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Minnesota Vikings mock draft 2023: Rebuilding the Brian Flores-led defense

After having a wildly successful 13-win season after putting a pair of first-year leaders on the job, it’s pretty clear where the Minnesota Vikings need to improve. They feel they have the right men in charge, with general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, and head coach Kevin O’Connell, but now they need to put the right roster pieces in place.

Last year they took a ready-to-win Vikings roster and made few drastic changes to the player personnel. This time, we could see the front office place a much larger fingerprint on this team.

But that’s what the NFL Draft is for, giving decision-makers a chance to build, not just for this season but for the next. While each team is given seven picks, the Vikings got started early, trading some of those selections away to acquire Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson and others.

Now the Vikings sit with just five draft selections heading into draft weekend. This is far from Rick Spielman’s preferred ten draft picks or “lottery balls.” Needless to say, nailing the scouting and pre-draft process will be essential for the Vikings to maintain their progress last season and avoid a slump in 2023.

Who knows? There’s always the possibility of drafting a true star, such as they did with the 22nd pick in 2020 with Justin Jefferson, but those cases are extremely rare. With April 27 drawing near, we offer an early preview of how the Vikings’ 2023 NFL Draft could go.

Related: 3 Minnesota Vikings wide receiver targets in NFL Draft

Minnesota Vikings draft picks 2023

Here are the Minnesota Vikings’ draft picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • Round 1, 23rd overall
  • Round 3, 87th overall
  • Round 4, 119th overall
  • Round 5, 160th overall
  • Round 5, 177th overall

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order

2023 Minnesota Vikings draft needs

Prior to NFL free agency, here are the Minnesota Vikings’ draft needs in 2023.

  • DE/DT
  • CB
  • WR
  • LB
  • OG
  • QB
  • PR

Related: NFL QB Rankings: Is Kirk Cousins a top-15 QB?

Minnesota Vikings mock draft: Building the defense

Sportsnaut uses Pro Football Focus’ NFL Draft simulator, which provides the flexibility to trade and work through various scenarios. Let’s dive into our Vikings mock draft.

1st round, 23rd overall: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Pittsburgh
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Despite having both Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith rushing off the edge last season, the Vikings couldn’t generate enough consistent pressure. They tied for the 11th-fewest sacks in the NFL, but Hunter and Smith had ten apiece. This indicates the other defenders weren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

That’s where Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey can make a real impact. He may be undersized, much like another former Pitt superstar DT (Aaron Donald), but Kancey’s pass-rush ability is remarkable. In addition to averaging seven sacks and 13.5 TFLs in his final two seasons in college, he also graded positively as a run defender at 80.9 per Pro Football Focus in 2022.

Kancey’s coming off a new combine record for 40-yard dash time among defensive tackles, which is only a further display of his athletic prowess. His strong combine showing could help him rise up draft boards, but if Kancey’s still available late in the first, he’d be hard to overlook.

Even if Kancey’s smaller stature (6-foot-1, 281 pounds) doesn’t help him pan out as a run-stuffer at the next level, he can still be a game-wrecker, pushing back the pocket, causing pandemonium for QBs. The Vikings need more of that from their players in the trenches.

3rd round, 87th overall: Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Connecticut
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Vikings’ biggest weaknesses in recent years has been their inability to find two or three good, healthy cornerbacks. They’ve tried everything, from investing first-round picks at the position to even adding a future Hall of Fame cornerback by the name of Patrick Peterson. Yet here they are, with just one guaranteed starting corner on their roster heading into the draft after signing Byron Murphy.

While several players could fill a starting role, such as the continued development of players like Andrew Booth Jr. or Akayleb Evans, we haven’t seen the desired consistency yet. After Murphy, Booth, and Evans, you have Tay Gowan and Kalon Barnes, who combined for 24 snaps on special teams in 2022.

This leads us to place the need for a cornerback high on the list, but with such a deep group, and other, more pressing needs, the Vikings can afford to wait a bit. Syracuse’s Garrett Williams could provide an immediate solution.

Williams has excellent agility that allows him to mirror an opponent’s routes, where he sticks out in man coverage. Playing a heavy majority of his snaps as an outside corner as opposed to playing the slot, Williams’ stock may have slipped a bit this past season after suffering a torn ACL after just seven games. But as mentioned, his footwork is impeccable, which means he could develop into a true gem.

4th round, 119th overall: Karl Brooks, EDGE, Bowling Green

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, the Vikings have the dynamic duo of Smith and Hunter rushing quarterbacks and they added Marcus Davenport. But Smith appears unhappy, will turn 31 next season, and his contract expires after the 2024 season. Hunter’s situation is even more urgent, as he’s entering his contract year.

The Vikings have a couple of capable rushers behind these three, such as D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones, so we don’t feel this need is as strong as finding another receiver who can complement Justin Jefferson and push K.J. Osborn for a starting role. But defensive coordinator Brian Flores could certainly use more depth along the defensive line. Especially more players who could develop into starters.

Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks is listed as an edge defender, but he could just as well play in the trenches, occupying one of three starting spots on the defensive line. Brooks blossomed last season, racking up 12 sacks and then proceeded to impress during the Senior Bowl as well. With no true star on the Vikings’ line, they need to keep swinging until they land a sleeper. Brooks just might be the guy.

Related: Dalvin Cook ‘absolutely’ expected to remain with Minnesota Vikings in 2023

Minnesota Vikings 7-round mock draft 2023

Here is our full seven-round Vikings mock draft.

  • 1st round, 23rd overall: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt
  • 3rd round, 87th overall: Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse
  • 4th round, 119th overall: Karl Brooks, EDGE, Bowling Green
  • 5th round, 160th overall: Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WR, West Virginia
  • 5th round, 177th overall: Mohamoud Diabate, LB, Utah
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