The Minnesota Vikings have been showing a lot of interest in the top wide receivers in this year’s draft. General manager Rick Spielman has made it a point to attend the pro days at Baylor and Mississippi in order to see Corey Coleman and Laquon Treadwell.
Spielman was reportedly one of the first people to stand out on the field in order get a good view for Treadwell’s workout, and he grabbed Coleman after his workout in order to talk with him one-on-one. Receiver is a need for the Vikings, but more than just those two players may have influenced Spielman’s presence at the pro days.
Not only do Baylor and Ole Miss hold two of the draft’s top receivers, but they also have two of the draft’s top defensive tackles and they are players who could also be on the Vikings’ radar. Andrew Billings of Baylor and Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss could both be on the board when the Vikings select at No. 23 overall and would surely be a surprise pick by the Vikings, but it also makes sense.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer sings the praise of his defensive tackles, especially Linval Joseph last year. He knows that defensive tackles may not always make flashy plays on the field, but if they do their job right they are key for any defense to work properly.
A defensive tackle’s job is often to take on multiple blockers in order to free up other players, or to at least give the defensive ends one-on-one matchups. By doing that, it makes the ends’ job a lot easier and should allow them to get after the passer a lot quicker.
If a defensive line can get after the quarterback on its own, then the linebackers can drop back into coverage to assist the defensive backs, covering more of the field and creating fewer windows for the quarterback to throw into. And whenever the linebackers or defensive backs do blitz, they should have open lanes to the quarterback.
The Vikings already have two talented defensive tackles in Joseph and Sharrif Floyd, which is why selecting Billings or Nkemdiche in the first round would probably surprise a lot of people. If you look at what Zimmer and Spielman say, though, the pick could make sense.
For one, both Spielman and Zimmer have said that they like to create competition at every level of the offense and defense in order to bring out the best in their players. Both of those players have the ability to be a Day 1 starter, so by bringing them in competition is automatically being created and it will force every defensive tackle on the team to step up their game.
Zimmer has also talked about the importance of a nickel pass rusher in helping the defense get off the field on third downs. Even if an early-round pick isn’t an elite pass rusher, giving Floyd some time off on run downs could increase his effectiveness on passing downs.
And Spielman has said that he likes to draft the best player available and if either of those two players fell to the Vikings at No. 23 overall there is a good chance they would be the highest rated player on the team’s draft board. If that were the case, Spielman may feel the opportunity to draft them is too good to pass up.
While it is expected that both players will be off the board by the time the Vikings are on the clock, both have some characteristic that could make them fall.
At 6-foot-1, 311 pounds Billings is a little short to play nose tackle in the NFL, but he has proven to have the power and agility necessary to play the position. His height alone will not make him fall, though; the big question is his age. He just turned 21 years old and there are some who are speculating if he will be mature enough to handle the NFL lifestyle, and for that reason teams may not be willing to invest a lot of money in him and he could end up falling.
Age is not an issue with Nkemdiche, a senior. And at 6-3, 294 pounds he is an ideal size. His problems stem more from character issues. He has all the talent required and if he were to give full effort on every play he would likely be a top-five pick this year. The problem, though, is that he seemed to take plays off on a consistent basis.
He was also suspended during his team’s Sugar Bowl appearance after being arrested and charged with marijuana possession. Nkemdiche is thought of by many as being the biggest risk-reward player in this draft and it is possible teams will not want to take the risk, meaning he could fall to the Vikings.
Both of these players have a lot of upside and could instantly make the Vikings better. The question becomes, if either of them are still on the board, does drafting them do more to help the team than drafting a position of need like wide receiver in the first round?
The Vikings have used their first-round picks to draft for depth and building for the future in the past. Last season they selected cornerback Trae Waynes at No. 11 overall and he was primarily used as a backup last season.
With Floyd only under contract through 2016, pending a fifth-year option, and Tom Johnson only under contract through 2017 (Joseph is secure through 2018), drafting a player like Billings or Nkemdiche would shore up the Vikings’ defensive line for years to come.
It doesn’t seem a likely option, but the possibility of drafting a defensive tackle early can’t be dismissed.