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Four Draft Picks that Could Replace Vikings’ Starters

Day one starters that could save the Vikings a lot of cap space

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Old Dominion at Virginia Tech Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The start of the new league year is approaching, and the Vikings are making their preparations for free agency and the draft, as well as making the cuts necessary to get under the salary cap when the league year starts on March 17th. Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman said last week that he expects it to be a very active free agency period with so many teams needing to make moves to get under the lower salary cap this season. It’s unclear how active the Vikings will be in free agency, as both buyer and seller, but clearly the Vikings would like to continue to lighten the salary cap load going forward, while getting younger, and here are four guys that could help them do just that.

I’ve included the PFF and TDN write-ups.

LT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech

Darrisaw is a 6’5” 314 lbs. left tackle likely to go in the first round of the draft. He could replace Riley Reiff at left tackle, saving $14MM in salary cap space.

Pro Football Focus


Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw earned the opportunity to start for the Hokies as a true freshman and did nothing but improve for three seasons, developing into a dominant blocker in 2020. From a size, length, and mobility standpoint, Darrisaw firmly checks the boxes and should immediately become an asset to an NFL franchise in pass protection, outside zone runs, and utilizing his exceptional ability to pull and connect with moving targets in space. Like most young offensive linemen, Darrisaw has room to add functional strength to improve his overall power at the point of attack, but it’s far from a deficiency that is of major concern. The amount of technical growth Darrisaw has demonstrated throughout the course of his career is exciting when considering his starting point for the next level and how he peaked at the perfect time. It shouldn’t take long for Darrisaw to earn a starting role in the NFL and he has the upside to become a standout, franchise left tackle.

Ideal Role: Starting left tackle

Scheme Fit: Zone run scheme


Written by Joe Marino, TDN

Games watched: Virginia (2019), Notre Dame (2019), Boston College (2020), Miami (2020), Clemson (2020), Wake Forest (2020).

Best Game Studied: Wake Forest (2020)

Worst Game Studied: Virginia (2019)

Balance: Darrisaw generally plays with terrific control of his frame, showcasing the ability to remain balanced when sliding laterally, absorbing contact, and working in space. With that said, there are some instances in pass protection when the rusher is able to soften his outside edge and Darrisaw becomes top-heavy, folding at the waist and lunging when working to recover. Outside of those moments, Darrisaw plays with leveraged hips, bent knees, and within himself. His growth in this area when comparing 2019 to 2020 film is notable.

Pass Sets: Darrisaw demonstrates fluid footwork into his kickslide and normally reaches his set points on schedule with no issues. With that said, there are some occasions where he can be a touch tardy with his feet when threatened with speed and flexibility that can challenge his outside hip that will force his roadblock to be late. Darrisaw is an effective quick setter and has the movement skills, power, and length to master vertical sets.

Competitive Toughness: Darrisaw’s motor never stops. He is constantly looking for work and is supremely aggressive competing down the field to his blocks in space. I love his enthusiasm when he has an advantageous angle to widen rush lanes and take his opponent for a ride. There’s no doubt he executes with an edge.

Lateral Mobility: Darrisaw’s range and ability to work laterally will be a major asset to zone runs. He has the ability to hinge, pivot, and slide laterally with ease. Darrisaw does well to take away the B-gap from edge rushers who threaten with an inside move.

Length: Darrisaw blends terrific mobility with ideal length, which makes it difficult for rushers to beat him around the arc. He generally does well to keep rushers at the end of his reach and move them beyond the peak of the pocket. There are some instances where opponents have been able to get into his framework in the run game where he needs to activate, place, and locate his hands more effectively to take advantage of his length.

Football IQ: Darrisaw’s ability to start as a true freshman and improve every season at Virginia Tech speaks to his football intelligence. He has a clear understanding of his responsibilities and how they impact the play concept while showing accurate responses to pressure packages. He was only called for one penalty in 2020 after just two in 2019.

Hand Technique: Darrisaw has impressive flashes with his hands where he stuns his opponent with terrific power, timing, and placement. He consistently battles to fit his hands, rarely becoming grabby or working outside the framework of his opponent. He illustrates good strike variance in pass protection and his post hand is strong.

Anchor Ability: Darrisaw’s opponents won’t have much success trying to rush through him. Darrisaw maximizes his functional strength and plays with consistently leveraged hips that he knows how to unlock. I love his ability to drop a late anchor when necessary to take back control of reps and recover when challenged with a bull rush.

