We’re getting ever closer to the 2017 NFL Draft, and while that’s obviously something to look forward to, the purpose of this post is to look back a bit and ask ourselves, “What if?” A lot of our fellow SB Nation blogs did a post similar to this during Super Bowl week, but I wanted to save it until now because. . .well, what the heck else is going on right now?
We went back and dug up the final mock drafts from ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. We’re going to take a look back and see how the Minnesota Vikings might have been different had the team followed their advice rather than go the direction they ultimately ended up going and what likely would have been the best scenario for the team. (The majority of the links go to behind the great E$PN paywall.) We’ll start with the 2010 NFL Draft.
2010 (Vikings hold #30 overall pick)
Kiper’s pick: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
I can't promise he'll go here, but my gut tells me Tebow could end up somewhere late in the first round, even as high as No. 22. I'm on the record about what I think are obvious issues in his game as it projects to the NFL, but Tebow has, to his credit, already shown an ability to adapt. He has the intangibles of a No. 1 overall pick, but the key was showing teams he has the promise of being a potential franchise quarterback. And while I'm not totally sold, this should reflect my belief that some are. With Brett Favre likely returning, the Vikes have a chance to prepare a young talent.
McShay’s pick: Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers
Vikings VP of player personnel Rick Spielman likes to stay put and select the best available player, and McCourty fits the bill. He is a tremendous athlete and also one of the best all-around special-teams players in this draft.
What actually happened: The Vikings traded out of the first round, making a deal with the Detroit Lions. Minnesota sent pick #30 and a fourth-round pick (#128 overall) to Detroit. They received Detroit’s second round pick (#34 overall), which they used on cornerback Chris Cook out of Virginia. They also received the Lions’ fourth round pick (#100 overall, which became Southern Cal defensive end Everson Griffen) and a seventh round pick (#214 overall) that was used on Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler, Jr.
Verdict: McCourty is a great defensive back and has been named an All-Pro at both safety and cornerback during his career. He went at #27 in the actual draft that year, but he would have been great to have. I don’t want to start any Tebow arguments or anything, but I’m not sure that he would have worked out any better here than he did in the rest of his NFL career. While Cook didn’t do much in Minnesota, the trade down did net the Vikings the man they call Sack Daddy, so it wasn’t that bad in hindsight. Overall, I think McShay would be on top in this one.
2011 (Vikings hold #12 overall pick)
Kiper’s pick: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
This pick comes with a caveat: I think the Vikings will actively be looking to move down and get Locker later. But if they do get him here, what they get is a guy with an exceptional package of skills and intangibles. Locker's struggles last year and his fall in the eyes of evaluators is well-covered ground, but what's kept him as a first-round option is a big-time arm, athleticism that matches that of Newton, a solid work ethic and the kind of moxie and leadership skills coaches crave. Accuracy will be the question until Locker is able to answer definitively that it should not be a concern with his play on the field, but there's plenty to like.
McShay’s pick: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Castonzo has the size and skills to step in immediately and allow the Vikings to shuffle their offensive line to better fit their current personnel.
What actually happened: The Vikings selected Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
Verdict: Castonzo has been a solid offensive tackle for the Colts, starting every game for them since he was drafted. He’s not great, but given what the Vikings have watched at offensive tackle over the past couple of seasons, he would be a huge improvement and a solidifying presence. Locker was off the board before the Vikings pick, and then decided to retire from the NFL at the end of his rookie contract. I don’t really feel like starting another Ponder argument either, so I won’t. Once again, however, it looks like McShay’s pick definitely would have been the best case scenario for the Vikings.
2012 (Vikings hold #3 overall pick)
Kiper’s pick: Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
Shifting this one back to an offensive line pick, though word is the Vikings are still actively trying to move down. The Vikings could go three different ways, and are still deciding which is the best route to take.
McShay’s pick: Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
No commentary provided for the selection for that year.
What actually happened: The Vikings took. . .get this. . .Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil. But only after they made a trade with the Cleveland Browns to move down one spot, picking up an extra fourth rounder (#118 overall) that they used on Arkansas wide receiver Jarius Wright, a fifth rounder (#138 overall), and a seventh rounder (#211 overall).
They wound up trading #138 and a seventh round choice (#223 overall) to the Lions for Detroit’s seventh round pick (#219) and a fourth rounder in the 2013 Draft. The team took California defensive lineman Trevor Guyton at #219 overall. They also traded #211 to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for a sixth round pick in 2013.
The Vikings also traded back into the first round to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith at #29 overall, but obviously Kiper and McShay couldn’t project that.
Verdict: Well, it doesn’t appear that a whole lot would have changed. Obviously, the Vikings trading down and getting the extra picks puts them on top here, but mock drafts don’t generally project trades, so it’s tough to count that against the ESPN guys. Say what you will about how Kalil turned out, but at the time he was the consensus best non-quarterback in the draft that year. At the time, it would have been silly for the Vikings to take anyone else.
2013 (Vikings hold #23 and #25 overall picks)
Kiper’s pick at #23: Robert Woods, WR, Southern California
The Vikings need to provide Christian Ponder with a target that can contribute early, but that's not easy to find at wide receiver. Any coach will tell you the nuances of route-running and simply identifying what defenses are trying to do to you is a big hurdle for rookie receivers. That won't be the case for Woods. He comes out of a system that uses a lot NFL concepts, and he has the smarts, speed and hands to become a reliable WR early in his career. Good fit.
