Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack

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. Insider and Todd McShay Insider 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.
Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for our weekly Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can send them to me on Twitter any time during the week at @GoesslingESPN, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

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.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' top-30 prospects event continues today, as draft hopefuls from around the country visit the team's facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., for meetings with coaches and team executives. We can add two more names to the list of prospects known to be visiting the Vikings.

Florida State running back Devonta Freeman is visiting the Vikings on Thursday, according to a league source, and the Baltimore Sun reported University of Virginia center Luke Bowanko is also coming to Minnesota for a Thursday visit.

Freeman, who declared for the draft after his junior year at Florida State, is just 5-foot-8, but weighed 206 pounds at the NFL scouting combine and could find success as an inside runner in the NFL. His 40-yard dash time was a modest 4.58 seconds, but he's got the kind of compact frame to slash through holes in an offensive line and gain tough yards. The Vikings could be in the market for a backup for Adrian Peterson, and Freeman is the second running back with whom the Vikings are known to have visited, behind Towson's Terrance West.

Bowanko measured 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 302 pounds at his pro day, and also saw time at guard for Virginia. He figures to start his NFL career as a backup at both interior line spots.

With those names added, here is an updated list of the players known to have visited the Vikings, either through ESPN or other media reports:
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will begin welcoming players to town on Wednesday for their top-30 prospects event, which uses many of their 30 allotted pre-draft visits to create a two-day convention of sorts for draft hopefuls at the team's facility. The Vikings have held the event about 3 1/2 weeks before the draft for the past several years, and players will meet with coaches and team executives while in the Twin Cities.

Here is a partial list of prospects attending the event, based on what we've been able to confirm and what other outlets have reported:
The Vikings also met with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over the weekend, and reportedly met with Towson running back Terrance West on Tuesday.

The event doesn't necessarily indicate the prospects at the top of the Vikings' draft board -- some of the players brought to the Twin Cities for visits might not be taken until the third day of the draft -- and is an inconsistent predictor of whether the team will actually draft a player. The Vikings invited left tackle Matt Kalil to the event in 2012, and selected him fourth overall. Safety Harrison Smith wasn't at the event, and the Vikings traded back into the first round to select him in the same draft.

But even though the Vikings won't take a large number of the players they invite to the event, they can still use it for other purposes: possibly to learn more about a player's teammate, to make other teams think they're interested in a certain player or to file away information on a player for years down the road. That last reason can be particularly useful; after the Vikings signed defensive tackle Linval Joseph last month, general manager Rick Spielman mentioned the team hosted Joseph at its top-30 event before the New York Giants drafted him in 2010.

And of course, there are players like Mack and Barr, who could be legitimate options for the Vikings with the No. 8 overall pick. It's best not to treat the event as a be-all, end-all -- or anything close to it -- but for the Vikings, it can be a useful piece of the pre-draft evaluation puzzle.
MINNEAPOLIS -- During an offseason full of moves to improve the first and third levels of their defense, the Minnesota Vikings have left their linebacking group largely unchanged. The team brought back Jasper Brinkley after letting him leave in free agency a year earlier, but five of the seven linebackers presently on the Vikings' roster were also there last year. It seemed obvious they needed to improve at the position, but considering how thin the free agent linebacker class was, it was always more likely the Vikings would address the position in the draft.

Based on how they're setting up their top-30 prospects event for Wednesday and Thursday, the Vikings certainly seem to be doing their homework on linebackers. Louisville linebacker Preston Brown said he will attend the event, and two league sources said UCLA's Anthony Barr and Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence will also be there. Additionally, NFL.com reported that Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack -- who could be drafted well before the Vikings make the eighth pick in next month's draft -- will travel to the Twin Cities for the event, as well.

General manager Rick Spielman said last month he feels good about some of the young linebackers the Vikings already have, and Audie Cole might have played his way into contention for a starting spot based on how he did at the end of last year. Michael Mauti is more than a year removed from knee surgery, and could push for a starting spot at either middle or outside linebacker. But with Chad Greenway at age 31, having renegotiated his contract and due to become a free agent after 2015, the Vikings need to get some things in place for their future at the position. They could especially use an active, physical linebacker who could cast an imposing presence in Mike Zimmer's defense, and all of the linebackers we know the Vikings are bringing in for pre-draft visits would fit that profile.

It's always dangerous to assume the Vikings' top-30 event reveals anything definitive about the team's pre-draft thinking, since teams have so many other avenues to talk with and evaluate prospects before the draft. But as purposefully as the Vikings have addressed their defensive needs this offseason, they've left themselves some work to do at linebacker. If nothing else, their top-30 event could hint at the strategy they plan to use to improve the position.

Vikings mailbag: OTAs, safeties

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
Each week, I will field questions via Twitter with the hashtag #VikingsMail, then deliver the answers over the weekend.

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


Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Vikings

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
In his third mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has a quarterback -- and a headline-grabber, at that -- sliding to the Vikings at No. 8: He's got them taking Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, as the top three quarterbacks in the draft all slide out of the top three overall picks.

The Vikings would have interest in Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, whom Kiper now has projected to go No. 1 overall to Houston, and with the Matt Cassel signing, they are not obligated to take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick. But if Manziel were still there, it might be tough for the Vikings to pass on him, especially since they could pair him with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Cassel, putting him in a structure where he's able to develop. Manziel wouldn't have to start the first week of the season unless he were good enough to do so, and even if he did, Cassel would give him an experienced quarterback to learn from. It's also worth noting that Turner was the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator when they picked Drew Brees; in other words, Manziel's height won't be a red flag in the coordinator's mind.

