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Mel Kiper Jr. has Vikings taking a cornerback in his first mock draft

Mike Zimmer may be gone, but the tradition lives on.

If you thought that Mike Zimmer's departure meant the Vikings were done taking cornerbacks in the first round of the NFL Draft, Mel Kiper Jr. has something for you.

In his first mock draft of the season, the ESPN draft guru has the Vikings taking Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner with the 12th overall pick in this year's draft.

"Since 2013, the Vikings have drafted four cornerbacks in Round 1 ... and not a single one of them is still on the roster," Kiper explained. "Coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are out, and the new regime will inherit a good, not great, roster with a couple of significant voids, particularly at corner. Veteran Patrick Peterson was signed to a one-year deal last offseason, so he's a free agent, and I'm not sold that Cameron Dantzler is a quality starter. They should jump at the chance to take Gardner, a lockdown corner who presented problems for opposing offensive coordinators in 2021."

In 14 games this season, Gardner was one of the top cornerbacks in the country. He allowed just 0.26 yards per coverage snap, recorded three interceptions and ranked 10th among qualifying cornerbacks with an 87.2 Pro Football Focus grade as the Bearcats qualified for the College Football Playoff.

While Gardner could be a big piece to a revamped secondary, many will be fixated on Vikings' decision at quarterback. 

Kirk Cousins is due for an NFL-leading $45 million cap hit next season, which puts pressure on the Vikings. Even if the Vikings decide to let Cousins play at his massive salary, they could be in the market for a quarterback to take over in 2023.

"With Cousins not locked in long term, I thought about a quarterback here," Kiper admitted. "But Gardner is too good to pass up for a team in glaring need."

Liberty's Malik Willis (11th overall to Washington) is the only quarterback off the board before the Vikings' pick in Kiper's first mock but that could change throughout the offseason. If the Vikings want to move on it, appears they will at least have options.

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