6 Current Draft Frontrunners for Vikings

Current Draft Darling
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The 2024 NFL Draft kicks off in 74 days, and the Minnesota Vikings will pick 11th unless they trade up or down the draftboard.

The 11th pick is Minnesota’s highest spot since 2015 when the club selected cornerback Trae Waynes from Michigan State.

6 Current Draft Frontrunners for Vikings

And as fans will incessantly debate the team’s plans for the draft pick, a handful of rookies have emerged as early frontrunners for the Vikings early in the cycle. These are those men listed in alphabetical order.

1. Laiatu Latu

The 4 Early
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The Vikings haven’t used 1st-Round draft capital on an EDGE rusher since 2005. That was a man named Erasmus James, and he didn’t really work out.

Now, with only Patrick Jones II and Andre Carter II under contract in 2024 for outside linebackers, the time may be ripe to end the drought. All signs tentatively point to Danielle Hunter returning in 2024, but Minnesota will still need another starting pass rusher.

CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards mock-drafted Latu to the Vikings last month and explained, “Minnesota has a handful of needs and none are bigger than quarterback if Kirk Cousins is not retained. However, Laiatu Latu helps fill the potential void left by Marcus Davenport and/or Danielle Hunter departing in free agency.”

Latu would have a magnificent time in Brian Flores’ system.

2. J.J. McCarthy
QB (Michigan)

Matter WHERE
December 31, 2022; Glendale, Ariz; USA; Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy (9) throws a pass during the pregame before the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Ncaa Fiesta Bowl Game

McCarthy has become a Vikings draft darling in the last 10 days or so, as folks have realized he could be gettable at Minnesota’s No. 11 pick. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah wouldn’t have to trade the farm for McCarthy, and if the Vikings are in the mood, they can re-sign Kirk Cousins and draft McCarthy to watch and learn for a year or two.

The Wolverine is also at the epicenter of the “quarterback wins” debate because Michigan often didn’t ask McCarthy to drag the team to prominence. So, some believe he’s a system quarterback or a dreaded game manager.

3. Jer’Zhan Newton
DT (Illinois)

6 Current Draft
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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.

So, ESPN’s Jordan Reid envisioned Newton to Minnesota in his first mock draft. He wrote, “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.”

Minnesota’s interior pass rush ranked near the bottom of the pack in 2023.

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.”

4. Michael Penix Jr.
QB (Washington)

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Like McCarthy above, if the Vikings desire a quarterback and don’t want to trade the farm by moving up the draftboard, Penix Jr. to Minnesota is probably the most likely outcome.

The only genuine knock on his NFL candidacy is his injury history, and that resume is long before the previous two seasons. He also had a nationally televised stinker during the National Championship. That’s chiefly why he’ll be available to the Vikings at pick No. 11. A performance akin to Joe Burrow’s 2020 might’ve whisked him into the Top 10.

Sans a chunky trade on draft night, mock drafters enjoy plopping Penix Jr. in Minnesota’s draft hopper.

5. Dallas Turner
EDGE (Alabama)

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These are the perks for Turner:

  1. He’s young; he turned 21 on Friday.
  2. He’s fast. Really fast.
  3. He stops the run and is not a one-trick pass-rushing pony.
  4. Alabama picks rarely flop.

VikingsTerritory’s Nate Powalie recently wrote about Turner, “The Vikings need someone to partner with Danielle Hunter (assuming he stays with the team going into 2024), and Turner will fit the bill immediately. His frame and run-stopping abilities need some development, but he has great lateral agility and change-of-direction skills.”

6. Jared Verse
EDGE (Florida State)

Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports.

In early January, The Draft Network’s Damian Parson chose Verse for the Vikings at No. 11 and opined, “Three of the Vikings’ edge defenders are heading into free agency, including Danielle Hunter. Jared Verse would provide an outstanding replacement or partner if Hunter is re-signed. Verse’s first step and speed-to-power conversion make him a candidate for the EDGE1 crown of this draft class.”

And he nailed the explanation: Minnesota needs EDGE rushers, plain and simple.

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).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.