OVERVIEW: There are changes afoot in our most recent mock draft that would have a big impact on the Vikings if it plays out like this on April 25. While we have found it difficult to change any of the top eight picks in the draft, there is a lot of shuffling beyond that point – changes that will have at least one player we previously projected to be gone by the time the Vikings draft suddenly being available, subjecting the Vikings’ brass to tough decisions when they are on the clock.
1. Kansas City – Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M. The best idea for the Chiefs may be to trade down a handful of spots and let someone else take the safest pick in the draft. Some might think putting the franchise tag on Branden Albert eliminates need, but with all the spending the Chiefs have done in free agency to add talent, Albert is only a one-year solution and there may not be enough money to sign him to a long-term deal at this point of drunken sailor-like spending.
2. Jacksonville – Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon. This is the spot we (currently) believe Jordan will drop, but whether it’s Jacksonville that makes the pick or not is the bigger question. Jordan is the most impactful pass rusher in the draft. A few years ago, he would have been branded a positional ’tweener, but in the new-look NFL anyone who can harass a quarterback has a ton of value. His value in a 3-4 defense is such that a team like Cleveland, Arizona or the Jets (and his former college coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach in Philadelphia at No. 4) might move up to grab him as a quick-fix option – an expensive quick fix, but one that may well be worth the risk.
3. Oakland – Sharrif Floyd, DT. Florida. He was the No. 2 defensive tackle on the board prior to the Combine, when Utah’s Star Lotulelei drew concerns over the flow of blood out of a ventricle in his heart. Now Floyd seems almost married to Raiders. Oakland has always been known for making crazy draft day decisions, so you have to take this pick with a grain of salt. This is the same bunch that bought into JaMarcus Russell one pick before a grateful Detroit Lions, who happily selected Calvin Johnson, and six picks later, a giddy Minnesota fan base begrudgingly welcomed Adrian Peterson. Nothing is certain with Oakland, but this may be as close as you get.
4. Philadelphia – Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama. The Eagles spent a ton on Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and all they got was tired cutting big checks. Neither ever seemed to be an ideal fit in Philly. The Eagles got rid of both of them and now have a huge need here. Milliner is head and shoulders the best corner in this year’s draft. If Chip Kelly loves his former protégé Dion Jordan, he could endorse that pick if he is still on the board, but after letting the Dream Team cornerbacks go away, they need help and Milliner is a quick fix to a current problem.
5. Detroit – Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU. The Lions lost Cliff Avril to free agency and cut Kyle Vanden Bosch after the season, so this is a big position of need for a defense that had trouble getting to the quarterback last year with their established guys. The Lions may use all of their picks on defense this year. This is an extremely deep defensive end crop, so the Lions may get enamored with another candidate, but defensive end is where this pick needs to be.
6. Cleveland – Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah. Trust us on this one. Whether Lotulelei ends up in Cleveland, his stock is going to be on the rise despite concerns long-term about investing in a player with heart questions – not his willingness to play through pain, but literally his heart. While he didn’t play SEC-style competition, Lotulelei was dominant at his position and with the proper coaching could become a dominant NFL lane-clogger. The Cleveland defense isn’t that far away from being very good and Lotulelei could be the biggest piece of that puzzle.
7. Arizona – Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan. QB Geno Smith makes sense here, but the Cardinals signed Drew Stanton with the belief he can be the starter and traded for Carson Palmer. Still, the team has been a revolving door at QB since Kurt Warner retired so Smith remains a distinct possibility. My concern on Fisher is the level of competition he played. Central Michigan is not the SEC … not by a long shot. Some scouts think he could be the No. 2 pick. I still have my reservations and I think teams in the top five will, too.
8. Buffalo – Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Ryan Fitzpatrick was an expensive mistake and was cut in early March. With Tarvaris Jackson as the incumbent and rental QB Kevin Kolb in the mix, Smith will still get every chance to win the job this year and, if he doesn't, will still likely have the job handed to him next year. If Smith goes to Arizona, as I suspect will be the growing sentiment as we get closer to the draft, USC’s Matt Barkley is a possibility. However, I don’t grade Barkley out as a first-round talent, so the Bills could trade back and let someone else in on the action. Scroll down at the teams with picks remaining in the first round and find one that would use its first-round pick on Barkley. The Bills could drop a lot and still get him.
