ESPN Starts Mock Draft Season with Curveball for Vikings

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Think the Minnesota Vikings will finally draft a quarterback with their 1st-Round pick in 2024?

That’s not a foregone conclusion, at least not per the largest voice in sports.

ESPN Starts Mock Draft Season with Curveball for Vikings

ESPN kicked off mock draft season this week with a publication from analyst and writer Jordan Reid, and although he believes the Vikings should draft a quarterback, he plopped a defensive lineman on Minnesota’s ledger — Jer’Zhan Newton from the University of Illinois.

ESPN Starts Mock Draft
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No matter what, Vikings loyalists would eventually warm up to Newton — he’s a beast — but many believe or predict that Minnesota will use its 11th overall pick on a quarterback or trade up the board for a rookie passer. The Newton angle would save a rookie quarterback for later, whether in a later round in 2024 or sometime in 2025.

Reid explained Newton to Vikings, “The Vikings are a prime candidate to take a QB, and I almost made that move here. But there’s a good chance Kirk Cousins will return to Minnesota, giving the Vikings the chance to instead take one of the best defensive players in the draft. Outside of Danielle Hunter — who is a free agent this offseason — Minnesota had a severe lack of talent along its defensive front.”

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Minnesota has Harrison Phillips and Jaquelin Roy under contract at Newton’s spot in 2024, while defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard is scheduled to hit free agency. Newton would undoubtedly be an upgrade, as the Vikings have long glossed over DT needs next to Phillips or Linval Joseph (during the Mike Zimmer era). The club is typically content with players like Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts, or Bullard.

Reid added, “One of my favorite overall prospects in this class regardless of position, Newton is a disruptive 3-technique who finished the season with 42 pressures, 7.5 sacks and an 11.4% defensive pressure rate. And he simply doesn’t come off the field; his 715 snaps ranked seventh among all FBS defensive linemen in 2023. Newton can play from multiple alignments, and he can be included in creative third-down packages because of his versatility and explosiveness as a pass-rusher.”

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The Draft Network’s Damian Parson describes Newton like this: “Jer’Zhan Newton is an active, quick-handed striker who lands punches with precision. His hand speed is impressive as he is both active as the aggressor and reactive as a counterpuncher. He has multiple techniques in his bag to defeat blocks quickly—cross-chops, double-hand swipes, hesitations, and swims, to name a few. Newton is an educated defender and pass rusher.”

The only real knock on Newton might be size. He’s 6’2″ and 295 pounds, which isn’t ginormous for a defensive tackle.

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Vikings fans will debate the draft pick ad nauseam over the next 2.5 months, but the choice will likely boil down to quarterback or defensive lineman. And out of the gate, ESPN says Newton — not a quarterback.

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,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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