Minnesota Vikings: Darqueze Dennard

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- With the No. 8 pick in the NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday afternoon, I faced a dilemma the Minnesota Vikings could encounter Thursday night: Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles was there, but the Houston Texans were offering two picks essentially to ask me not to take him. I could have any other player I wanted in the draft, and get the first picks in the fifth and sixth rounds as a finder's fee.

So I made the trade to drop back one spot, picked up the 141st and 177th choices in the draft and took Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

First, a comment on the trade: Our charge as reporters for this thing was to act like we think our teams would, not necessarily how we would behave if we were running things. In other words, my job was to occupy the mind of Rick Spielman for a day -- insert your own joke here (you too, Rick, if you're reading this). In a perfect world, I think the Vikings would love to trade down, perhaps even further than I did, but I also don't know if it will be the Texans, and not the Bills. sitting there Thursday night. That said, when there are so many quarterbacks available -- and so many varying opinions on which one will turn out best -- I decided to fill an obvious need on defense, just as I believe the Vikings will do.

Now, why Dennard? The Vikings gave up more points than any team in the league last year, and a shoddy secondary was the biggest culprit. I tried to move back again from No. 9, but when those options (with the Giants at No. 12 and the Rams at No. 13) dried up, I took Dennard over Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. As enticing as Donald was, cornerback seemed like a bigger need in a division with the passing offenses the Vikings face on a regular basis, and the biggest takeaway from last season, on the defensive side of the ball, might have been how important it is to have depth at cornerback. Dennard and Xavier Rhodes give the Vikings two young, physical corners to play press coverage in Mike Zimmer's defense, with Captain Munnerlyn in the slot.

And now I've got two extra picks to facilitate another Spielman specialty: a move back into the first round. Will that happen? Keep checking back for more of our mock draft.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since February, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has been floating the idea that he might be interested in trading down from the No. 8 overall selection, to help the Vikings get from eight picks to Spielman's customary goal of 10. Count ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay among those who would find that to be a viable option if the Vikings didn't take a quarterback at No. 8.

McShay had the Vikings taking Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles in his most recent mock draft, but said in a conference call with ESPN NFL Nation reporters on Thursday that many of the team's other needs -- middle linebacker and cornerback among them -- wouldn't be worth filling at No. 8.

"I don't think there's a corner worth drafting in the top eight," McShay said. "I like (Michigan State's) Darqueze Dennard. I don't think (Oklahoma State's) Justin Gilbert is there (on his level). You're really reaching for a corner (at No. 8), to me. You're really reaching for a middle linebacker. If they like Gilbert as much as some teams do, they could try to move down a little bit."

Both McShay and ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper have talked about seven players who have separated themselves from the pack -- South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. It's always possible the Vikings could take one of those players if the quarterback they want is gone before No. 8, but Mack -- the one who would fit the Vikings best -- figures to be gone by then. It's also questionable whether the Vikings, who are set at both tackle spots and have Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson at receiver, would find the opportunity to take one of those players more attractive than the chance to trade down, especially when there could be other teams itching for the chance to move up and select one of those players.

The Vikings could always have a player high enough on their board that they'd feel comfortable taking him eighth overall. The depth of the draft, though, might put the Vikings in position to move back, pick up a couple extra selections and still get a defensive player they like. They could then use the extra picks to add depth in later rounds, or move back into the first round and take a quarterback who might be slipping (remember, teams get a fifth-year option and an extra year of control on first-rounders). In any case, not taking a quarterback could open up several options for the Vikings in the draft.

Analyzing McShay mock: Vikings 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
In his latest mock draft, ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay made his picks as though he were the general manager for every team in the league. In other words, he's picking the player he thinks the team should take, not necessarily whom they will take.

That's an important distinction to make, because in this particular case, it illustrates how badly the Vikings need to address their quarterback position for the future.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Vikings 

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay's latest mock draft spans two rounds, and like Mel Kiper Jr. did last week in his Grade A mock draft, McShay has the Vikings addressing perhaps their biggest need on each side of the ball with their first two picks.

The Vikings will have a number of different directions they could pursue at quarterback and cornerback with the eighth and 40th overall picks, and it's conceivable they could draft a quarterback and cornerback in either order in the first two rounds. If the draft falls the way McShay predicts it will, however, the Vikings will have an interesting choice on their hands at N0. 8.

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Each week, I will field questions via Twitter with the hashtag #VikingsMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.


Kiper's Mock 3.0: Vikings

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
The Minnesota Vikings have the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, after finishing 5-10-1 in 2014.

While they're in need of a quarterback for the future, they might have bought themselves a little time last week, when they re-signed Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10.5 million deal. Cassel figures to head into the season as the starting quarterback unless he's beat out by a rookie. But if the Vikings can't get one of the top quarterbacks with the eighth overall pick, they could conceivably wait until the second or third rounds to take a QB, rather than reaching for one in the first round.

Instead, a cornerback such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard could make sense with the eighth overall pick, particularly if the Vikings don't sign a proven corner in free agency. If Minnesota could pair another young corner with second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes and third-year safety Harrison Smith, it'd have a secondary to build on for quite some time.

It's also conceivable the Vikings could look for a linebacker in the first round of the draft, possibly pursuing someone who could bring a dose of physicality to their defense. Buffalo's Khalil Mack might be gone by the time the Vikings pick, but someone such as UCLA's Anthony Barr or Alabama's C.J. Mosley could make sense for Minnesota.

Check out Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 3.0 in a few hours to see which players he thinks the Vikings should target with the eighth pick.
Each week, I will field questions via Twitter with the hashtag #VikingsMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.


Countdown to combine: Vikings DBs

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
INDIANAPOLIS -- Hello from Indiana, where we're setting up camp in advance of the NFL scouting combine. We're back at it with our Countdown to Combine series, looking at four positions where the Minnesota Vikings need help heading into the 2014 draft. It all leads up to our coverage of the combine, which begins on Thursday.

Position of need: Defensive back

The Vikings allowed more points than any team in the league last season, and a secondary that suffered in the wake of Antoine Winfield's departure was a big part of the problem. Josh Robinson struggled to fill the slot corner position Winfield had played so well -- to the point where the Vikings nearly brought Winfield out of retirement before their Sept. 29 game in London -- and cornerback Chris Cook continued to struggle in man coverage, exposing the team's passing game during a season when their safeties were beset with injuries.

Three players the Vikings might be targeting:

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: The cornerback would give the Vikings another big cover corner to pair with Xavier Rhodes. He's at the top of Mel Kiper Jr.'s cornerback rankings Insider, and could be the kind of player the Vikings can get if they wind up trading back a few spots from the No. 8 overall pick. New coach Mike Zimmer will likely use more man coverage than the Vikings have employed in the past, and being able to put Gilbert with Rhodes would be an impressive foundation for the Vikings' secondary.

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: He isn't far behind Gilbert in many rankings, and would bring a similar skill set; Dennard can also be a press corner, and like Gilbert, he would give the Vikings a corner with a knack for making big plays. That element, in particular, would be a welcome addition to the Vikings' secondary; Cook has started the second-most games in NFL history without recording an interception.

Jason Verrett, TCU: The 5-foot-10 corner would provide a different kind of option from Gilbert and Dennard; he would likely be able to step in and play slot cornerback, if the Vikings' new defensive staff didn't feel Robinson had grown enough to handle the job. In any case, it might behoove the Vikings to have another option for the position.