9. New York Jets – Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU. The Jets have so many needs on both sides of the ball that they could just as likely trade down from this spot to acquire more picks or, if they stay here, could go in multiple directions on either side of the ball. However, one of the biggest weaknesses that hurt the Jets last year was an inconsistent and ineffective pass rush. Mingo can provide an upgrade to the front end of the defense and, depending on what the Jets do with Darrelle Revis, the options could only increase as the draft nears.
10. Tennessee – Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina. The Titans are an offense that runs through Chris Johnson and that’s not going to change, especially with the signing of Shonn Greene to give the backfield a 1-2 punch. This is historically a bit too high to take a guard, but many scouts envision Cooper as the type that of player that would be an ideal replacement for retired Steve Hutchinson and, with the Titans gearing up to be a ground and pound offense, Cooper is an ideal addition.
11. San Diego – Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma. Philip Rivers has dropped out of the conversation among the elite QBs in the NFL and much of the reason is that his O-line has been so porous he doesn’t have time to throw his patented shot-put passes. Johnson is an immediate and much-needed upgrade. The Chargers have identified offensive line as a need for the past three years – whether at tackle, guard or center – yet each year that follows, O-line remains a front-burner problem. This time, they get the job done and land a left tackle that they hope can man the position for the next decade.
12. Miami – Chance Warmack, G, Alabama. The Dolphins addressed most of their pressing needs in free agency, plugging gaps at wide receiver (Wallace and Gibson), linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler) and tight end (Dustin Keller). They would love for Fisher or Johnson to fall to this spot so they can replace Jake Long, but there isn’t an offensive tackle left at this point that warrants selection here. Warmack is an elite guard that can dominate at his position and give the O-line some immediate improvement. Trading down remains a very viable option – dropping a couple of spots, picking up a fourth-round pick, and taking Alabama’s D.J. Fluker.
13. Tampa Bay – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State. The Bucs have a proud tradition of strong secondary play, dating back to the arrival of Tony Dungy in 1999, but with the trade of Aqib Talib and the aging of Ronde Barber, both cornerback and safety became priority issues. The signing of 49er safety Dashon Goldson eased the problem there. Now it’s time to address cornerback and Rhodes can give the Buccaneers a player that can be put on an island. With six games against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, cornerback is a big priority. In recent days the Buccaneers have been linked to trading this pick to the Jets for Darrelle Revis. If that happens, this pick may still be Rhodes, but it will be New York making the selection.
14. Carolina – Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri. The Panthers used to be defined by their defensive line play. In recent years, they’ve stunk, especially up the middle. This is a need pick that matches up nicely with the “best player on the board” philosophy. If Lotulelei makes it past Oakland and Tennessee, he would be a value pick here and they will jump on him. Richardson isn’t a bad consolation prize for a team looking to toughen up the interior of its D-line.
15. New Orleans – Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia. With the free agent loss of Jermon Bushrod to free agency, if one of the top offensive linemen should slip to this spot, the Saints likely wouldn’t hesitate plugging in an elite lineman here. But considering that we have projected five of them to already be gone, the Saints address one of their multiple defensive needs. Ogletree has some off-field issues that might scare away some teams, but the Saints defense doesn’t have the luxury to pick and choose choirboys. They need to grab talent and, at this point, Ogletree is the most likely to make an immediate impact for a defense in need.
16. St. Louis – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. Few players have their stock on the rise more than Austin. While Cordarrelle Patterson has the most upside, for the Sam Bradford offense, Austin has a chance to catch 80-100 passes right out of the gate and become Danny Amendola Version 2.0. This pick would seem to come down to two players – Austin and safety Kenny Vaccaro. There is a chance Vaccaro is still on the board at No. 22 with the pick acquired in the RG3 trade, but the fast-rising Austin won’t be there, somewhat forcing the Rams’ hand.
17. Pittsburgh – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia. The Steelers have several directions in which they could go – safety and wide receiver are distinct possibilities – but the Steelers defense has long been typified by the active play of its linebackers and Jones is a legitimate top-10 talent that has fallen farther than his value should allow. The Steelers, as much as any team in the NFL, build there roster through the draft. When a talent like Jones falls into their lap, they don’t blink. They smile and take him. Jones should be able to step in immediately and make an impact for the black and gold.
