Latest ESPN 2023 Mock Draft Is a Bit Strange for Vikings

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The Minnesota Vikings hired Brian Flores from the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, capping a defensive coordinator search that lasted over two weeks. Flores will hope to flip the Vikings underperforming defense in one offseason, as the group ranked near the bottom of the NFL in various meaningful metrics.

To do so, Flores will likely need some “new blood” from the 2023 NFL Draft, and ESPN has a strange forecast for the mission.

Latest ESPN 2023 Mock Draft Is a Bit Strange for Vikings

The Vikings hold the 23rd overall pick and could stay put in the spot or trade down for more assets. The latter is probably a safer bet while trying to predict what general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will do. Still, ESPN’s Matt Miller envisions the Vikings selecting a linebacker — and it isn’t Trenton Simpson. It’s Drew Sanders from the University of Arkansas.

Latest ESPN 2023 Mock
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Miller published a mock draft Monday, and for some reason, he foresaw the Vikings “reaching” for Sanders, a 1st-Team All-American and 1st-Team All-SEC player in 2022. Sanders could turn into a fabulous linebacker, but the 1st Round, as of February 6th, is a stretch for his services.

Miller wrote about Sanders to the Vikings, “One area multiple NFL scouts have pointed to is the play and age at linebacker. Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks will play next season at 31, and only two teams allowed more yards per play (5.9) in 2022.”

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Indeed, the Vikings are expected to explore moving on from Kendricks and Hicks, as the defense seemed slow in the middle of the field in 2022. It’s just a question mark whether Sanders in Round 1 would be a life-after-Kendricks-and-Hicks solution.

“When I visited [Arkansas] last fall, the defensive staff raved about his instincts and toughness. He became a three-down player with 9.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles and 111 tackles in his first season as a starter. The 6-5, 232-pound junior is still developing as a linebacker but has the potential to be a force in the NFL,” Miller concluded.

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Sanders is considered a 2nd- or 3rd-Round caliber linebacker and could probably be scooped outside of the 1st Round. Of course, “anything is possible” in the NFL Draft, but spending the 23rd overall pick on Sanders seems like a longshot.

Our draft analyst Josh Frey opined on Sanders to the Vikings in Round 1, “Man, I’ve seen a lot of people calling him a sleeper, but I don’t know if he’s good enough to be LB1. I guess he has the pass rush upside that could be good in a Brian Flores defense. I don’t think I’d take him in the 1st Round, though.”

After presumably clearing cap space in the next month — likely involving the aforementioned Kendricks and Hicks — Minnesota could also explore the free agency of off-ball linebackers such as Tremaine Edmunds from the Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans defender David Long.

Otherwise, there’s a chance Clemson’s Trenton Simpson will be available for Minnesota at No. 23, and he does have a 1st-Round pedigree.

The NFL Draft begins on April 27th in Kansas City.

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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