The draft is just 10 days away and the market is hot for free-wheeling speculation, trade talk and player evaluation. And the Vikings have inserted themselves right into the middle of it. The questions regarding what they will do with their 30th-overall pick range from trading back to trading up to drafting for need to drafting best player available. Rick Spielman continues to play his cards close to the vest, however.
Minnesota boasts one of the league’s best rosters, but they have issues of depth at some positions and lack a starter at one other. Presumably, the first day of the draft will aim to fill these spots. Or they could surprise and draft a linebacker or a safety, simply because they are best on the board. Truth be told, predicting the draft outside of the top-five is a crap shoot. Regardless, we are going to do our best to pinpoint the most likely routes for the Vikings to take come draft day.
Based on evidence of meetings and speculative interest, Rick Spielman has two offensive linemen at the front of his mind: Ohio State’s Billy Price and Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow. Both are big, strong men who ran similar schemes and have position versatility. The other thing they have in common is that both project to be available early in the second round. Price was at one time a near certainty to go first round, but a pectoral injury suffered at the combine has bumped his stock a bit. Ragnow, on the other hand, was once considered a third-rounder due to his average quickness and injury history. His stock, however, has strengthened as teams have received assurance that his ankle is healed.
Some of the more desirable names, Mike McGlinchey, Connor Williams, Isaiah Wynn and Will Hernandez, are also on the Vikings radar with their first round pick. Williams and McGlinchey had private top-30 visits with the team, as did Ragnow. However, this year’s draft, while deep with offensive line talent, is not very top-heavy. As such, the borderline first/second round guys are likely to jump, particularly the tackles Williams and McGlinchey.
So the Vikings may wait until draft day to see who falls to them. But if Ragnow and Price are both still available once number 30 arrives, which they are likely to be, do not be surprised if the Vikings make a deal to move into the second round. The Colts would be the team to watch, as they have two picks back-to-back early in round two. Minnesota has a good number of picks overall in this year’s draft, but they do not have any in the all important fourth round. If they make a move, expect them to acquire at least one there.
Or they could just take Price at 30. Of the three interior line prospects projected for the late first (Price, Wynn, Hernandez), Price is the most likely to still be available, given his recent injury. Wynn’s past as a left tackle make him appealing to teams with weak lines, as does Hernandez’s overall power, technical proclivities and great combine performance. As such, their services will likely garner more suitors in the mid-to-late first.
As for Price, while he ranks fourth among interior linemen on most big boards, the gap between him and the other two is minute. Price possesses a rare combination of quickness and power and the perfect nasty streak to work in a run-heavy offense. Plus, his former Ohio State teammate Pat Elflein would be mere inches away from him.
The only issue here is the growing sentiment that Price’s injury, while minor, could drop him well into the second. And Rick Spielman has made it abundantly clear he is about as high on Ragnow as he is on Price, and Ragnow is almost guaranteed to be a second-rounder. Now, if the Vikings move back, this is all well and good and Spielman will likely draft one of these two. But if the Vikings stay at 30, Price may be a shakier pick than once expected.
So now we will get into the pure first round prospects. Hughes’ stock has fluctuated between mid-to-late first and second rounds, but with increasing demand for Jaire Alexander especially, Hughes has settled into a first round projection. The Vikings used a Top-30 visit on Hughes, who only had one year as a starter in college. In that one year at Central Florida, he established himself as one of the premier upside corners in football due to his incredible athleticism and physical coverage style. On top of that, he was one of, if not the best kick returner in the nation in 2017.
Corner is not the Vikings number one need, but it is a position that lacks depth (especially if Terence Newman does not re-sign, which could very well happen). Trae Waynes may be in his last year in purple as he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Hughes can return kicks and play nickel immediately, as he did some of it at UCF. And then, down the road, he can make the move outside.
Reid’s style of play is not too different from Vikings All-Pro Harrison Smith. He spends a lot of time in the box, tackles aggressively, blitzes, covers the slot man-to-man and drops into deep zone. Mike Zimmer likes to move his safeties around, making them essentially interchangeable. Reid would fit well playing next to Smith.
The problem is that Andrew Sendejo is coming off his best season as a pro and does not enter unrestricted free agency for two more years. So Reid would figure to get just spot time as a safety while occasionally getting run in nickel and dime packages. Given that Reid is arguably the second-hottest safety prospect in this year’s class, there would almost certainly be more playing time with another team. But Reid was one of the Vikings’ Top-30 guys and a surprising number of mocks have them going safety with their first round pick.
I would be surprised if the Vikings do not trade back to both acquire some more mid-round picks and get one of the two guys they seem to want most anyway (Ragnow or Price). The only scenario I see them staying is if a name falls that they did not expect, which I would guess would be either Connor Williams or Will Hernandez.
Given that the Vikings are clearly in win-now mode (as indicated by free agency, particularly the Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson contracts), it would behoove them most to get at least one immediate starter in the early rounds. A safety would not start right away. A corner would, but at nickel. Price and Ragnow both have the ability to start at guard day one and will be more accessible, since they are likely to be available in the second.