18. Dallas – Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas. The Cowboys have struggled defensively the last couple of seasons and one of the reasons has been inconsistent play in the secondary. Vaccaro makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, he is the clear-cut top safety in this year’s draft class. Second, as a member of the Longhorns, Cowboys fans are comfortable with him and he will help sell jerseys to the fan base. Nothing is guaranteed when Jerry Jones is on the clock, but this seems like an ideal marriage of talent, value and hometown considerations.
19. New York Giants – Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame. The Giants haven’t had a meaningful game-changer at tight end since they traded Jeremy Shockey to the Saints when his attitude wore thin on the front office. Eifert’s strong combine performance pushed him past Stanford’s Zach Ertz as the top TE in the draft. Despite signing Brandon Myers to a contract, the Giants did the exact same thing with Martellus Bennett last year. He had a good season and now he’s gone. Eifert gives the Giants a long-term solution to the tight end problem. Having Myers there gives Eli Manning a veteran move-the-chains tight end like he was for Carson Palmer in Oakland. Eifert is worth doubling down on if the Giants intend to make another Super Bowl run.
20. Chicago – D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama. The Chicago offensive line has been a mess for the last couple of years and remains a work in progress. The Bears would love to see one of the top left tackles drop to this spot, but they got scooped up quickly in the first half of the first round. Instead, Chicago opts to take the best run-blocking right tackle in the draft in hopes of solidifying that side of the line and hope to make things work until they can land a pure left tackle to finally put an end to the failed J’Marcus Webb experiment.
21. Cincinnati – Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington. This might seem a bit like overkill given that the Bengals already have Leon Hall and used one of their two first-round picks last year on Dre Kirkpatrick. However, the Bengals are in a position to take over the AFC North. With the Ravens losing a handful of starters following their Super Bowl win and the Steelers aging at key positions, the Bengals have quietly made the playoffs the last two seasons. Trufant is a playmaker who can play in the slot immediately and compete for a starting job sooner than later, giving the Bengals the potential to have the best secondary in the AFC if they’re willing to take the chance.
22. St. Louis (from Washington) – Matt Elam, S, Florida. This may be a little bit high for Elam by our rankings, but several teams have needs at safety between now and when the Rams pick again. After releasing one starter (Quintin Mikell) and losing the other (Craig Dahl) to free agency, the need exceeds the desire to stick to their own rankings. A glaring need can force players up the draft board and this is an example of need trumping “best player available.” After landing a playmaking wide receiver with their first pick, the Rams draft for need here.
23. Minnesota – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. This would be an ideal scenario for the Vikings if the draft falls this way. Patterson, in my view, has the greatest upside of any receiver in this year’s draft, but to realize his potential he can’t be asked to be the go-to guy immediately. If he went somewhere like St. Louis or Pittsburgh (which are both possibilities), he would be asked to be the No. 1 receiver. With Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph as Christian Ponder’s primary targets, Patterson can be worked into the game plan in increments and be used early on as a one-trick pony on deep passes as he makes the adjustment to the pros. In draft terms, he is similar to Randy Moss and Percy Harvin – a player too talented to fall all the way to the Vikings, but a player they gladly scoop up after 20-plus teams passed on him.
24. Indianapolis – Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State. I’m not a huge fan of this pick because Watson is a gamble on greatness who has played only one full season of D-1 football. There is no questioning his measurables, which are off the charts, but playing offensive tackle in the NFL is no picnic. Someone is going to take a leap of faith that they have the coaching staff that can polish this diamond and turn him into a solid pro, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Watson may not be a Day 1 starter, but could end up on the right side of the line at tackle or guard early on with the plan being to make him Andrew Luck’s blindside protector for the rest of the decade.
25. Minnesota (from Seattle) – Kevin Minter, MLB, LSU. Kind of like the Tripod of Authority that made decisions for Vikings’ past, this is one that I disagree with, but go along with because of our consensus-building that goes into the draft. MLB is clearly a need and, while I have Minter graded out at a high second-round prospect, scouts we’ve spoken with think Minter is a better fit for the Vikings scheme than Manti Te’o. If it was up to me, I would take a chance on Te’o and let the Fighting Irish fraternity already on the roster take him under the wings and get the most out of him. But the group feeling is that Minter can patrol the center of the defense with better speed and agility, which is what the Vikings need most.
