The Minnesota Vikings have plenty of needs on their roster and a big question looming at quarterback. While the group of prospect quarterbacks had a good week at the NFL Combine with Malik Willis shining in his workout and Desmond Ridder and Kenny Pickett turning heads with their performances in drills, it was another position that truly took over Indianapolis -- and that position so happens to be one that the Vikings really need.
Entering the week, the defensive line group was already considered the most talented and deep position in the entire 2022 draft class. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah had 14 defensive line prospects in his top-50. PFF’s big board had 14. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had 12. Each had many more defensive linemen just outside the top-50. After this week, the number is only expected to grow as many of the top prospects cemented their status and others answered some major question marks about their game.
Let’s start at the top. Michigan’s Aiden Hutchinson put together a phenomenal combine. While his 4.74 40-yd dash was impressive, what really set him apart were his three-cone (6.73 seconds) and short shuttle (4.15). Those numbers rival most NFL slot wide receivers. Jamar Chase ran a 6.96 three-cone and a 3.99 short shuttle. Stefon Diggs ran a 7.03 three-cone and 4.32 short shuttle.
One stat I’ll reference throughout is relative athletic score (RAS) which takes all the prospects’ height, weight, bench press, 40-yd dash, 10- and 20-second splits, three-cone, short shuttle, broad and vertical jump stats and compares them against prospects of the same position dating back to 1987.
Hutchinson RAS was in the 98th percentile of all defensive linemen since 1987. The next best defensive lineman, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, had a RAS in the 96th percentile.
While those two players will be gone by pick No. 12, several others in the Vikings’ range performed incredibly well. Georgia’s Trayvon Walker tested in the 99th percentile, running a 4.51 40-yd dash at 272 pounds. Like Hutchinson, he also put up slot receiver numbers with the three-cone and short shuttle. Michigan’s David Ojabo had a fantastic day, with a relative athletic score in the 91st percentile. Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson and Minnesota’s Boye Mafe also had incredible days.
Finally, Georgia’s Jordan Davis had maybe the best combine performance of any defensive tackle ever. Davis’ athletic score was in the 100th percentile as he ran a 4.78 40-yd dash at 341 (!!!) pounds.
Oh, he also set the broad jump record for anyone over 300 pounds.
All of this is good news for the Vikings. There will almost certainly be value at the No. 12 pick, whether that’s Walker, Ojabo, Johnson, Iowa’s George Karlaftis, or others. It also means they could be in a prime spot to trade back, like they did last year, and still take a defensive lineman. If they opt for a different position in round one, there are also likely to be solid options in the second round, like Mafe, although his performance may have pushed him too far up draft boards. Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie and USC’s Drake Jackson are also options.
How the most mocked Vikings prospects fared
LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. has routinely been connected with the Vikings by draft analysts. Stingley chose not to participate in any of the drills at the combine, opting to wait until his pro day on April 6 as he’s still recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Here’s what he had to say about his recovery:
"My rehab is ahead of schedule right now,'' Stingley said. "... I'm on pace to do what I have to do at pro day.''
"I'm almost close to 100 percent, right now getting into running, starting to do a couple plants, breaking downhill, that's really where I'm at,'' Stingley said.
Stingley had the surgery in late September and was given a 4-6 month timeline for recovery.
So all the data we have to work on are his measurables. He measured in at 6’0 ¼”, 190 pounds with a 30 ⅝” arm length and 74 ⅛” wingspan. Those numbers are nearly a carbon copy of Carolina Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
While Stingley said no teams have expressed concern about his injury, ESPN’s Matt Miller tweeted this:
Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner has also been oft-mocked to the Vikings. Gardner had the best day of the top cornerbacks. He ran a 4.41 40-yd dash, which is impressive without any other context. Then add in his freakish length and that makes it even more special. Sauce measured in at 6’2 ½” with 33 ½” arms. To put that in context, of 1,176 CBs at the combine with arm & height measurements since 1987, only six other CBs measured with 33 ½” arms and stood at least 6' ½ -¾.”
He also came to combine looking like this:
Iowa EDGE George Karlaftis - Karlaftis did not run the 40-yd dash or the three-cone but did everything else. He put up a relatively average 21 bench press reps but impressed with elite vertical and broad jumps. Altogether, he tested in the 87th percentile according to RAS.
Washington CB Trent McDuffie - McDuffie ran a similar 40-yd time (4.44) as Sauce but within a much different context. Standing at 5’11 with 29 ¾” arms, his size did raise some question marks. Most successful cornerbacks have 30” inch arms or longer. Here’s a look at recent CBs who haven’t met that threshold.
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum - Linderbaum was another prospect that declined to do all combine drills. He will go through all those drills during his pro day. So all that’s left to dissect is his measurables, which many have over the last 48 hours.
Linderbaum was measured with 31 ⅛” arms. Which gives him one of the smallest arm lengths out of any offensive linemen since 2000. For reference, Garrett Bradbury arms are 31 ¾”. We will have to see if that negatively affects his draft stock over the next few weeks.
The idea of the Vikings taking a quarterback is starting to gain momentum from draft opinionists. PFF's mock draft by Steve Palozzolo has the Vikings picking Malik Willis -- though after a strong week in Indy, he might not be available.
All of this lines up for the Vikings to have a ton of options at serious positions of need with the No. 12 overall pick. Last year the team traded down and still took one of their top targets in Christian Darrisaw. We could see that strategy again this year with the sheer number of players who lit up