If you want to know how to win an NFL draft press conference, you just need to say three words: Best player available.
It’s what every general manager preaches at every turn. You know all the clichés. “Don’t reach, that’s when mistakes happen” and “We just want good football players.”
It all sounds great. And, for the record, it is the best strategy. They are clichés for a reason. But often, when that general manager finds themselves on the clock, their strategy suddenly shifts. Drafting the best player available is the right decision, but many teams aren’t in the position to do so. The combination of positional need and the internal/external pressure to win shifts the parameters.
Throughout this offseason, that’s where it appeared the Vikings were headed — operating under the guise of a BPA approach but hamstrung by several glaring needs that would force them to reach in the draft.
With the team committed to a “competitive rebuild,” they entered the offseason with some massive holes at cornerback, interior offensive line and EDGE. To embody any “competitive” part of a “competitive rebuild,” they needed to fill those holes.
But the outlook has changed.
The signings of Za’Darius Smith, Chris Reed, Jesse Davis, Austin Schlottman, Chandon Sullivan and the re-signing of Patrick Peterson have put the Vikings in a spot where they can take the best player available in the draft. The additions shore up immediate needs and establish a higher floor at those spots.
If the Vikings hadn’t re-signed Peterson, for example, they would have had no proven outside cornerback to start on the other side of Cameron Dantzler. Corner would have become a need that had to be addressed in one of the first two rounds of the draft.
Had they not added Smith, they would have been forced into a situation where they couldn’t leave the draft without pass rushing help.
Even the signing of several depth pieces in the interior of the offensive line avoids a situation where the Vikings need to reach on both talent and value with an interior lineman in the draft.
Drafting a cornerback with the No. 12 pick and an EDGE or offensive lineman in the second round is still entirely feasible, it’s now just one of many different strategies Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his staff can employ. It’s no longer a disaster if a cornerback doesn’t fall to them at No. 12 or if the Vikings miss a run on edge rushers. They now have options.
So what are those options? Here's what the latest mock drafts are telling us about the Vikings' possibilities in the draft...
The Vikings will likely miss the first run of EDGE defenders
The rapid rise of Travon Walker and Jermaine Johnson is notable. Before the NFL Combine, both were being mocked right around the Vikings’ pick. Looking at betting odds, Trayvon Walker is now -450 to be a top-five pick and Jermaine Johnson is -165 to be a top-10 pick. Combine that with the injury to Michigan’s David Ojabo and it looks like the Vikings will miss out on the top-tier of EDGE defenders. That is unless they believe Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis is in that tier. Karlaftis’ stock has trended downward after many of the other EDGE prospects had much better combine performances. Bleacher Report and PFF are highest on him, ranking him 6th and 10th, respectively on their big boards. However, nearly all of the other top analysts have him ranked in the 20s.
The Vikings have a good chance at either Kyle Hamilton or Derek Stingley
While they may miss out on some rising EDGE prospects, the Vikings will have a chance to scoop up a talented secondary piece that is falling. Both considered top-five picks earlier in the draft season, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton have both dropped. Stingley’s fall has been a steady drop down draft boards as he has been unable to participate in any on-field activity as he recovers from a lisfranc injury. Hamilton’s 40-time has caused his stock to fall. First, it was a 4.59 at the combine then a reported 4.70 at his pro day.
Stingley’s current over/under draft position is right at 12.5, slightly favored towards the over. That indicates the markets believe it’s very possible Stingley will be there for the Vikings and that they could potentially pass on him. Hamilton’s over/under is 8.5 but heavily favors the over.
The Vikings could have the second pick at QB
Since the Kirk Cousins extension, the thought of picking a QB at No. 12 has been out of my mind. I still think it’s highly unlikely they’ll go that route, given the moves they’ve made this offseason intending to be competitive.
Historically, QBs rise dramatically leading up to the draft as coaches get involved and convince themselves they can fix any QB they draft. But this year Malik Willis is the only one that is rising. I’d be shocked if he’s not picked in the top-10 and it’s a possibility he goes No. 2 to the Lions. But if the Vikings have another QB prospect they feel strongly about, it’s likely he could be on the board at No. 12. Interestingly, both mock drafts have the Panthers going with EDGE. They would seem like the next likely team to pick a QB and if they don’t, it opens up a lot of possibilities for the Vikings.
Until they're on the clock, of course, we'll see plenty of "smoke screen" reports and GMs talking about taking the best player available.