26. Green Bay – Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama. I don’t have a running back with a first-round grade, but enough is enough as it pertains to awful backfield play in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers has never had a running back behind him that can keep defenses honest since before Ahman Green hit the proverbial running back wall. Lacy is the best of the Class of 2013 and, while he may be a bit of a reach at this point in the draft, this is a forced pick because they’ve learned the hard way that they need a featured back with young legs. As much as the passing game dominates the NFL, the Packers have become the most one-dimensional team in the NFL. Rodgers is good enough to keep Green Bay competitive by ignoring the run game, but being a one-dimensional offense only gets you so far. The Packers can make the playoffs without a run game, but can’t win a Super Bowl. Lacy is a reach, but he is as valuable a need pick as any in this part of the draft.
27. Houston – Keenan Allen, WR, Cal. The Texans would be ecstatic if Allen is still on the board at this point. Viewed by some as the best pure NFL-ready receiver in the draft, the Texans are desperately looking for someone to line up opposite Andre Johnson, with the intent of eventually replacing Johnson as the go-to receiver in the offense. Allen wouldn’t have a big learning curve, and with a team many believe is poised to make a Super Bowl run in 2013 Allen won’t be pushed into being the go-to guy and can develop naturally – which could end up making him the best value at WR in this year’s draft class two or three years down the line.
28. Denver – Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina. Starters Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson were pedestrian at best last year and both hit the free agent market. The Broncos re-signed Vickerson, but he isn’t the answer – long-term or short-term. Even if both are re-signed, an upgrade is needed. The Elvis Dumervil snafu (who still uses a fax machine in the electronic era?) could create a new need if he ends up signing with another team. Denver is amassing the troops for a Super Bowl run and need to improve the interior of the defensive front in order to get that done.
29. New England – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State. Prior to the combine, Werner was viewed as a top-5 to -10 pick, but ran a slow 40 time and saw his stock drop. However, the Patriots are all about drafting talent and having a specific plan in mind for making them role players. Someone with Werner’s talent could excel in the Pats’ defense and would be an ideal combination of talent and a game plan that will bring out the best in him. The rich just keep getting richer.
30. Atlanta – Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford. The Falcons convinced Tony Gonzalez to come back for another season, but it’s clear that he is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. Ertz is viewed by some as the best tight end in this year’s draft class and, with a year to learn from arguably the greatest tight end to ever play the game, the transition from Gonzo to Ertz could be a work in progress that will help Atlanta maintain one of the most potent passing attacks in the league. No team depends on its top two wide receivers and its tight end more than the Falcons, who had their Big 3 combine for 264 receptions (an average of 88 catches each). It may seem like overkill here, but, with the free agent signing of Osi Umenyiora, the glaring need at defensive end may take a back seat here.
31. San Francisco – Margus Hunt, DE, SMU. A fast-rising massive lineman, Hunt is “old” (26 this year), but he would be a specialist early on in the 49ers defense. He has an amazing size-speed ratio that the 49ers, who have most of their component parts in place, could use. This may be viewed as a luxury pick because the 49ers have so many picks during the draft, but it will be difficult for the majority of them to make the roster. Hunt is a roll of the dice on greatness. Safety Matt Elam could be a possibility here after losing Dashon Goldson to free agency, but the Niners have an embarrassment of riches in terms of draft picks that will allow them to move up whenever they want throughout the draft to target a player they covet.
32. Baltimore – Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame. Prior to the BSC Championship Game and the girlfriend hoax, I saw Teo as a top-10 pick. The beating Alabama put on Te’o and Notre Dame has been forgotten by most fans other than those of the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide. Fans still harp on the fake girlfriend. Scouts couldn’t care less about the hoax; they’re more concerned about what they saw on the BCS tape. However, the Ravens had one of the league’s best linebacker corps last year, but with Ray Lewis retired, Paul Kruger in Cleveland and Dannell Ellerbe in Miami, the need in Baltimore to improve the linebacker position is stronger now than it has been in a long time. Hoax or no hoax, he’s still a talented player and, in the Ravens’ 3-4, he’s badly needed.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.