The 2021 NFL Draft is quickly approaching and general manager Rick Spielman has ten draft picks to fill the Minnesota Vikings draft needs.
In free agency, Minnesota’s decision-makers prioritized addressing a defense that allowed 29.7 points per game (fourth-most in the NFL). While a case could be made for drafting a defender at No. 14, the Vikings might want to take advantage of an offensive-rich pool of first-round talent.
We’ll break down four NFL draft prospects to keep an eye on when the Vikings are on the clock on April 29. First, here are some top team needs.
Identifying top targets for Minnesota Vikings draft needs
If we ranked the Vikings’ most pressing needs, left tackle and left guard would be at the very top. Thankfully, the 2021 draft class features plenty of offensive tackle depth and Spielman boasts a quality draft record.
The Vikings have plenty of other needs. Mike Zimmer’s defense requires a pass rusher opposite of Danielle Hunter to form a suffocating D-line capable of generating consistent pressure.
With Harrison Smith’s future up in the air entering a contract year, don’t be surprised to see a safety, providing competition with Xavier Woods for a starting role. With Anthony Barr also entering the final year of his contract, his long-term replacement could be drafted.
Minnesota targeting another receiver to help offset losing Kyle Rudolph could be useful for new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak.
Quarterback must also be considered. Kirk Cousins will enter a contract year in 2022, a prime opportunity for Minnesota to trade him. If one of the top quarterback prospects falls to No. 14, Spielman might not hesitate to take him.
Offensive line: Rashawn Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker
Considered the 2nd-best tackle prospect in the 2021 draft class, Rashawn Slater has the makeup of a Pro Bowl player in the NFL. Some question his arm length, suggesting a move to guard may be ideal. However, Slater’s fluid athleticism should allow him to stick at left tackle.
Slater held his own in 2019 against 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young. If the Vikings manage to land Slater at pick No. 14, fans in the Twin Cities and the surrounding area should be jumping for joy.
While Slater could be a steal, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker may be the best prospect projected to play guard in this draft class. While he has experience playing left tackle in college, many think his best position is at OG.
AVT is outstanding in pass protection, with the top pass-blocking grade in the draft class per PFF. Like Slater, scouts question his length, hence the suggested move to guard.
While guards are rarely taken in the top 15 picks (two in the past five years), finding two starting-caliber interior linemen may be easier than finding a franchise left tackle.
AVT should be available when the Vikings are on the clock, but Spielman may be tempted to move down to add more draft capital. In any event, coming away with Vera-Tucker should ease concerns about patching up the 28th-ranked pass-blocking unit.
Quarterback: Trey Lance
The idea of drafting a quarterback, who likely wouldn’t play in 2021 given Minnesota’s playoff aspirations, makes some fans irate. The truth is, if Trey Lance, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones grades as the best player available, the Vikings would be foolish to pass on a potential franchise quarterback.
I don’t see the appeal for Jones to replace Kirk Cousins. If the Vikings really felt Cousins was holding the team back, it wouldn’t be because of arm talent. Switching from Cousins to Jones is, in a realistic scenario, a lateral move at best.
That’s why an athlete like Lance or Fields may pique their interest. In Kubiak’s offense with Dalvin Cook, a quarterback capable of extending plays could help cover up offensive line mishaps. Cook can already make defenders miss with the best of them, but Cousins struggles when the line doesn’t hold up, as many quarterbacks do.
The Vikings’ weapons, paired with a dual-threat quarterback, could be nearly unstoppable. It would also allow them to get away from the soaring costs of Cousins’ contract.
Landing the hometown kid in Lance as the Vikings’ quarterback of the future seems like a dream come true for all parties involved, sans Captain Kirk.
Linebacker/safety: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Zimmer mentioned he wants to get back to operating a fast, hard-hitting defense that plays with physicality. While every NFL team operates with that formula, it could hint at the kind of player Minnesota will target.
Notre Dame prospect Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fits that mold to a T. Projecting as a linebacker/safety hybrid, JOK could be the missing puzzle piece to solving recent defensive woes.
Losing Eric Wilson may not be felt immediately, as the team typically trots out two linebackers in their base defense. But the questionable futures of Barr and Harrison Smith could prompt action. Adding a versatile playmaker like JOK who can disguise his role on any given play a la Hitman Harry, would give Zimmer more options on Sundays.
Owusu-Koramoah isn’t afraid to punish players with his explosively hard hits. Many draft analysts aren’t hesitant to say he’s the hardest hitter in the draft.
As the NFL shifts to positionless defenders at times, JOK fits the hybrid role and fills one of the Vikings draft needs.