You may know the draft’s most visible and popular analysts from ESPN and NFL Network like Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Mike Mayock etc., but there are a number of other quality draft analysts who are producing excellent analysis. As we count down to the NFL Draft, we’ll catch up with some of the best and get their take on 5 questions pertaining to the Minnesota Vikings. We’ll kick things off with Jon Ledyard, who writes for the scouting website Inside the Pylon (which recently got a Peter King shoutout, by the way) along with NDT Scouting and FanRag Sports. He is also credentialed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Read his work here.
Jon, it’s great to talk with you again. Let’s jump to the chase: The Vikings need to come away with offensive linemen in this draft, but all we keep hearing from the draftniks is that this is a terrible draft to keep linemen. How bad is it? Do you think the Vikings still have a chance to get a decent prospect in the second or third round, even if it’s a player that needs some development?
Yeah, maybe not if they’re looking for a tackle. The good tackles will probably come off the board pretty quickly. The Vikings got insurance policies with [Riley] Reiff and [Mike] Remmers and maybe they even still like TJ Clemmings, I don’t know how, but there’s always that possibility. It would be great for them if Pat Elflein fell to them. If I’m Minnesota, he seems like the most likely or a guy like Antonio Garcia from Troy, who I think could benefit from a year as a third tackle, but eventually I think can be a stud if he takes over for Remmers, he could be a great pick in that range. There are other guys that they could think about there. [Western Michigan tackle] Taylor Moton might be on the board at that point too. I’m not quite as high on Moton’s tape as I am Garcia’s or his potential.
Elflein makes the most sense if he’s still there and there’s a decent shot that he might be. Cody Whitehair went off the board last year in a worse class right around this range and he was a first-round pick for me and he played like one last year. Those interior guys tend to get underrated. Dan Feeney doesn’t really fit what they do schematically but he’s an option. [Pitt guard] Dorian Johnson is another interesting guy, he might be there in the third. He fits what they do really well. I think if you’re Minnesota and you can come away with Garcia and Johnson with the first two picks, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.
The Vikings have to get a lot better on the offensive line. It isn’t their only need but it’s a pretty big need for them. They got Latavius Murray, they have enough talent at receiver – that obviously depends on Treadwell, but you can find a guy later in the draft. To me, the offense had to be a lot of five-yard throws because they couldn’t hold up longer than that. I wouldn’t even mind if they spent the first three picks at offensive line if the right players were available.
Totally agree, last year we heard a lot about how many injuries they had up front – and they did – but their opening day O-line also struggled to block. It’s hard to believe that much would have been different even if they were healthy. So that’s the No. 1 need and most likely position they pick in at 48, but to channel my inner Stephen A. Smith: However!
The Vikings met with Joe Mixon and there’s at least one report that they like him. He’s not only a major character concern because of a 2014 incident in which he broke a woman’s jaw, he also immediately makes any team look like they don’t really care about violence against women. So it seems like he will drop in the draft. Let’s say his background was the same as Ghandi’s. Where would he be picked? What would analysts be saying about his talent?
The only thing I’d say that needs to improve in his game is his decisiveness at times. It’s just inconsistent. When he is decisive, it’s brilliant. There will be times where he has a two-way go or he misses his read or stuff like that, which probably just comes from a lack of experience. And there’s enough times where he does do it that, well, I’m OK with it. He’s not Le’Veon Bell like people talk about, being able to dance and make things happen and have a method to his madness, but his tools are incredible. His hips are swivel, his burst is terrific, his long speed is better than Bell’s even. He gets compared to Bell a lot, I don’t think they’re as similar as people talk about but Mixon is really freaking good.
They run tons of counter, they ran tons of zone at Oklahoma, so he can run behind a number of things, his perimeter burst is good. And as a receiver he’s going to be a huge weapon for teams. His pass protection could use work because he wasn’t asked to do it very often. If his background was squeaky clean, he’d be getting the same type of talk as Ezekiel Elliott last year.
Let’s say that they either can’t pick Mixon or avoid him, what does the crop of playmakers look like? The Vikings lost Cordarrelle Patterson to Oakland in free agency and still have a need for either a dangerous guy with the ball or a deep threat or both. Who comes to mind for you in that role, either at 48 or down the board?
