The NFL Draft is still three months off, but it’s not too soon to start looking at some top draft picks the Vikings could select at the end of April. The Senior Bowl has just concluded, and there won’t be much more to evaluate now until the Combine, which probably isn’t as insightful.
The first profile is of OL Dalton Risner (Rise -ner).
Risner’s Draft Stock is Rising After the Senior Bowl
I'm not sure where the consensus had Dalton Risner going in the draft prior to the Senior Bowl, but afterward he looks to be a solid mid-to-late first round pick. Hopefully he'll be an option for the Vikings at #18.
Dalton Risner is awesome. Asked him which position up-front he’s most comfortable playing and what he needs to improve upon most this week. pic.twitter.com/DqxEJc2Hkd— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) January 22, 2019
Risner is out of Kansas State, where he has dominated at right tackle for the past three years. He played a year at center as well early on. He hasn’t given up a sack since 2016. But the ding against all small school prospects is that they haven’t faced top competition. Risner faced off against Montez Sweat- a top edge rusher in this years draft- in one game, and held up well. Beyond that, however, not so much too competition. That is why the Senior Bowl is so important to his draft stock.
Dalton Risner has been one of the best offensive lineman on the field since he entered college and hasn't allowed a sack since 2016. pic.twitter.com/cMh4XoMj93— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 18, 2019
The Senior Bowl gives small school prospects the opportunity to show what they can do against top competition, and by pretty much all accounts Risner shined against Senior Bowl competition.
Washington's Kaleb McGary (58) and K-State's Dalton Risner (71) have had a really good week. Flashed that nasty demeanor clubs like in OLs. McGary can really move his feet for a 325-pound guy. #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/c7RYkRfd55— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) January 25, 2019
Risner Brings Tenacity, Toughness - and Leadership
The point behind these clips of Risner in the Senior Bowl, however, isn’t so much to
demonstrate HOW he played, but WHAT KIND of player he is.
Risner has been described as extremely tenacious and nasty, bringing a mauler’s mentality to the trenches. He was also a team captain for three years, and actively communicated with his teammates to make adjustments. He comes across very well spoken and intelligent. These leadership and communication skills will be prized by coaches - along with his nasty streak - and for the Vikings could bring some much needed edge and swagger to an offensive line that seldom imposes its will.
Risner can play all five positions along the line if need be, and measured 6”4 5/8” , 308 lbs., with 34 1/4” arms, 10 5/8” hands, and 81” wingspan at the Senior Bowl. But his mauler mentality, communication and leadership skills, combined with some weakness in footwork outside, make him a better fit as an interior lineman in the NFL - most likely center - where he played as a freshman. He would also be a good fit at guard.
Risner played all his reps during the Senior Bowl at right tackle, where he’s played for the past three years, which was smart. Sometimes linemen play a new or multiple positions for the Senior Bowl - where they are projected in the NFL, and do poorly as a result. Risner also stated that he wanted to prove himself as a tackle (more money, higher draft position), but that he’d play anywhere his team wanted him to play.
He also checks all the boxes in terms of being able to start at a high level as a rookie - solid technique, good anchor, excellent functional strength and hand usage, elite recognition and mental processing to deal with twists and blitzes. He’s also a “high character guy” and a “tough, physical, smart football player with a passion for the game of football,” two phrases we’re likely to hear repeated again by Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer as they describe the type of players they’re after in the draft.
Kansas State, where Risner played, used primarily inside zone runs but also some gap blocking schemes, so Risner will be used to working with both schemes. The Vikings use more zone blocking these days. So from a scheme standpoint, I wouldn’t expect Risner to have any difficulty adapting to the Vikings scheme.
The main drawbacks on Risner is that he’ll be a 24 year old rookie, and he had shoulder surgery after the 2017 season (although he missed only one game in five years at Kansas State).
Bottom line, Risner could be just the tonic the Vikings interior offensive line needs to get off the schneid and into a more dominant groove next season. The Vikings reportedly met with Risner during the Senior Bowl, so there is some interest. I would expect a lot of sites mocking him to the Vikings at #18 in the coming months. We’ll see what happens a the end of April.