With a 6-2 record at the mid-point of the season, the Minnesota Vikings are tied (2015) for their best start during the Mike Zimmer era. It’s no secret that the team has put together one of the most well-rounded rosters in the entire NFL, but with the bye week upon us, it’s never too soon to glance into the future and see how general manager Rick Spielman could make the roster even deeper.
Let’s take a look at a way too soon three-round mock draft:
First-Round: DT/Maurice Hurst — Michigan
There’s many positions the team could go with this pick. They could continue to rebuild their offensive line and draft a guard/tackle or even a quarterback with the unknown futures of Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater, who are all scheduled to be free agents after the season.
Through the first half of the season, it seems as if the Vikings will be picking somewhere in the 20’s or dare I mention the 30’s. With the offensive tackle class being top heavy and the quarterbacks being ultimate wildcards in this draft, the team elects to shore up a spot that needs some depth.
Tom Johnson is 34 years-old and an impending free agent. Sharrif Floyd doesn’t seem to be coming back at this point and Jaleel Johnson is still a rookie unknown, having only played in one game to this point.
With so much uncertainty at the three-technique defensive tackle spot, the team decides to draft Michigan’s Maurice Hurst. Already possessing NFL bloodlines, as his father Maurice Hurst, Sr. was a defensive back for the New England Patriots from 1989-1995, Hurst fills a position of need and adds tremendous value.
Ironically, Hurst’s game is very similar to Sharrif Floyd, as his most impressive trait is his first step explosion off of the line of scrimmage. Possessing a relentless motor, that always seems to be running flaming hot, Hurst is the perfect combination of size, speed, power and effort to potentially play alongside Linval Joseph.
Second-Round: OG/C Billy Price — Ohio State
Everyone knew at the conclusion of the 2016 season that the team needed to completely overhaul their offensive line. The mid-round selections of Pat Elflein (third-round) and Danny Isidora (fifth-round) are showing early dividends, as each have started games as rookies and played well.
The signing of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers at the tackle spots has worked out much better than Spielman could have ever dreamed of. They’re still somewhat weak at the guard spots long-term though.
Joe Berger is 35 years-old and in the final year of his deal, also he’s expected to retire at the end of the season. Nick Easton has played well in pass protection, but his run blocking leaves a lot to be desired.
After free agency and the draft it was clear that the Vikings preferred offensive lineman who are dominant run blockers, but possess coachable tools in pass protection in hopes of improving their technique over time. With that being said, Ohio State center/guard Billy Price would be a perfect fit.
Similar to Elflein, he played guard his entire career before making a switch to center this season. His best attributes are availability and versatility. Price has played in 49 straight games, which is one away from Luke Fickell’s school record (50) and he’s played at multiple positions along the interior.
Another aspect that makes Price so intriguing is that prior to 2017, the Buckeye standout played in 38 games with center Pat Elflein. The two already have developed chemistry having already played alongside each other (2014-2016). With either having the versatility to play both guard spots as well as center, Price could be an ideal fit along the Minnesota interior front.
Third-Round: S/Jordan Whitehead — Pittsburgh
Once again, there are many positions that the team could select here. Offensive Tackle, Quarterback or even outside linebacker, but already possessing one of the deepest and well put together rosters in the entire league, the team can afford to take a risk at some spots and build more depth.
Although his reckless style and low light plays always seem to be magnified by the fanbase, Andrew Sendejo is a good player, but he will be 30 years-old and his contract doesn’t carry any dead money through 2020. It may be time for the team to potentially upgrade at the safety spot and look for a long-term answer.
Everyone knows that I’ve been clamoring for a ball-hawking free safety that allows All-Pro safety Harrison Smith to roam the box as a true strong safety. Anthony Harris and Sendejo somewhat provide that, but they do not have the upside that Whitehead potentially has.
The mid-rounds are where we like to see the team take risks on either long-term projects or players that have had character issues during their collegiate careers. The Pitt safety was suspended for the first three games of the 2017 season due to unspecified reasons. Reports still haven’t surfaced on the specific reasons as to why he was suspended, but Whitehead has bounced back nicely since his brief absence.
Breaking out as a freshman with 110 tackles, one interception and six pass deflections, he followed that up with a sub-par sophomore campaign, as the team moved him to strictly playing strong safety. Now, entering his third season, and back at free safety, many scouts are saying his draft stock could be anywhere from a first-to-third round grade.
Whitehead would be a good fit in Mike Zimmer’s scheme because he has the instincts, tackling ability, coverage skills and versatility to play either strong or free safety, which is required in the fourth-year head coaches defense.
For NFL news and analysis, follow J.R. on Twitter @JReidDraftScout.