- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings finally get on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick, sometime around 9:30 ET/8:30 CT on Thursday night, they'll be in possession of a pick that has seemingly vexed the draft experts for a while now. At No. 8, the Vikings could be too late to take the standout defensive players in the draft (South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo's Khalil Mack), in little need of the offensive tackles at the top of the board (Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan) and unsure about the reliability of the quarterbacks they might find there (Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater).
It's part of the reason there's a wide range of opinions in today's final round of mock drafts -- ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have the Vikings taking Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, respectively, and the rest of the mocks have a wide range of names, from Bortles to Bridgewater to Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and linebacker C.J. Mosley to Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. The Vikings have enough needs, and the draft is deep enough, that they're not likely to have any shortage of options at No. 8, but in an important draft for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and the first one for new coach Mike Zimmer, the pick is an important one to get right.
So which direction will the Vikings take? Here's our best guess, in order from most to least likely, about the way they'll approach the eighth pick on Thursday night:
1. Draft a defensive player
The most compelling decision the Vikings could face on Thursday night might happen if the top quarterbacks, such as Bortles and Manziel, are still on the board and the team has to decide whether to pass on one of them to take a defensive player. If presented with that decision, the Vikings will indeed opt for defense, I believe. I had them selecting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard in our ESPN NFL Nation mock (albeit after trading down one spot), but I could have taken Bortles with the eighth pick and didn't. The Vikings will have enough quarterback options later in this draft, and they were in bad enough need of a talent upgrade on defense, that I think they'll ultimately address that side of the ball if they stay at No. 8. It could be by taking one of the cornerbacks, such as Dennard or Gilbert. It could be by taking Donald (and sorting out where he'll fit with Sharrif Floyd later), or it could be by drafting a linebacker such as Mosley or UCLA's Anthony Barr. Ultimately, though, I believe the Vikings will help their defense first and come back for a QB later.
2. Trade down
My approach in our NFL Nation mock draft was ultimately a hybrid of No. 1 and 2, but I would have moved back further if there had been a market to do so. The Vikings might be able to find that market -- Spielman said on Tuesday he'd already heard from suitors for several of his picks, and moving out of the No. 8 spot would help him reach the sum of 10 picks the general manager likes to have. The Vikings might still be able to get a defensive player that makes sense after moving back several picks, and they'd also have the flexibility to deal back into the first round, like they've done each of the past two years. I had them doing that in our mock draft, moving up to No. 31 to select Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. Even if the Vikings move back into the first round, they could benefit from extra picks on the first two days of a deep draft.
3. Select a quarterback
If I had to place a percentage on the likelihood of this happening, I'd put it somewhere around 30 or so; as we've discussed, the Vikings could find enough other options later that they'd have to be completely enamored with one of the top QBs to take him at No. 8. Of the top quarterbacks, Bortles seems like the best fit for Norv Turner's offense, though there's been some steam around Bridgewater in the last few days. One Vikings coach told ESPN's Bob Holtzman, though, that it's "highly unlikely we take a quarterback."
4. Find another weapon for the offense
After Spielman mentioned on Tuesday that the mock drafts were missing some names the Vikings could consider at No. 8, we discussed Evans as a possible option. The threshold would have to be high for the Vikings to take a player like Evans (or, if he slides far enough, Clemson's Sammy Watkins) when they still need help on defense, but as we discussed, there's a school of thought that the Vikings could keep adding weapons to their offense, in order to keep up with the three high-powered passing games in their division and make things easier for their quarterback, whether that's Matt Cassel or a young player they eventually draft.
5. Trade up
I just don't see this one happening, unless Mack slides far enough that the Vikings can get him without giving away the better part of their draft; Spielman said on Tuesday that mid-round picks are more valuable this year, because of the quality of the draft, and it seems more likely the Vikings will take advantage of that, rather than dealing away several picks to move up. According to the trade value chart many teams use as a rule of thumb on trades, it would probably cost the Vikings their second-round pick, and both of their third-rounders, to jump from No. 8 to No. 3, where they might need to land to get Mack. A move from No. 8 to No. 5, according to the trade chart, would only require the Vikings to give up their second- and fourth-round picks, but I can't see the Vikings moving any higher than that, and any first-round trade up seems like a remote possibility.