Welcome to Fixing the Franchises!
This is a brand new article series where I will move from division to division, giving you my takes on how the four teams may attack the NFL Draft.
I’ll talk about what I think each team’s draft strategy might be, team needs, players who I think fill those needs at the relative value and a perfect prospect fit for each.
I’m going to kick the series off with the NCF North, I will drop four teams each Saturday for you guys to enjoy! Let’s get to it!
Mike Zimmer guided the Vikings to a 7-9 season in the NFC North, although that doesn’t really tell the story of what was a very Jekyll and Hyde season for Minnesota.
The Vikings began the season in wretched fashion, losing five of their first six games before a turnaround in form after their week 7 bye week, where they went on to win six of ten, and finish third in the division.
Last year the Vikings made a whopping 15 draft selections! So the roster is awash with young talent, headlined of course by receiving sensation, Justin Jefferson.
Minnesota are furnished with an abundance of picks yet again in the 2021 draft, with 12 picks to their name as things stand. Zimmer and GM, Rick Spielman swung 7 trades on draft weekend last year, and since they’re armed with 12 picks this year, I’d expect them to move around the draft board in a similar fashion this year, too.
So what do they need?
The standout holes on the roster revolve around the trenches on both sides of the ball. It feels like forever since the Vikings have had a good offensive line and it remains an issue in 2021; is Riley Reiff a starting left tackle? Who will replace Dakota Dozier at left guard? And will Garrett Bradbury take steps forward?
On the other side of the ball Minnesota seems to lack juice in the pass rush. Last year they lost interior push in the form of Linval Joseph, they replaced him with Michael Pierce only to see their offseason signing opt-out of the season due to COVID concerns.
The Vikings traded for Yannick Ngakoue, in an attempt to team him up with Danielle Hunter off the edge, but shipped him off to Baltimore almost as quickly as he arrived, so again the pass rushing department is lacking.
On the back end of their defense, Anthony Harris and Georgia Iloka are both free agents, so safety will be on the shopping list. Perhaps twice too,considering Harrison Smith could be cut for a saving which is nigh on $10m.
Picks available (Round) (all compensatory picks are projected, not confirmed):
Picks 14 (1), 78 (3), 90 (3), 102 (Compensatory 3), 120 (4), 126 (4), 135 (4), 161 (5), 172 (5), 202 (6), 224 (Compensatory 6), 240 (7)
What could the strategy be?
When you arrive on draft weekend owning north of 10 picks, you don’t usually want to make more than 10 selections, however in the past two drafts Minnesota have made 27 draft selections. 12 in 2019 and as mentioned previously, 15 in 2020 – Does this mean that the Vikings will continue to buck the trend and hoover up another 12 players?
With the salary cap shrinking, expensive veteran players on expensive contracts aren’t in vogue, so it may be financially prudent to take on another batch of younger, cheaper players.
Couple this with the fact that it’s never a bad thing to have more darts to throw and the fact that Zimmer and Spielman love to have flexibility in the draft and Minnesota could well be on the clock more than most on draft weekend.
Expect the Vikings to be running up a hefty phone bill in Cleveland as their maneuver around the draft order in search of guys they like.
Early Draft Business
As mentioned previously, the Vikings would be wise to look to fill the trenches early on in April’s draft.
The edge and defensive line classes aren’t too top heavy but the offensive line class is about as good as it has been in recent memory!
This means that their pick at 14 could be a nice sweet spot for a pass rusher – whether that be off the edge or through the middle remains to be seen. This could see a partner for Danielle Hunter brought in, perhaps Gregory Rousseau, Azeez Ojuri or even, Jaelen Phillips. If the Vikings opt for on internal push, I feel like the only feasible option would be former Alabama defensive tackle, Christian Barmore.
The Vikes are without a second rounder but as blessed with 3 more picks from 78-102 and in this draft class, teams will still be able to grab offensive linemen of note within that range.
They could be looking at Brady Christiansen of BYU, Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa or even Walker Little of Stanford.
On the interior maybe Tommy Kraemer (Notre Dame) or Sadarius Hutcherson (South Caroline) could hear their name called?
One area which might be tough to find without trading up is a safety – This is because the Vikings need a deeper safety, which are few and far between in this class. Pick 14 is way too early, yet 78 might be too late, so Spielman and Zimmer might find themselves in a quandary.
Will the likes of Andre Cisco or Richard LeCounte be there at 78? I feel this is likely but it’d be a waste of draft capital to have 12 picks and not use some to move up to get your guys on days 2 and 3.
Any late round gems that could take their fancy?
Since it’s Mike Zimmer, surely the Vikings will draft at least one corner, so how about keeping Benjamin St. Juste in Minnesota after his two seasons with the Golden Gophers?
St. Juste is a long and rangy corner who is a little rough around the edges, but since the roster would already contain; Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, the Vikings would be able to afford St. Juste the time to develop slowly, away from the harsh realities of being an outside corner in the NFL as a rookie.
Perfect prospect fit?
I really feel like pick 14 should be spent on a premium position which helps your team right away if at all possible and I feel like considering this class of edge defenders, 14 is a nice sweet spot for the Vikings to get Danielle Hunter a partner in crime.
Azeez Ojulari is head and shoulders above any of the other edge defenders for my money, not only now but the ceiling is also very high indeed!
The former Georgia man is a twitchy athlete so knows how to get to the QB, and he’s better against the run than he’s given credit for too.
He instantly upgrades the pass rush in Minnesota and would form a nice duo with Hunter.