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How Xavier Woods signing impacts Minnesota Vikings’ 2021 NFL Draft

The Minnesota Vikings have invested a lot on defense in free agency. How will that impact their 2021 NFL Draft strategy?

How Xavier Woods signing impacts Minnesota Vikings' 2021 NFL Draft
Sep 29, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Dallas Cowboys free safety Xavier Woods (25) in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings filled a key hole in their secondary on Saturday by signing versatile safety Xavier Woods to a one-year contract worth a maximum of $2.25 million, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

In addition to Woods, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman has gone shopping for defensive starters on the open market this offseason. Spielman acquired Dalvin Tomlinson at defensive tackle, reunited with cornerback Mackensie Alexander and also landed Pro Bowl corner Patrick Peterson.

With three new starters on the back end to join Harrison Smith, what does that mean for the Vikings’ 2021 NFL Draft strategy? Let’s take a closer look at what Woods joining the fold means, along with an updated mock draft.

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Xavier Woods is a viable replacement for Anthony Harris

Minnesota Vikings' Xavier Woods is a viable replacement for Anthony Harris
Dec 15, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith (22) and defensive back Anthony Harris (41) signal fourth downs after holding the Los Angeles Chargers on a third down play in the third quarter at Dignity Health Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Losing a star safety like Anthony Harris to the Philadelphia Eagles couldn’t have been easy for Minnesota to swallow. Head coach Mike Zimmer is celebrated for his defensive acumen, and safeties like Harris aren’t easily filled in for.

But as Smith enters his 10th NFL season, he’ll likely stick to playing more box safety than dropping deep in single-high looks, which is where Woods can help fill in.

Per Pro Football Focus, Woods lined up at free safety for 349 snaps, box safety for 382 snaps and even at slot cornerback for 171 plays in 2020. Despite his lackluster player grade that ranked 56th out of 94 qualifying safeties, bear in mind that Woods was in an awful, antiquated scheme dialed up by Mike Nolan, who was abruptly fired as the Cowboys flopped on that side of the ball.

Safety could’ve been a position Minnesota targeted if Spielman opted to trade out from the NFL Draft’s 14th overall pick and collect more assets, or it’d have likely been a point of emphasis in the second or third rounds. The move to get Woods means the Vikings can now focus their efforts elsewhere.

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Updated Minnesota Vikings 3-round mock draft after Xavier Woods signing

2021 NFL mock draft: 2021 NFL Draft: Minnesota Vikings
Sep 7, 2019; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies running back Keshawn King (35) celebrates his first touchdown with Christian Darrisaw (77) in the first period against the Old Dominion Monarchs at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
  • First round, 14th pick: Christian Darrisaw, offensive tackle, Virginia Tech
  • Second round, 53rd pick (via Tennessee): Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
  • Third round, 78th pick: Deonte Brown, guard, Alabama

Why not throw in a trade to make it fun? Using The Draft Network’s simulator, the Vikings traded their 90th overall pick in the third round, along with two of their four fourth-round choices (Nos. 119 and 125) to Tennessee for the Titans’ 53rd pick in Round 2. This helps Minnesota rectify essentially getting nothing out of trading a second-rounder for Yannick Ngakoue last year.

A pass-rusher opposite Danielle Hunter should still be under consideration, but that’s what the trade up in Round 2 is for. Ronnie Perkins is one of the few defensive stars to come from the Oklahoma program in recent years, but he graded No. 2 among 416 edge defenders in PFF’s grades this past season. Plug him in with Hunter on the other side, and get Zimmer to coach him up, and Perkins could be a great one for the Vikings.

As for the other selections, well, PFF rated Minnesota as the NFL’s 26th-best offensive line in 2020. That’s bad news for a rather immobile quarterback in Kirk Cousins, particularly since Riley Reiff is no longer on the team.

Darrisaw was the highest-ranked prospect remaining in the mock simulation, and he just so happens to be a long-term upgrade at the all-important left tackle position over Reiff.

Alabama’s Brown is a behemoth but is surprisingly quick for a man his size at well over 350 pounds. He’s used to a downhill, run-heavy offense from his time with the Crimson Tide, and that’s precisely what Minnesota wants to build its identity around on offense with superstar tailback Dalvin Cook.

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