ESPN Analyst Posts Intriguing Two-Round Vikings Mock Draft

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The Vikings enter their third offseason with general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in charge of football operations. He has some major homework with Kirk Cousins entering free agency and no heir apparent on the roster. Also a cornerstone of the franchise, Danielle Hunter is another big name to enter the free agency pool. Re-signing those two stars or finding replacements is at the top of his to-do list.

ESPN Analyst Posts Intriguing Two-Round Vikings Mock Draft

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To find those successors, Adofo-Mensah has some cap space to spend, although he still must be creative to sign multiple high-end producers at premium positions. He can also use his nine draft picks to add some talent.

Leading up to the draft, NFL media will deliver hundreds of mock drafts. Some fill the holes better than others. ESPN’s Matt Miller has done a wonderful job in his recent mock draft to send Minnesota help to address the two positions.

ESPN Analyst Posts Intriguing Two-Round Vikings Mock Draft
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy makes a pass against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during the first half of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.

With the 11th overall pick, the Vikings are likely out of reach to get one of the top passers in the draft class. Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels all fly off the board within the first three picks in most current mock drafts.

That leaves the Vikings with tier-two signal-callers and some excellent defenders. In a class with decent QBs, WRs, and OTs, they can surely get one of the best defensive prospects. And that’s what they do in Miller’s mock, passing on J.J. McCarthy and Bo Nix and instead drafting Dallas Turner.

The Vikings are at a crossroads with quarterback Kirk Cousins hitting free agency at 36 years old and coming off an Achilles tear suffered in Week 8. Could they pull the trigger on Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Oregon’s Bo Nix or Washington’s Michael Penix Jr.? Yes, but there are needs across the board. Danielle Hunter is a free agent, and Turner would perfectly fit D-coordinator Brian Flores’ defensive wish list at edge rusher.

Turner had 10 sacks in his breakout 2023 season, and one NFC area scout thinks his ceiling is higher than former college teammate Will Anderson Jr., who went No. 3 in last year’s draft. Turner has excellent speed in space with a pro player comparison to the Jaguars’ Josh Allen. He’s my top-ranked defender in the class and would be a steal this late in the night.

Matt Miller, ESPN
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His first ten picks feature nine offensive players and one cornerback. Getting the best edge defender on the board could be enough to sway the organization away from selecting a QB prospect.

Turner might be the best pure athlete in the draft and, therefore, has a high ceiling. While he must refine his technique in the rushing game, add more pass-rush moves, and put on more weight, he has showcased his skill set in the collegiate game in Nick Saban’s final season.

He also just turned 21, only adding to his upside. With Hunter and his teammates Marcus Davenport and D.J. Wonnum all scheduled to enter free agency, adding a pass rusher would be a solid choice. Even if Hunter returns, acquiring someone who can also threaten offenses could pay big dividends for Flores’ defense.

Also commonly sent to Minnesota in mock drafts are UCLA’s Laiatu Latu and Florida State’s Jared Verse, both also pass-rushers.

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That leaves the Vikings with Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall as the team’s QBs. And even after re-signing 35-year-old Cousins for another season or two, the franchise needs to find a successor at some point. Miller addressed that need in the second round, selecting Michael Penix Jr. with the 42nd overall pick.

Penix’s draft stock varies depending on who you ask, but the most consistent answer I’ve heard is the second round, given the four season-ending injuries he suffered at Indiana (two knee injuries, two shoulder injuries). Penix has excellent arm strength and velocity, and as a pure passer, he’s a first-rounder. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards in 2023 and helped lead Washington to the national title game. But those injury and durability questions push him to the Vikings.

It’s great news for Minnesota, where Kirk Cousins is set to become a 35-year-old free agent coming off an Achilles injury. Penix can be the quarterback-in-waiting if Cousins is re-signed, or the immediate starter if he is not.

Matt Miller, ESPN

Penix’s injury history is why he is such a controversial player. He had a wonderful season at Washington, guiding the program into the national championship game. Perhaps the best pure passer in the draft with outstanding arm talent and the ability to quickly dissect coverages, Penix is not a mobile QB and struggles whenever the defense can put him under pressure.

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While having a great season, the moment he gained national attention from even casual watchers, was when he tore up Texas’ defense in the college playoff semi-final, throwing for 430 yards and two touchdowns. Multiple deep passes to his great receivers turned some heads.

Drafting Penix to be the starting quarterback for years to come is risky because of his injury history. He will turn 24 right after the draft, putting his upside in question. However, he is more pro-ready than some other highly-touted passers in this draft and might not need as much time to develop. Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell closely watched Penix at the Senior Bowl.

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Miller’s draft approach is an interesting one for the Vikings as they find their new quarterback after drafting a top defender. In all likelihood, one of the QB prospects will fall in the draft and could be in reach for the Vikes with their second pick (or require only a slight trade-up). Regardless, it can be doubted that the decision-makers would bet their future on whoever is available. Much more likely seems that they would try to get their guy instead of risk losing him.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt