99 Days Until the Draft: 9 Intriguing Draft Prospects for Vikings

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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.

It’s a crucial offseason for the Minnesota Vikings as the organization must decide on the future of the quarterback position. Will it be Kirk Cousins, a rookie, or both? In addition to that, Danielle Hunter is a free agent, and the remaining pass rushers, Andre Carter and Patrick Jones, need company. Brian Flores’ defense needs some help, in general.

99 Days Until the Draft: 9 Intriguing Draft Prospects for Vikings

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Because of those uncertainties, it is almost impossible to predict Minnesota’s draft selection. The Vikes have the 11th overall pick, their highest selection in years. Trae Waynes was the 11th pick in 2015, and Anthony Barr was the 9th in 2014. Here are nine possible draft choices.

1. Dallas Turner

The Vikings need a pass-rusher with Hunter and his teammates Marcus Davenport and D.J. Wonnum scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Drafting Alabama’s top defender is rarely a bad idea. Dallas Turner produced 22.5 sacks in three seasons and is a natural pass-rusher.

99 Days Until the Draft: 9 Intriguing Draft Prospects for Vikings
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While his run defense is far from perfect, he has the athletic tools to be a scary edge defender for many years. Turner might simply be the most impressive player in this class from an athletic standpoint. Some refinement in his technique, and the Vikings get a fantastic player with upside, filling a position of need.

2. J.J. McCarthy

It remains to be seen how general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah deals with veteran Kirk Cousins, who is 35 and currently rehabbing a season-ending Achilles injury. For that reason, the organization must find his successor, whether he returns for another year or two or not.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy celebrates after the 34-13 win over Washington to win the national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

That successor could be Michigan’s national champion, J.J. McCarthy. The passer is still only 20 years old, making him the perfect player to sit behind a veteran before he takes over. While he was viewed as a game manager at Michigan, he offers a good athletic profile and is an accurate passer. He needs to improve his decision-making and ability to make full-field reads. Both will come with experience and coaching.

3. Jer’Zhan Newton

Minnesota’s interior defensive line has been a disaster for years, especially the pass rush. Top lineman Harrison Phillips is a run-stopper and one of the best in the league. But neither he nor his teammates can get to the quarterback. That is where defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton is a candidate for the Vikings.

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In his last two seasons at Illinois, Newton tabulated 13 sacks, and just last season, his 43 QB pressures placed him among the top interior defenders in college football. In 2022, Newton had the nation’s most QB hits and ranked second in pressures.

If the Vikings intend to bolster the defensive line in the first round, Newton is the best choice, and he would be a wonderful fit next to Phillips.

4. Jayden Daniels

The quarterback from LSU might be the most exciting signal-caller in the upcoming draft, as he offers absurd speed and burst for a quarterback and still has a decent arm. His athleticism makes him a running threat on every play, and 50 or 60-yard touchdown runs happen frequently when he is under center.

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Taking care of the football, great pocket presence, and timing on passing plays are three of his strengths, while his accuracy is questionable. However, the Heisman winner has improved drastically in that area, indicating that future progress is possible, and he has produced more high-end throws than any other player in this draft class.

5. Laiatu Latu

Turner isn’t the only intriguing pass-rusher who is a frequent target for the Vikings in mock drafts. Laiatu Latu has been one of the most productive players in this class. He racked up 23.5 sacks in the last two seasons and added 34 tackles for loss.

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An outstanding talent, but some teams will be hesitant to draft him as a neck injury threatened his career in 2020 before a transfer to UCLA kickstarted his collegiate career. If his medical evaluations aren’t a red flag for the Vikings, Latu could end up with the team and become an immediate difference-maker on a defense that lacks those.

6. Bo Nix

Another passer, Bo Nix, had a fascinating college career, starting at Auburn before transferring to Oregon, where his numbers exploded in an extremely QB-friendly offense. Nix has the size and athleticism to be called dual-threat. In the last two seasons, Nix passed for 74 scores and added 20 on the ground.

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Oregon quarterback Bo Nix celebrates after running for a touchdown as the Oregon Ducks host Colorado in the Pac-12 opener on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. © Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK.

With 61 career games under his belt and turning 24 before the draft, the question is how much untapped potential Nix has left. Some analysts and teams will fall in love with him; others will drop him all the way into rounds two or three. If the Vikings like him, he could be a target for Kevin O’Connell’s offense.

7. Michael Penix Jr.

Unlike Nix, Washington’s Michael Penix is not a project but a pro-ready quarterback. He executed the offense in Washington with a bunch of future NFL receivers and NFL passing concepts. Penix has a canon arm, can process the field better than most, and is one of the most lethal deep ball throwers to enter a draft in recent years.

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But there are some problems. He is a pocket passer and doesn’t have the mobility of the other QBs on this list. He has already suffered two torn ACLs and a pair of shoulder injuries, and he struggles under pressure, as seen when he went up against Michigan’s defense in the championship game. His draft stock is unpredictable because of the medicals, and he is an older player, but his skill set is intriguing.

8. Kool-Aid McKinstry

In recent drafts, the Vikings were always in desperate need of a cornerback, but with the signing of Byron Murphy and three young CBs (Mekhi Blackmon, Andrew Booth, Akayleb Evans) on the roster, it is not as much of a need as some other positions.

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban yells at Alabama defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) after he drew a pass interference call during the College Football Playoff National Championship against Georgia on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Georgia won 33-18. News Joshua L Jones

However, it is an important spot, and an upgrade can transform Flores’ group. Kool-Aid McKinstry has the prototypical size and the movement skills to thrive in the NFL. His coverage skills are still raw, but at age 21, he has some time to figure things out, and facing Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison in practice helps.

9. Drake Maye

This one is unlikely, but if the Vikings manage to string together a massive trade package, Drake Maye should be the target. At 6’4″ and 230 lbs, Maye has the size and the speed to run the football when a play breaks down, and folks see regularly how important that is when Josh Allen is on TV.

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But that’s only a small part of what makes him special. He has no weakness in his game. Pairing a strong arm with excellent accuracy and an understanding of offensive plays and defenses, Maye is a phenomenal prospect, a player who would likely be the first player taken in many classes without Caleb Williams.

It won’t be cheap, but it would be the splash move Kwesi Adofo-Mensah reportedly tried to make last year to find THE guy, not just a guy.

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