Vikings Draft Positional Priority Based on Current Roster — No Surprise No. 1 Is CB
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
The Minnesota sports fan focus this week is more on the Timberwolves in the playoffs, the Wild seeking a No. 2 seed, and the Twins with their up-and-down start. The giant gorilla among Minnesota’s pro sports teams—the Vikings—may be flying under the radar this week as free agency is basically wrapped up, and their offseason program is in Week 2.
But things will change next week with the NFL Draft finally here and the 2022 Vikings rookie class soon unveiled. Here’s my ranking of the draft priorities for GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as he approaches his first Vikings draft with eight selections currently and again, bearing in mind that he should not draft for need over best player available—especially in the first round at No. 12.
I’m on record endorsing Minnesota drafting a corner in the first round if there is a player that grades out equally or better than other positions. We know the premier players are “Sauce” Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr., who could be top 11 picks with Trent McDuffie not far behind. It would be ideal for adding one of those players to the current group of corners that includes returnees Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Parry Nickerson, and Tye Smith, along with free-agent signees Chandon Sullivan and Nate Hairston.
The Vikings have loaded up with lower-cost vets Jesse Davis and Chris Reed in free agency after losing Mason Cole, and last year’s starter at right guard Oli Udoh could move to a backup tackle spot if he doesn’t reclaim his starting guard spot. Perhaps last year’s third-rounder Wyatt Davis steps up in Year 2. Coach Kevin O’Connell is talking up returning center and former first-rounder Garrett Bradbury, but we have seen his struggles with bigger nose tackles such as Green Bay’s Kenny Clark, and the Vikings are not likely to exercise Bradbury’s fifth-year option next month (which could set him up for free agency after this season). It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Vikings pick a center/guard combo player in the first three rounds.
3. Edge rusher
You can’t have enough good pass rushers in today’s QB-driven NFL. As the Vikings move to a 3-4 base defense or when they switch to 4-3 on occasion, they’re counting on two Pro Bowlers coming off significant injuries–Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith–to lead the way. There are other proven pass rushers in-house, including D.J. Wonnum (who led the team with eight sacks last season) and Armon Watts (5 sacks in 2021, and he can play defensive tackle or defensive end in a 3-4), plus Kenny Willekes (2.5 sacks last season). This year’s draft has a strong group of pass rushers, and the top guys such as Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Georgia’s Travon Walker will be top five picks, with Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux not far behind. Perhaps Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson could slide to the Vikings spot at No. 12?
I see Kirk Cousins as a top 12-15 NFL QB who could reach the top 10. Kellen Mond enters his second year, and we’ll see if he can push Sean Mannion for the backup spot. Nate Stanley also returns to compete for a spot. But I think it’s a good idea to follow the Patriots blueprint in the Brady years by often drafting at this most important position in the second or third round (see Jimmy Garoppolo-2014 Round 2; Jacoby Brissett-2016 Round 3 and some guy named Kevin O’Connell (oh yeah the Vikings new coach–2008 Round 3). Even if Cousins is the long-term answer, you can always trade his backups as the Pats did several times. So it’s not a bad call to draft a QB in the second or third round to compete with Mond for the heir apparent role and be ready if the expensive Cousins doesn’t up his game under O’Connell’s tutelage.
5. Tight end
Irv Smith returns from his year off due to a knee injury, and last year’s No.1 tight end Tyler Conklin left for the Jets. The Vikings signed Johnny Mundt as a blocking tight end (he has only 10 career receptions over five years with the Rams). Zach Davidson was a fifth-round pick last year who is a big target at 6-7 but an unknown at this point, and Ben Ellefson returns too. The Vikings likely will use less two tight end offense and more three wide receivers under O’Connell, but a tight end who is a good receiver could be an essential addition as insurance behind Smith, who I expect will have a big year.
Xavier Woods left in free agency, and I like Cam Bynum as the potential starter in his second season. He played well last season when he replaced Harrison Smith (when he was out with Covid for two games). Josh Metellus is a good special teamer but not expected to push for a starting spot. There’s some good safety depth in this draft, so the Vikings could find mid-round help or perhaps jump on Kyle Hamilton in the first round to create a Notre Dame safety duo with Smith.
7. Inside Linebacker
Pro Bowler Eric Kendricks and free-agent addition Jordan Hicks are set as starters. Young recent draftees such as Troy Dye and Chazz Surrat, along with returning vets Blake Lynch and Ryan Connelly, will compete for roster spots, and perhaps some of these players could play outside. But I would expect an inside backer to be selected in the middle or late rounds to add competition.
8. Wide Receiver
Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are among the league’s best, and K.J. Osborn emerged last year as an excellent No. 3 receiver. Ihmir Smith-Marsette did some good things late last season and should be a good backup. Bisi Johnson returns from his knee injury and brings experience. Dan Chisena is a top special teamer. Blake Proehl was a camp sleeper until he got hurt, so he could be in the mix. With O’Connell going primarily three wide receivers on offense—which makes sense with Jefferson, Thielen, and Osborn—the team could carry as many as seven wide receivers, so a later-round receiver could well be added for more competition.
9. Defensive tackle
Minnesota looks solid with returning starter Dalvin Tomlinson, free-agent signee Harrison Phillips, Watts, and another vet in James Lynch. A pick here would not be a surprise as D-line depth is so important.
10. Offensive tackle
Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw should be among the league’s top duos as Darrisaw (last year’s No. 1) continues to improve. Udoh was drafted as a tackle so he can swing between guard and tackle. Blake Brandel played in short-yardage situations and appears to be a solid backup. Backup tackle is not a big need, but it would be a solid addition if a good prospect is there late.
Don’t waste a 2022 pick on these positions: running back where Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and Kene Nwangwu are an excellent trio (wait until next year when Mattison could leave as a free agent and Nwangwu could move up to No. 2 with a third back then needed) or fullback with C. J. Ham who is one of the best in the league at the position; kicker and punter—Greg Joseph and Jordan Berry are solid as of now, but with kickers, that can change quickly as Vikings fans know well.
Around the NFL Observations:
I thought it was interesting to hear that three excellent wide receivers going into the last year of their contracts –Deebo Samuel (San Francisco), A. J. Brown (Tennessee) and Terry McLaurin (Washington)—are skipping offseason workouts thus far as they seek extensions and don’t want to risk injury. This could well be a preview of Vikings superstar receiver Justin Jefferson’s strategy next spring when he is in a similar position after completing his third season.
Jefferson knows this is a critical year for him to excel and said he is paying close attention to the mammoth deals signed this offseason by Davante Adams with the Raiders and Tyreek Hill in Miami. Both of these post-trade new contracts will average $28 million per year. Another terrific season for Jefferson will set him up for a similar deal and a tough negotiation for Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl