Vikings Fans Locked on 1 Draft Prospect

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba catches a pass during Ohio State football s pro day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus on March 22, 2023. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Minnesota Vikings 1st-Round draft plan can break about 10 different ways in two weeks, and no fan would be too surprised.

The only two positions to rule out in Round 1 are offensive tackle and tight end, as the franchise is set at both spots with OTs Christian Darrisaw + Brian O’Neill and TEs T.J. Hockenson + Josh Oliver.

Vikings Fans Locked on 1 Draft Prospect

Otherwise, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could step up to the plate and draft a cornerback or wide receiver at pick No. 23, trade up for a quarterback as a plan for life after Kirk Cousins, trade back like last year to stockpile picks, or select a defensive tackle, EDGE rusher, or off-ball linebacker. Because the quarterback element is intermixed, the 2023 NFL Draft is one of the Vikings most mysterious in a while.

Left up to fans, though, a fascination still exists for Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. We polled Vikings fans about their appetite for four realistic draft options with the 23rd pick, and Smith-Njigba was the leader by a landslide.

Smith-Njigba grabbed roughly 60% of the vote, and 3,628 people responded.

Fans Locked on 1
Dec 31, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) walks onto the field prior to the Peach Bowl in the College Football Playoff semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Smith-Njigba did not play due to injury. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch.

Whether Smith-Njigba will be available at No. 23 is highly debatable. He could be drafted as early as No. 12 to the Houston Texans, a team needing wide receiver help. The draft could undergo weird events where Smith-Njigba isn’t the first WR off the board, instead yielding to Quentin Johnston of TCU or Jordan Addison of USC. All drafts are unpredictable, but this year’s especially may get funky because teams who most believe need quarterbacks could decline QB selections in preparation for next year’s QB-happy draft.

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs on the sideline after taking a hard hit during the NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports.

Before free agency, CBS SportsChris Trapasso mock-drafted Smith-Njigba to the Vikings and explained, “The Vikings dip into the receiver well to complement Justin Jefferson. Awesome value here for the Vikings, given Smith-Njigba’s injury in 2022 pushes him down the board.”

But as of late, his stock climbed, and tumbling to No. 23 may be more of a hope for Vikings fans than reality.

Fans Have Spoken
Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl against the Utah Utes in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1, 2022. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Longtime Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen departed for the Carolina Panthers last month, leaving a roster crater in the WR room. Minnesota can promote WR3 K.J. Osborn to WR2, trade for a player like Tee Higgins or Courtland Sutton, or select Smith-Njigba or one of his peers early in the draft. Those are the viable WR2 plans as of early April.

Free-agent Odell Beckham signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Easter, all but inxnaying the Vikings from finding a productive WR2 on the open market. It’s Osborn, trade, draft, or bust for Minnesota at the position.

Smith-Njigba didn’t play much (5 games) in 2022 because of injury but recorded 1,606 receiving and 9 touchdowns in 2021. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is known for elite route-running, hands, and body control while perhaps lacking explosiveness at times.

His Ohio State teammate WR Garrett Wilson won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2022.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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