The Minnesota Vikings, one year removed from a playoff appearance and win, appear to be on the outside looking in this season. A dismal after a dismal 1-5 start, the Vikings appeared to figure things out, but back-to-back losses have put them at 6-9. The focus now? The NFL draft of course!
Minnesota is shaping up to have a mid-round pick and will have plenty of options and directions to go to.
The two biggest needs appear to be in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Departures of Linval Joseph, Everson Griffin, and the injury to Danielle Hunter left the defensive line as a weak spot for the Vikings. They could target both a rusher to pair with Hunter or go bigger and look for someone for the interior line.
On the offensive line, the departure of Riley Reiff seems inevitable as he’ll be a free agent and the Vikings are tight on cap space to pay him. While they have some young pieces on the right side, there are still glaring question marks at both guard and tackle.
Quarterback, safety, and cornerback are other needs for the Vikings and will need to be addressed. The team is without a second-round pick after trading it to acquire Yannick Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars, so the first-round selection is more crucial than normal.
Here are four potential targets for the Vikings in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The interior line is a major concern for the Vikings and one that comes with question marks. Trade rumors have been connected to Riley Reiff for quite some time now with him being an impending free agent and that would leave a glaring hole on the left side.
It would make sense for the Vikings to slide Ezra Cleveland to fill the hole Reiff would leave, but that again would leave a hole at the right guard position. While rookie Garret Bradberry has solidified the center role and Brian O’Neil has on the right outside, Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia have shown absolutely zero signs of stability at guard.
Bottom line – the Vikings could very well have gaps at multiple offensive line positions and could very much need a versatile player that could play multiple roles. Insert Rashawn Slater.
It’s almost like he was made from the football gods to solve Minnesota’s exact problem. He has played all five positions along the line and is the most versatile of any lineman in the draft. He was another player that opted out, but the Vikings could benefit from that and see him drop to their spot when normally he could have been taken much higher.
Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami
The need for an edge rusher in Minnesota could rely solely on Danielle Hunter’s future, so it may be a bit of a gamble to go with an edge rusher in the first-round. Plus the Vikings seem to have a philosophy of never drafting defensive ends in the first round, as the last time they took a player at that position with their first selection was 2005.
But here’s a glaring stat for you – all of the current defensive linemen for the Vikings have a total of 11.5 sacks this season. Danielle Hunter alone had 14.5 last season. Who knows if Hunter will be the same dominant rusher we saw in 2019 coming off a neck injury. The Vikings tried to replace him with Yannick Ngakoue, but that experiment crashed and burned and he was shipped to Baltimore.
Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, but he recorded 54 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 15.5 sacks in 2019 and was expected to take a bigger step in 2020 for Miami. There was a point in time where Rousseau could’ve been considered a top-10 pick, but his stock has dropped, which could be contributed to his opt-out in addition to some scouts being skeptical of him being a one-year wonder.
Like mentioned above, taking an edge rusher first isn’t something the Vikings are used to. But it’s certainly a need for the purple and gold as their front line on defense hasn’t been as dangerous as years past.
Ajeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia
Similar to the reasoning for selecting Rousseau, Ojulari could be a potential first-round target for the Vikings.
Ojulari had 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in nine games this year for the Bulldogs. He’s opting out of the Peach Bowl in what seems like a move to prepare to enter the NFL Draft. He hasn’t officially announced he is entering the draft, but given his opt out of the bowl game, it seems as though that will be the end result.
He led the Bulldogs in sacks for two straight seasons and has already mastered a number of pass rush moves at the college level, which is uncommon for younger rushers. He might be a long-term project and not immediately able make an impact, but the tools and size are there for the Vikings to mold him into the ideal edge rusher.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
This wouldn’t be the most ideal pick, but it’s something to consider. Kirk Cousins has been, well, very Kirk Cousins-like in his time in Minnesota. Flashes of really good play and then other flashes of “what are you doing.”
Problem is, the Vikings are tied financially to Cousins. With his contract, they aren’t able to cut him and won’t likely find a suitor for a trade. Drafting a QB makes sense for the Vikings, but in the first round? Who knows.
If they do decide to go quarterback in the first round, Trey Lance is a guy they should be looking at in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s another player who opted out of the COVID-riddled college football season, but his redshirt freshman season in 2019 put him on the map.
He’s a dual-threat quarterback who amassed 2,786 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. He added 1,100 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns as well. Those are eye-popping stats, but that’s not even the best part.
Lance’s interception counter? Zero, zilch, nada. After watching Cousins make mistakes week after week, Lance is exactly what Vikings fans want to see in a potential QB replacement.