Power at P.O.A.: Darrisaw has sufficient power at the point of attack and he creates considerable movement in the run game when he’s able to take advantage of angles, unlock his hips, place his hands and accelerate his feet. There are exciting reps where he has to hook and pin his man on outside runs where his blend of power, mobility, and length can be devastating. With that said, he has room to add functional strength to make him more successful as a drive blocker to uproot defenders out of their gap.

Versatility: Darrisaw has three seasons of starting experience at left tackle and no game experience at any other spot. His skill set would be maximized in a zone blocking run scheme and isn’t likely to be coveted by man/power run teams. Darrisaw should be an asset to his offense in the run game, pass game, and blocking in space.

Prospect Comparison: Jake Matthews (2014 NFL Draft, Atlanta Falcons)

LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa

Collins is a 6’4”, 260 lbs. linebacker that has the athleticism and coverage ability of modern, undersized linebackers - and he can blitz like an edge rusher. He’s about as ideal a replacement for Anthony Barr as you’re likely to find. Not sure what Barr might fetch in trade, but moving on from him would save $7.2MM in cap space this year, and $15MM in future years.

Pro Football Focus


After a high school career in which Zaven Collins was a four-year starter at quarterback and linebacker/safety, Tulsa was the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship. He ended his college career by claiming the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best defensive player. Collins offers an exciting blend of size, length, power, football intelligence, and versatility that makes him a dynamic prospect for the NFL. Whether it’s defending the run, dropping into coverage, or rushing the passer, Collins has the requisite skill set required to execute and was arguably the most dynamic defensive playmaker in college football for the 2020 season. He demonstrated notable growth in 2020, becoming a complete defender and making high-impact, clutch plays seemingly every week. The Belichick disciples and teams that deploy that style of defense are likely salivating over Collins’ skill set and he projects as an impact defender in the NFL that can make plays in a variety of ways.

Ideal Role: Starting linebacker given opportunities to rush the passer, drop in coverage, play downhill, and in space.

Scheme Fit: Collins projects favorably to a defense that is multiple with its alignments that presents the opportunity for him to unleash the full breadth of his skill set.


Written by Joe Marino, TDN

Games watched: Oklahoma State (2019), Oklahoma State (2020), UCF (2020), SMU (2020), Tulane (2020).

Best Game Studied: UCF (2020)

Worst Game Studied: Oklahoma State (2019)

Tackling: Collins had inconsistent results as a tacker in my limited exposures from 2019, but 2020 tape revealed a mostly consistent finisher. Collins’ ability to process quickly, take precisely calculated angles, and play under control leads to tackling success. Collins’ size, physicality, and length are also major assets as a finisher and he routinely makes tackles outside of his frame.

Football IQ: Collins is a fast and accurate processor. He consistently reads his keys against the run and triggers downhill. He’s outstanding in zone coverage drops where his ability to read the backfield, squeeze routes, and work into throwing lanes is exceptional.

Competitive Toughness: As Collins has emerged at linebacker, his confidence and competitive toughness have shined. Collins consistently plays fast and is urgent in pursuit of the football. He brings terrific contact balance and power to the table, which leads to impact tackles. His size, athleticism, and urgency make him an imposing presence on the field.

Pass Coverage Ability: Collins is outstanding in zone coverage drops where he showcases the ability to read the backfield and work into throwing lanes to take away throws and disrupt at the catch point. His ball skills are terrific and he has a natural feel for driving on the football and making plays. Collins has the athleticism and fluidity to be an asset in man coverage but there weren’t many of those reps to evaluate in my exposures.

Run Defending: Collins is a very good run defender that processes quickly, triggers, and takes good angles to the football. Collins illustrates the ability to flow laterally to the football and make plays in space outside the tackles, but also play into the line of scrimmage and find success. There are some occasions where his lack of a plan for beating blocks delays his arrival to the football, but it’s a minor gripe and something that was a notable improvement in 2020.

Block Deconstruction: From a size, length, athleticism, and power standpoint, Collins has all of the traits needed to be successful taking on and shedding blocks. Unfortunately, there are those moments where he can be late to activate his hands or not have a plan to beat the block that takes him out of plays. Collins has had some success rushing off the edge, but it’s mostly due to length and athleticism. His game would go to an even higher level if he developed his pass-rushing skill set while improving his hand usage when rushing the passer.