Kiper’s pick at #25: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
There's not a lot of mystery to this pick. The Vikings need a player who can step in as the new middle linebacker in Week 1, and they get a good value on the board in Ogletree. At his best, Ogletree is instinctive and explosive, the kind of player that can shoot gaps and beat blocks to the ball. He has dealt with off-field issues, but those only allow a player of his talent level to be around this late.
McShay’s pick at #23: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
No commentary provided
McShay’s pick at #25: Alex Ogletree, LB, Georgia
No commentary provided
What actually happened: The Vikings acquired the #25 pick from the Seattle Seahawks in the Percy Harvin trade that Rick Spielman spent weeks assuring everyone wasn’t going to happen. They then wound up using the #23 selection on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (who both Kiper and McShay had coming off the board to the Oakland Raiders at #3 overall), and the #25 pick on Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Kiper had Rhodes going between Minnesota’s two selections to the Indianapolis Colts at #24, while McShay had Rhodes being taken by the New England Patriots at #29.
Minnesota traded up into the first round again, this time with the Patriots, to take Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at #29.
Verdict: I think the Rhodes selection alone is enough to tip the scales in Minnesota’s favor in this one. Ogletree is a fine linebacker, but Rhodes is much higher on the cornerback hierarchy than Ogletree is on the linebacker hierarchy across the league right now. Floyd has had his ups and downs, but he’s been pretty good when he’s actually been on the football field.
2014 (Vikings hold #8 overall pick)
Kiper’s pick: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
No player in the entire draft has put together a better year to get to this point. Donald was the most dominant defensive lineman in college football, destroyed the competition at the Senior Bowl, and then tested remarkably well at the combine. The Vikings added Sharrif Floyd in last year's draft, but could still use another interior defender, and Donald can make an early impact and improve what was an awful defense last season. He'll make those around him better. Justin Gilbert could also be in play here.
McShay’s pick: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Blake Bortles could be the pick here, and maybe should be if you ask me, but the Vikings are desperate to add help on defense and Gilbert would fill a need at cornerback. It would not surprise me if the Vikings decide to trade down here and get their corner a few spots later, but in this scenario we'll have them stay put and take Gilbert. He isn't very physical and shows some tightness in coverage, but he has elite straight-line speed and is a big-time playmaker.
What actually happened: The Vikings once again got the Browns to make a deal with them to move down one spot, acquiring an extra fifth round pick (#145 overall) to do so. Minnesota then took UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr at #9 overall, and used pick #145 on Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey, who at the time we all thought was a huge steal.
Minnesota also traded back into the first round for the third year in a row, moving up in a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to select Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the final selection of Round 1. Both Kiper and McShay had Bridgewater going at #26 to the Cleveland Browns.
Verdict: As much as I like Anthony Barr. . .yeah, advantage Kiper here. And it’s not particularly close. Donald is the best defensive tackle in the NFL and would be even more amazing in Minnesota, I think.
2015 (Vikings hold #11 overall pick)
Kiper’s pick: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Why they take him: The top three wide receivers are off the board, and they get immediate help at CB while pushing Captain Munnerlyn to a better position in the slot.
Why they pass: Because they see holes in Waynes' game as a tackler and decide to go with a wide receiver or even a different cornerback.
McShay’s pick: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
This is another pick I've made a few different times during the draft process, but it continues to make sense. The Vikings need a press-man corner opposite Xavier Rhodes, and Waynes is the best cornerback prospect in this class who figures to fit best in press-man or Cover 2 alignments.
What actually happened: The Vikings selected Trae Waynes, cornerback, Michigan State. #asexpected
Verdict: Like the Kalil selection, everyone this time was equally right. Or, if you’re a bit salty, equally wrong. Unlike 2012, though, the Vikings didn’t manage to snag any extra picks before making this selection.
2016 (Vikings hold #23 overall pick)
Kiper’s pick: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi
A potential dream scenario for the Vikings, who will be looking for the No. 2 option in that offense to go with Stefon Diggs. Treadwell lacks elite speed, but he's got pretty much everything else you want.
McShay’s pick: Josh Doctson, WR, Texas Christian
Doctson would be a welcome sight for QB Teddy Bridgewater. The TCU product has the size, leaping skills and focus to present a one-on-one matchup problem down the field outside the hashes.
What actually happened: As a part of a mini-run at the wide receiver position, the Vikings took Treadwell at #23.
Verdict: We know that Treadwell had a lost season in 2016. . .and seriously, if you’re already calling him a bust, that’s ridiculous. He’s got plenty of time to turn it around. Doctson, on the other hand, finished the season with exactly one more catch than Treadwell had after getting hurt in Week 3 and eventually going on injured reserve. He’s not a bust yet, either. Everyone knew that the Vikings were either going wide receiver or offensive line at #23, and that’s what they did.
So, that’s a look back on how things could have been different if the Vikings had followed the advice of the ESPN draft experts over the past seven drafts. There definitely would have been some differences, but there were a couple of times that the Vikings went along with the consensus. It’s going to be a lot harder to predict this year with the team not (currently) having a first-round selection.