Even though the Minnesota Vikings missed the playoffs after compiling a 7-9 record, their 2020 season showed some promise, especially on the offensive side of the ball. First-round pick Justin Jefferson had one of the best rookie seasons a wide receiver has ever had, as he shattered Randy Moss’ rookie records despite not having much production until the third week of the season. On the other aide of the ball, even with Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce and Anthony Barr all missing a majority if not all of this past season, the defense still showed a lot of improvement from where it started at the beginning of the year. The Vikings still have a lot to improve on both sides of the ball, but this team has a lot of potential for the 2021 season if everybody returns from opting out and injuries. With the 14th pick in this year’s draft, the Vikings will be tasked with improving some weak spots on their team and getting back to the playoffs.
Here is some quick history. The following is a list of the players the Vikings have drafted in the first round in the past five years:
- 2020: Justin Jefferson (WR) & Jeff Gladney (CB)
- 2019: Garrett Bradbury (C)
- 2018: Mike Hughes (CB)
- 2017: Traded to the Eagles for Sam Bradford
- 2016: Laquon Treadwell
The Vikings have not picked in the top 15 since 2015, when they selected cornerback Trae Waynes with the 11th pick in that year’s draft.
Currently, the Vikings rank 25th in projected cap space, and they have a lot of work to do in order to get back under the cap as they are about $6.12 million over it. The following are players the Vikings could potentially move in order to get back under the cap (age in parentheses):
- Riley Reiff (32)
- Harrison Smith (32)
- Kyle Rudolph (31)
- Adam Thielen (30)
- Shamar Stephen (29)
Here are some players the Vikings could target in Round 1 of this year’s draft:
Possibility #1: Alabama DT Christian Barmore
2020 stats: 11 games, 37 total tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 8.0 sacks, 3 PDs, 3 FFs
Why: The Vikings still need a lot of help on defense, especially with their secondary and defensive lines being so inexperienced due to injuries, opt-outs, etc. However, the Vikings must get better on the interior of their defensive line even with the addition of free agent Pierce, who opted out this past season. There were too many games in which the Vikings were unable to keep opposing offenses off the field due to a strong running game. The Vikings gave up 6 touchdown runs to Alvin Kamara alone in Week 16. This is an area that needs a lot of improvement, especially if the Vikings are unable to upgrade via free agency.
Christian Barmore is very twitchy and athletic as a pass rusher from the three technique. This is somebody who can come in right away and make an impact for Minnesota as he proved he can control the line of scrimmage from the interior of the defensive line during his last season with Alabama. He is a great pass rusher, but he is also solid in run defense. At 6-5, 310 pounds, this is certainly somebody who can help to beef up a defensive line that was lacking serious size for the majority of last season.
Possibility #2: Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw
Career: 34 games, 34 starts
Why: Regardless of what the Vikings do in free agency, they will need to get younger and better at the left tackle position. Riley Reiff has been a mostly solid left tackle for Minnesota, but he may not be on the roster next season since he has such a big cap hit. Furthermore, Rashod Hill, who replaced Reiff at left tackle when Reiff was out, has had a very inconsistent tenure in Minnesota and does not look the part of a future starter on this line. This makes getting a tackle in this draft a priority, especially if the Vikings decide to keep 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland on the interior of this offensive line.
Christian Darrisaw had a breakout season in 2020 that saw him make first-team All-ACC along with rising up draft boards. For a Virginia Tech team that faced a lot of changes on both sides of the ball, Darrisaw brought continuity to the Hokies’ offensive line. He has tremendous size at 6-5, 314 pounds, and he is not an easy man to move off the line of scrimmage. Darrisaw would be a revelation for the Vikings, especially with players like Khalil Mack and Za’Darius Smith still playing at high levels in the NFC North.
Possibility #3: Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye
2020 stats: 4 games, 16 total tackles, 12 solo, 4.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks
Why: Despite only playing four games in 2020, Kwity Paye has shown an inclination to control the line of scrimmage and manhandle whoever is trying to block him. He is an impact player who brings a lot of energy to the defensive line. Even if he is unable to get to the quarterback, he is still fully capable of making a contribution on any given play. Paye is a very natural pass rusher and is extremely polished, making him somebody that a team can plug and play right from the get-go.
Minnesota’s sack leader in 2020 was Yannick Ngakoue, who only played six games for the Vikings and had 5.0 sacks. Their sack leader for a player who was there the whole season was Ifeadi Odenigbo with 3.5 sacks. Even with Danielle Hunter coming back for next season, the Vikings need a better defensive line as a whole. The Vikings have to be able to get to Aaron Rodgers and the other great quarterbacks of the NFC in order to become true contenders. Adding Paye would help the Vikings get one step closer to that goal if he is as good as the tape indicates.
Possibility #4: USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker
Career: 25 games, 13 starts
Why: If the Vikings decide to move Ezra Cleveland to one of the tackle positions assuming that Reiff gets released or traded this offseason, Alijah Vera-Tucker could be another immediate starter on the interior. He has the ability to play tackle as well, and this versatility could help the Vikings if they deem that Cleveland is better suited for the interior of their offensive line.
Either way, the Vikings have to get better at protecting Kirk Cousins. Their 2020 offensive line gave up 39 sacks (13th in the NFL) and had too many costly penalties. This unit is great at run blocking, but it has struggled in pass protection the past few seasons. Against some of the better defensive lines in 2020, this line withered under pressure. The Vikings cannot rely solely on Dalvin Cook’s running prowess, so they need an offensive line that is stout enough to give Cousins more time in the pocket and allow the Vikings’ coaching staff to have more faith in passing the football.
SEE ALSO: On the Clock archive
Sources: Pro-Football-Reference, Over The Cap, Sports-Reference, Spotrac