Drafting Manziel would mean the Vikings would get all that comes with him, though he seemed intent on distancing himself from the Johnny Football persona at the NFL scouting combine. They would also be passing on potential impact players at linebacker or cornerback. But Manziel would give them a dynamic young quarterback to build around -- and would certainly add a jolt of excitement to a fan base that hasn't had much of it at quarterback lately, save for two years with Brett Favre. All told, it's tough to see the Vikings passing on a chance to get a player like Manziel, should the opportunity present itself.
Each week, I will field questions via Twitter with the hashtag #VikingsMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.


Countdown to combine: Vikings LBs

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're back at it with our Countdown to combine series, looking at four positions where the Vikings need help heading into the 2014 draft. It all leads up to our coverage of the NFL scouting combine from Indianapolis.

Position of need: Linebacker

In many ways, this has been a position that's needed upgrading for years. Chad Greenway made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012, but the Vikings' production at middle linebacker has suffered since E.J. Henderson retired, and it became obvious last year they needed a dynamic, playmaking linebacker, as well as a permanent solution in the middle of their defense. It's possible both of those needs could be met in the same player.

Three players the Vikings might be targeting:

Khalil Mack, Buffalo: The 6-foot-3 linebacker has been linked to the Vikings in a number of mock drafts and with good reason; he'd be the kind of athletic linebacker who'd make offenses take notice. As dependable as Greenway has been, the Vikings haven't had a true thumper in their linebacking group for some time. Mack would likely start at weakside linebacker, assuming the Vikings liked what they saw of Audie Cole enough to give him another try in the middle. If Mack played there, he might also give the Vikings some of what they thought they'd get with Desmond Bishop in that spot last year -- a physical linebacker who can rush the passer.

C.J. Mosley, Alabama: If the Vikings were looking for a middle linebacker, Mosley might be their best option. He's particularly strong in pass coverage -- where Erin Henderson flailed at times last year -- and he's got the size to help in the run game, as well. Mosley sustained a nasty knee injury in the 2012 BCS National Championship, and dislocated his elbow last year, but if he shows himself healthy enough to merit first-round consideration, he could get a strong look from the Vikings at No. 8. General manager Rick Spielman has also talked about the possibility of trading back for more picks, and if the Vikings did that, they might still be able to get Mosley at, say, No. 10 or 12.

Anthony Barr, UCLA: He could be gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 8, particularly if there's a team that sees him being able to bulk up enough to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but he'd be another strong option at outside linebacker. Barr is 6-4 and nearly 250 pounds, so he'd certainly have the size to be an imposing outside linebacker. His best fit could be with a team looking for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but Barr's pass-rushing skills could make him an attractive fit in the Vikings' scheme, as well.
ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have each rolled out new mock drafts today on ESPN.com. And while Kiper's presents a scenario by which the Vikings could get one of the top quarterbacks available with the No. 8 overall pick (Central Florida's Blake Bortles), McShay's shows what the Vikings could do if the three QBs thought to be at the top of the class (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Bortles) are all gone.

Kiper has the Vikings taking Bortles after two teams that need quarterbacks (the Jaguars and Raiders) draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins third and fifth overall, respectively. In McShay's version, Bridgewater, Bortles and Manziel go with the third, fourth and fifth picks, leaving the Vikings with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers grab Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack with the No. 7 pick.

Either of those scenarios, I'd think, would be ones the Vikings would be willing to accept. Quarterback is such a glaring need for the franchise -- especially now that the Vikings would have to work to re-sign Matt Cassel as a temporary insurance policy -- that they'd welcome a chance to get a young passer with the physical tools of Bortles. But even if the Vikings have that chance, they saw three years ago what can happen when they reach for a quarterback and the decision doesn't pan out. General manager Rick Spielman can't afford to make that mistake again, and getting a dynamic linebacker like Mack or Mosley would also make sense. Mosley comes into the draft with injury concerns, but putting him at weakside linebacker would give the Vikings the kind of aggressive playmaker they've been missing for years.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Vikings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
In his first mock draft, ESPN NFL draft Insider Mel Kiper delivers a pick Insider for the Vikings that fans -- and the team -- would likely love: Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The 21-year-old quarterback, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 1 pick, will go to the Vikings at No. 8, Kiper predicts. He has Bridgewater as the third quarterback taken in the draft, behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Central Florida's Blake Bortles.

If the Vikings are sitting with a chance to take Bridgewater at No. 8 in May, it'd be hard to see them passing that up. Bridgewater would give the Vikings a mobile, athletic and assertive quarterback whom they could develop if Matt Cassel comes back or look to start right away if he's good enough to do so. The question will be whether he slips far enough in the draft for the Vikings to have a shot at him, but as Kiper points out, some of the teams drafting in front of the Vikings who also need a quarterback -- such as Jacksonville and Tampa Bay -- also could opt for defensive players; Kiper has the Jaguars taking South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at No. 3, and the Buccaneers grabbing Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 7.

Either of those players could make sense for the Vikings, and in a year with so many bad teams that have interchangeable needs -- the Vikings' five wins were just the eighth-fewest in the league -- the draft could break any number of ways. But if Bridgewater were available for the Vikings at No. 8, they could have an easy choice.