Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have 10 picks in the 2021 NFL draft, beginning with the 14th-overall selection, to fix some glaring weaknesses on the Minnesota Vikings’ roster. Most of those picks come from trades, with the mid-season deal to send Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens netting a third-round choice. Meanwhile, the Vikings received a compensatory pick in the fourth round (143rd) because of free-agency losses in 2020.
Spielman sent the 155th pick in 2020, acquired in the Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills trade, to the Chicago Bears. In exchange, the Vikings received Chicago’s fourth-round pick this year, 125th overall. Diggs also netted his old team another fourth-rounder, the 134th choice. Spielman scooped a fifth-round pick from the Ravens as payment for wide receiver James Proche. The Steelers originally held the 168th choice but sent it to Baltimore for defensive end Chris Wormley.
Zimmer and Spielman used free agency to reload a porous defense. Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson came over from the New York Giants to beef up a front soft against the run, while the secondary got a boost with the arrival of Patrick Peterson from the Arizona Cardinals. Pass rush is still an issue, which is why Michigan’s Kwitty Paye is a popular selection in many mock drafts. Another position to keep an eye on is left tackle after Riley Reiff joined the Cincinnati Bengals.
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Round 1, Pick 14: Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami
Zimmer needs to fix the pass rush after not getting what he wanted from the Ngakoue trade. The Vikings registered a paltry 23 sacks last season, so Phillips should be too good to pass over. Injuries limited him somewhat at Miami, but Phillips still managed to log eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. He’s a natural athlete with dream measurables for bossing the edge at 6’6″ and 260 pounds. Phillips would be the perfect bookend for Danielle Hunter in Zimmer’s scheme. There would be concerns about his durability, but Minnesota brought Stephen Weatherly back in free agency after a year with the Carolina Panthers, so the Vikings have decent depth on the edges.
Round 3, Pick 78: Jackson Carman, OT, Clemson
Carman isn’t a natural fit for the kind of zone scheme offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak will run, but not many 345-pounders move as well as the Clemson left tackle. Protecting the blindside of projected No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence was an ideal finishing school for Carman ahead of making the jump to the pros. He would lock down Reiff’s old spot and make Kirk Cousins‘ life easier in an NFC North division where Khalil Mack, Romeo Okwara, and Za’Darius Smith go hunting for quarterbacks.
Round 3, Pick 90: Hunter Long, TE, Boston College
Letting Kyle Rudolph join the Giants has left a void at tight end the Vikings can fill in Round 3. Long wouldn’t replicate Rudolph’s punishing blocking, but the Boston College catch machine would be a more effective weapon between the 20s. No tight end in the country caught more passes at the collegiate level than Long, who snared 57 during his final season with the Eagles. He would soon develop into a go-to check-down for Cousins in pressure situations. This quarterback needs one of those because he tends to force his throws whenever he feels the rush.
Round 4, Pick 119: Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
Spielman and Zimmer didn’t mess around when it came to restocking at cornerback. Peterson, Xavier Woods, and Mackensie Alexander all arrived during free agency, but this secondary still needs reinforcements at safety. Few would offer better value in Round 4 than Cisco, who was a big-play specialist for Syracuse. He picked off 13 passes in three years with the Orange, although his interception tally fell from five in 2019 to one last season. Even so, this is a true ball hawk who would thrive behind an improved pass rush in Minnesota.
Round 4, Pick 125: Patrick Jones II, Edge, Pittsburgh
Speaking of improving an anemic pass rush, the Vikings can double down by taking Jones off the board. He kept things simple at Pittsburgh by putting his hand in the dirt and rushing the passer. Jones is a true 4-3 edge player who would be at home in the Vikings’ base defense. He wouldn’t be a starter in Year One, but Jones would be an excellent supporting piece alongside Hunter, Phillips, and Weatherly. A deep and talented rotation of pass-rushers is a must in a division where Aaron Rodgers still holds sway.
Round 4, Pick 134: Osa Odighizuwa, DT, UCLA
If Jones is an effective, but one-dimensional choice, Odighizuwa would stoke the creativity of co-defensive coordinators, Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer. They would have fun moving a flexible and disruptive lineman all along the front. Odighizuwa can split gaps inside as a three-technique, but he also has the frame and athleticism to move outside. The Vikings have often shifted linemen around to create pressure from multiple spots, with Weatherly and formerly Everson Griffen lining up all over. Odighizuwa would revive a useful wrinkle this defense missed in 2020.
Round 4, Pick 143: David Moore, G, Grambling
Moore would add some beef to a lightweight front that was pushed around too often last season. Line coach and run game coordinator Rick Dennison could take advantage of Moore’s ability to quickly shift his 350 pounds into space and punish defenders at the second level. The Vikings offense will still go through the ground attack led by Dalvin Cook. He would appreciate having a pair of nasty maulers like Moore and Jackson clearing the way for big gains.
Round 5, Pick 157: Caden Sterns, S, Texas
Sterns doesn’t make splash plays, but he’s a clean safety whose coverage skills would solve an obvious problem. The Vikings often rely on box safeties whose lack of range hurts them against vertical strikes. Sterns has the discipline to play in a two-deep shell, but he can also man the deep middle by himself. Zimmer mixes man and zone calls quite liberally, so he would lean on Sterns’ variety of skills and dependable game.
Round 5, Pick 168: Marlon Williams, WR, UCF
Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are both go-to wide receivers, but Kubiak’s offense could still use a big body for the slot. Williams knows how to bully defensive backs and protect the catch point with his 6’0″ and 222-pound frame. His flair as a specialist in contested catches would be invaluable to an erratic quarterback who has never shed the turnover bug.
Cousins needs a reliable big-play threat on inside routes, while the running game could use a physical slot receiver to help seal the edges. Williams’ background as a Wildcat quarterback might also add some much-needed gadgetry to an otherwise predictable scheme.
Round 6, Pick 199: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
Kubiak learned this offense from his father, Gary, who learned it from Mike Shanahan. The scheme’s outside-zone running game has helped multiple late-round running backs become 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL. Jermar Jefferson should appeal to any coach looking for a one-cut-and-go runner who knows how to read blocks. Those traits helped Jefferson average 6.5 yards per attempt at Oregon State in 2020. He’s got that breakaway potential every back in this system needs. The Vikings retained Ameer Abdullah in free agency, and Alexander Mattison is a decent deputy to Cook, but this group could use another runner for the rotation.