Lateral Mobility: There just aren’t many defenders of Collins size that are capable of working laterally like him. He has terrific range and lateral mobility and it leads to frequent plays where he covers a considerable amount of ground. Collins showcases easy movement skills in zone coverage drops.

Flexibility: Collins is extremely loose and fluid for an off-ball linebacker of his stature. His flexibility shows up in lateral pursuit, in his pedal, rushing off the edge, playing in space, and tackling outside of his frame. His transitions to trigger downhill and change directions also reveals a loose and fluid frame.

Leadership: Collins is an alpha on the field in everything he does. There are plenty of instances where he is communicating to his teammates and makes sure guys have the right calls and are lined up correctly. His frequent clutch plays in critical moments speaks to his leadership ability. In addition to playing linebacker and safety for four seasons in high school, Collins was also a four-year starter at quarterback, so that experience commanding the huddle on both sides of the football is an asset to him.

Versatility: Collins is exceptionally versatile and capable of filling any imaginable role for a linebacker. He’s a strong run defender, potent pass rusher, and an outstanding coverage defender. He didn’t play much on special teams at Tulsa, but he projects favorably to doing so in the NFL.

Prospect Comparison: Anthony Barr (2014 NFL Draft, Minnesota Vikings)

S Jevon Holland, Oregon

Holland is a 6’1”, 196 lbs. safety that could replace Anthony Harris.

Pro Football Focus


Jevon Holland aligned at safety for the Ducks defense. He shows excellent versatility and football intelligence to align in multiple places in the secondary. He demonstrates good leadership and communication on the back end and easily adjusts with motion. He is an excellent athlete with loose hips, agility, and body control while in coverage. When aligned in the slot, he demonstrates the coverage upside to allow the coordinator the flexibility to make different calls. As a result, he demonstrates the skill set that will allow the defense to stay in base against 11-personnel. He has tremendous versatility and the ball skills to make him an elite prospect at the position

Ideal Role: This player has the skill set to become a starting safety in the NFL.

Scheme Fit: His skill set affords him the schematic versatility to play in any scheme.


Written by Drae Harris, TDN

Games watched: Stanford (2019), Auburn (2019)

Best Game Studied: Auburn (2019)

Worst Game Studied: Stanford (2019)

Football IQ: This player demonstrates the football IQ required for the position. He easily gets other guys aligned on the back end. He also easily adjusts to motion without issue.

Tackling: He does a good job of being in his run fit. Because his positioning is good, this helps his tackling efficiency. He is a willing participant in the run game and although he’s not a killer at the point of attack, he gets the ball carrier on the ground.

Versatility: He demonstrates excellent versatility at the safety position. He easily aligns on the back end and demonstrates the skill set to be an elite player. His versatility is also demonstrated in his ability to align in the slot.

Range: He demonstrates excellent range on the back end. Because he’s so smart and plays the game with such great instincts, he gets off his spot quickly. He also has the loose hips and speed to play as the single-high safety.

Ball Skills: He demonstrates excellent ball skills required for the position. He easily aligns in coverage in the slot and can open his hips and locate the ball in coverage. He also shows the hands to secure interceptions and PBUs when he is in a position to do so.

Run Defending: His ability as a run defender is good. Although he isn’t overly physical at the point of attack, he does a very good job of being present in the run game. His instincts put him in the position to fill and blitz his run fit.

Functionality Athleticism: He has excellent functional athleticism. He demonstrates this with his ability to cover in the slot as effectively as a nickel cornerback would. He also shows his ability to get off the hash on a deep throw when he is aligned on the back end.

Competitive Toughness: His competitive toughness is good. He competes hard both in the run and passing games. He also shows his competitive toughness in his willingness as a run defender.

Flexibility: He demonstrates good flexibility, particularly while in coverage. He can also easily get off the hash and get to a 9 route outside. His range is good because it is assisted by his very good hip flexibility.

Special Teams Ability: He demonstrates good traits that project him favorably for core special teams. He has the speed and looseness to run down and avoid on coverage units. He also shows the tackling ability in space to be an effective coverage player.

Prospect Comparison: Earl Thomas (2010 NFL Draft, Seattle Seahawks)

DT Alim McNeill, North Carolina State

McNeill is a 6’2”, 320 lbs. defensive tackle (could play 3T or NT), who could also replace Shamar Stephen, saving nearly $4 million in salary cap while also being a potential upgrade.

