a semi-credible source, and the Minnesota Vikings interest is piqued at the 14th position. Minnesota finished 2020 with a 7-9 record, enabling the franchise to pick unusually high in the draft this April.

Senior NFL Columnist Pete Prisco from CBS Sports dropped the latest meaningful mock draft on Tuesday. In this edition, he sends an EDGE/Linebacker to the Vikings – one that is a descendant of a Nigerian king.

His name is Azeez Ojulari. He’s a sophomore linebacker (probably EDGE by the NFL’s current definition) from the University of Georgia, and his stock is steadily climbing.

Prisco said of Ojulari’s fit on the Vikings:

“This team needs to get an explosive edge player to go with Danielle Hunter. Ojulari is that type of player, although he would need to beef up some in their scheme.”

The kneejerk takeaway on this mock draft is that Ojulari would be a “reach” selection for Minnesota. That means he could be stowed away for later in the 1st or 2nd Round. Otherwise, the Vikings choose him anyway and get applauded for chess-not-checkers in drafting aptitude — if Ojulari turns out to be phenomenal.

We’re a long way from judgment on that matter.

In any event, Prisco is a trusted NFL mind – for the most part – and this is yet another mock draft that features the Vikings honing in on a pass-rusher.

A 3-4 Scheme EDGE LB – but Oh Well?

First, the weird part about Prisco’s Ojulari-to-Vikings prognostication: Ojulari was showcased at Georgia in a 3-4 defense. The Vikings don’t have one of those. In fact, Mike Zimmer is infamous for clinging to his 4-3 scheme while other NFL teams trend toward 3-4 versions.

That does not mean that Ojulari cannot be sculpted like clay. If the talent is undeniable, Prisco is right, and general manager Rick Spielman gets in on The Ojulari Sweepstakes, then this is a total greenlight.

In a vacuum, however, Ojulari is best utilized right away as a pass-rushing linebacker in a 3-4 defense like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used to abuse Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV. Zimmer traditionally opts for beefy defensive ends. Ojulari isn’t overly beefy. He’s built like a linebacker-linebacker. His height-weight measurements are akin to Tim Tebow’s a decade ago.

Sad to admit: Ojulari is more of a Green Bay Packers-like pass-rusher. He is stylistically reminiscent of Preston Smith.

Vikings Normally Employ DEs, not LBs at EDGE

Again, the Vikings could snatch Ojulari and foster him to stardom. Zimmer is typically considered a defensive mastermind. One should not be surprised if Zimmer turns Ojulari into an on-the-field maniac.

But the last decade-or-so Vikings generally steer clear of linebackers that rush the passer. Zimmer implements a pass rush with your grandfather’s style of defensive end. See: Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, or Danielle Hunter. The analogy may be a bit flimsy for Hunter because he could probably stand up and play linebacker astutely.

On the whole, though, Zimmer enjoys brute-force defensive ends – not ones with “LB” next to their names. You know how Vikings enthusiasts believe every season that “this will be the year” that Anthony Barr lines up on the edge to terrorize quarterbacks? And then every year, it does not happen? Think of that when trying to understand why Minnesota doesn’t really employ linebackers as defensive ends.

Ojulari First non-Paye or non-Rousseau DE for MIN

The global conclusion from Prisco’s mock draft lies in the general direction that pundits are dragging the Vikings. Experienced NFL minds believe that Minnesota will remedy its recent pass-rushing woes with a high draft pick. 2020 proved that a duo of Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes may not be the future. What’s more, the Vikings don’t have the funds to upgrade through free agency from a pass-rush standpoint. They can probably find a bargain-barn player, but that theoretical man will not inspire excitement like Kwity Paye, Gregory Rousseau, or even Ojulari.

This mock draft is one of the first that Vikings took an “outsider” not named Kwity Paye or Gregory Rousseau on the defensive line. Prisco deems Ojaluri the 58th-best prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft, so this selection is a curious one.

Be prepared for that. It’s mock draft season, and this will not be the last headscratcher to hit the internet with Minnesota choosing someone unfamiliar to most.