Draft-day prediction: Top-three options

The Vikings are keeping their intentions well-guarded, but there are three picks we see as likely, two at No. 8 and one as a trade-down scenario and dark horse. We analyze the less popular choices that we think are actually more likely.

In the early stages of our predraft coverage – yes, we started back in January with the Senior Bowl – much of the momentum was focused on the Vikings drafting a quarterback. Since then, analysts (and Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman) have poked holes in all of them.

It started out looking like Johnny Manziel would be a favorite, but unavailable. Now he might be available, and passed on by the Vikings. Once it was clear that Norv Turner would be leaned on heavily for the quarterback evaluation, the Manziel momentum to Minnesota started to cool. Teddy Bridgewater was next, but his poor pro day and ensuing reports about his leadership qualities – or lack of them – has to be concerning for a Vikings scouting department that takes a lot of pride in drilling down to the psychological level with their own tests to supplement the NFL's Wonderlic testing.

That leaves Blake Bortles as an option at No. 8 among the top three, according to most analysts. He, too, might be available to the Vikings and would make a lot of sense for them with his strong pocket stature and an arm to complement that. However, indications for some time now have pointed to Turner liking Derek Carr best among the options (more on that later).

It's possible the Vikings bypass a quarterback and still go offense if they don't find many faults with the top big-bodied receivers – Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans – but with so many other needs, a deep receiver class and a developing corps of receivers, it seems unlikely that would be the move.

That leaves defense, which is where this writer believes the Vikings will go, which supplements an interesting comment by Spielman at his predraft presser.

"I've read the mocks. Everybody reads the mocks because we're tired of yelling at each other," Spielman said on Tuesday. "At night I read the mocks, kind of get caught up on things. You guys are missing some names on our spot at 8, I can tell you that."

Most mocks had a one of the "top three" quarterbacks or Anthony Barr going to the Vikings. Barr might still be a possibility – and there is always a strong possibility Spielman tries to throw draft dogs off the scent – but there are growing whispers about three defenders. Two of them make a lot of sense. The third would be a bit of a surprise.

In order, here are the predictions for No. 8 here:

1) DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh: At face value, this might not seem like the premium option for the Vikings with Sharrif Floyd expected to start at the three-technique, the area occupied by free agent Kevin Williams for the last decade. Since Floyd was a first-round pick last year – the first of three for the Vikings – some believe drafting Donald would be an indictment on Floyd's potential. To some degree, that could be true. Floyd still has much to prove after one year in the league.

"Sharrif Floyd is going to be a very good football player for us. When you look at this, you can never have enough pass rushers. You can never have enough defensive linemen. You can never have enough corners and enough cover guys on the back end because of the way the league is evolving," Spielman said. "So even when you're looking, we're very excited about where Sharrif is at this point, where he came from, from where he was last year, the weight loss, the dedication he's shown, how he's fitting in this scheme. Very excited to see what he's going to evolve into.

"That doesn't preclude us from taking another in-line pass rusher. How many times during a game are you in nickel situations? You're going to be probably more in nickel and 42 packages more than you are in your base standard package. The more pass rushers, the more pressure you can get on those quarterbacks, the fresher you can keep those guys, that becomes valuable."

However, the analysis goes deeper. Donald might be the best, safest defensive pick in the draft. He is being compared to defensive tackle Hall of Famers like John Randle and Warren Sapp. Randle was a Viking. Sapp could have been, if not for the regrettable decision to take DT Derrick Alexander one spot in front of Sapp in 1995, a fact that still irritates some fans.

Along with his high ranking, there is another reason it would make sense to grab Donald with Floyd still an option. New head coach Mike Zimmer is defensive-minded and loves to rotate his defensive linemen liberally. That's why they signed Everson Griffen to such a big contract and still added Cory Wooton. That's why all the secondary players we talked to during minicamp last week reiterated the importance of the defensive line to the whole unit.

Finally, there is the amount of time the Vikings spend in the nickel defense. Rotating Donald and Floyd next to nose tackle Linval Joseph on first and second down and then putting Donald and Floyd next to each other on passing downs could be an intriguing and disruptive combination.

  • Aaron Donald in-depth scouting report

    2) CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State – Some have Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard ranked ahead of Gilbert, and NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas believes Dennard is the more complete player with his tackling skills. In the Vikings' old defensive scheme, Dennard likely would have been ranked higher because they asked their cornerbacks to play more zone coverage and support more in the running game. In Zimmer's system, the ability to cover man-to-man is more desired and Gilbert is considered the best in the draft at doing that.

    The Vikings already added CB Captain Munnerlyn in free agency, but another interesting observation from minicamp was that there were plenty of times Josh Robinson was with the starters in the base defense, playing opposite Xavier Rhodes. Munnerlyn would enter in the nickel situations and play the slot receiver, a duty that Robinson was happy to shed. With the injuries the Vikings always seem to endure at cornerback and their porous pass defense in recent years, selecting the best cover cornerback in the draft makes a lot of sense.

  • Justin Gilbert in-depth scouting report

    3) LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State – The linebacker most connected to the Vikings is UCLA's Anthony Barr. But, like the quarterbacks, there appears to be blemishes in the games of many of the linebackers (with the possible exception of Khalil Mack). So would the Vikings actually prefer the linebacker that some consider more consistent and instinctive than Barr? Others have Shazier pinned as ideally suited to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Still, the Vikings could likely find a spot for a hard-hitting, football-instinctive machine like Shazier in the middle of their defense – whether that's using his intelligence at middle linebacker or his athleticism and competitiveness at weakside linebacker.

    This could be the dark horse of these top-three options, and is more likely if the Vikings trade down from the eighth pick. Whether they pick Shazier or not, we expect a mid-round pick at linebacker, too, with the depth offered and the need on the roster.

  • Ryan Shazier in-depth scouting report

    So what if the Vikings go defense early? There is still a need for a quarterback, and even Spielman admits that. The question is whether there is one worth selecting at No. 8. More and more, the indications are that it could be another reach, and Spielman might not be willing to put himself out there with another quarterback selection when he likely knows the value doesn't meet muster at No. 8.

    But that doesn't mean the Vikings won't select one in the first round. We absolutely agree with the analysis that says they could trade back into the bottom third of the first round. If that happens, Derek Carr, if still available, is the likely selection for Turner because of his strong arm, good enough size and leadership qualities.

    Now all that's left is the waiting, but after more than five months since the Vikings' last game, what's a few more hours?

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

  • Viking Update Top Stories