Second round, you are looking at two guys: Carlos Henderson from Louisiana Tech – he’s really good after the catch, similar to Jarvis Landry after the catch, so that might be a nice option because he’s an explosive guy who can also stretch the field vertically, he’s a playmaker. Also Evan Engram, the tight end from Ole Miss would be the other option if I’m looking for a mismatch slot type guy. I think he’s a first-round player, the NFL will probably take him in the second round. He’s so similar to Jordan Reed from Washington in his ability to run routes at a really high level, also his hands and he’s really technically sound. He ran a 4.42 [40-yard dash] and I know he’s only 237 pounds, but he’s a better blocker than some of the other tight ends in the draft. I don’t think he’s going to play inline in the NFL because of his size but he’s a mismatch weapon. He can win vertically down the field even if you put him on the outside.
Later in the draft, there’s so many names, it’s so hard to predict at that point who’s going to be what. If you’re looking for a slot or third-down back. In the third, a guy like [Western Kentucky receiver] Taywan Taylor could make sense for them. Super athletic, fast, quick kid. He’s got a lot of tools to work with but he’s just kind of lackadaisical at the catch point and he doesn’t like contact at all. I don’t really like him that much from a style standpoint. He does make sense as a playmaker though because he has explosive traits. [Tennessee running back] Alvin Kamara, I don’t know where he fits in. The NFL seems to like him a good bit. To me, he’s a third-round type guy that they could target.
We didn’t think defensive tackle was going to be an immediate need for the Vikings, then reports came out that Sharrif Floyd’s career might be in jeopardy because of a knee issue and they don’t really have a guy on the roster who can play that three-technique role. But, here’s the problem: Without a first-round pick, it seems like a pretty tough task for a guy to come right in as a second or third-round selection and start. Do you think defensive tackle is a particularly hard position for a rookie to start or could someone come in next to Linval Joseph and handle the role? Also, I’ve seen Malik McDowell’s name come up as a potential pick for the Vikings a few times now, what do you think of him?
The thing is, Tom Johnson plays a lot of their passing downs, but isn’t as effective against the run, so you’re going to have to get a guy that can play a run-heavy role right away, that takes a little bit more time if a guy is raw. It’s easier to have a guy come in and rotate in as an interior pass rusher and run stunts and twists and that kind of stuff. Run game defense and playing down-to-down is a lot about block recognition and reading your visual keys and proper hand technique, so a little more goes into it.
Also, if McDowell falls to Minnesota and the rest of the NFL lets that happen…the one guy who might be able to get him right is Mike Zimmer. He’s probably the second most talented player in the draft if you’re just going off pure potential. If he were to fall to Minnesota, that would be terrifying because the D-line is already so good, you add a player like that to the mix and his potential is through the roof. I don’t think he falls quite that far.
There aren’t that many players that fit really well otherwise. Caleb Brantley is another guy. He just had some [off-field] issue. Two other guys that might be interesting for the third round are [Tulane DT] Tanzel Smart and [Charlotte DT] Larry Ogunjobi. Those guys have some talent, they need some coaching. Smart is really undersized, he might be a Tom Johnson. Ogunjobi has the higher ceiling. But he needs some time. [Michigan DT] Chris Wormley could be an option for them. Long, highly athletic guy. His testing at his pro day might have pushed him out of the Vikings’ range. Probably an early second round pick, he’s a really, really good player.
Every draft analyst I’ve ever met has a guy they are dead sure will be a baller. So who’s your guy in this year’s draft?
Budda Baker from Washington, if I have to pick just one. I love him, man. I know he’s small and everybody talks about that. Watch him play in the box, he’s super instinctive, some of the quickest feet in the draft. He can start Day 1 as a slot corner, he can start Day 1 at free safety. He could probably eventually get into a single-high coverage type of role. He’s rangy, explosive, good tackler, closes on the ball extremely well. People talk about the fact that he didn’t have a lot of picks, but he dropped a lot of picks. He’s a guy that’s making plays on the ball left and right. I’m not going to knock his grade for that. He’s the real deal.