Pro Football Focus


A high school linebacker and running back, Alim McNeill has developed nicely at defensive tackle where he only has three years of experience. While there is some rawness that shows up to his game when it comes to technique and processing skills, McNeill is a powerful interior defender that is capable of controlling and resetting the line of scrimmage with his heavy hands and functional strength. While he wasn’t often asked to shoot gaps, he also has positive flashes of gap-penetration skills during his time at NC State. There is room for McNeill to grow as a pass rusher, but as it stands, his variety of rush moves and rush plan is underdeveloped. For a team in need of a short-yardage and early-down run stuffer that has a ceiling to develop into a more effective pass rusher, McNeill is a terrific mid-round option.

Ideal Role: Run-stuffing defensive lineman that has some appeal to push the pocket on passing downs.

Scheme Fit: 3-4 nose tackle, 4-3 1-technique.


Written by Joe Marino, TDN

Games watched: Florida State (2019), Louisville (2019), Boston College (2019), Virginia Tech (2020), North Carolina (2020), Virginia (2020), Miami (2020)

Best Game Studied: Syracuse (2019)

Worst Game Studied: Boston College (2019)

First-Step Explosiveness: McNeill has sufficient get-off for the role he is likely to fill at the next level, but he won’t be confused as sudden or twitchy out of his stance. McNeill often defended two gaps at NC State, so firing off the ball and shooting gaps wasn’t something he was often asked to do. With that said, when he did get those opportunities, he showed more juice than expected for his stature.

Flexibility: McNeill isn’t overly loose or fluid. He’s particularly tight in his upper body, where he struggles to reduce and slip through the edges of blocks. He often has to play through blocks to make plays and isn’t much of a threat to corner the outside hip of a blocker.

Hand Counters: McNeill’s hands are busy but he wins more with timing, power, and placement. His game lacks combinations, counters, and stringing together moves to clear blocks. His modest length is a contributing factor here.

Hand Power: McNeill has plenty of pop in his punch and it enables him to take control of reps. The placement and timing of his hand strikes are consistent and it helps overcome a lack of length and counters. There are plenty of instances where he stuns blockers with a heavy blow off the snap and he resets the line of scrimmage.

Run Defending: McNeill has a fairly stout anchor when his pads are low and single blocks aren’t going to move him out of his run fit. He has some impressive reps handling double teams where he shows the ability to split them and hold his own. The concern with McNeill against the run is processing. He doesn’t always feel down blocks and it leads to advantageous angles for blockers and sealed lanes.

Effort: McNeill generally plays with good effort and is enthusiastic in pursuit. With that said, there are times he appears to be fatigued and is out of gas. His inconsistency with effort appears to be more conditioning related than a lack of desire.

Football IQ: McNeill has room to improve his processing skills and how he reads blocks to better position himself as a finisher. He has some success shooting gaps but he doesn’t always finish reps with ideal body control. He also has room for technical growth in terms of developing a more complete pass rush repertoire and having a more consistent plan to beat blocks.

Lateral Mobility: McNeill competes hard in lateral pursuit and moves well for his size. With that said, he isn’t the most nimble guy working down the line of scrimmage and flowing to the sideline, but he can be a tick late. He has good initial quickness but sustaining that initial mobility as plays elongate is a challenge.

Functional Strength: McNeill has terrific power at the point of attack. His hands are powerful and when his hips are leveraged, he’s tough to move. His bull rush is fairly effective and the name of his game is winning with power. The critical item for McNeill moving forward is doing a better job of maintaining his leverage because his pad level has a tendency to increase throughout reps and it robs him of functional strength.

Versatility: McNeill is best suited to play 1-technique in even fronts and has some appeal as a 3-4 nose tackle but ideally he would have more length. NC State played him primarily as a nose tackle. He is a more effective run defender than he is pass rusher, but there’s enough power and quickness present to subscribe to the idea that he can become a reasonably effective pass rusher in the NFL with development.

Prospect Comparison: Malcom Brown (2015 NFL Draft, New England Patriots)

Yeah, But Could the Vikings Really Draft All These Guys?

Well, you never know how a draft will play out, and what seems realistic now may not be so at the end of April. But I was able to draft all these guys on The Draft Network mock draft machine, using trades but only 2021 draft picks. I managed to pick up a good 335 pound guard (Ben Cleveland), a potential replacement for Harrison Smith in a year or two (Joshua Bledsoe), the fastest guy in the draft (WR Anthony Schwartz- rumored to run a 4.2” 40), and a raw DK Metcalf type WR (Simi Fehoko) as well.


In case you’re wondering why there aren’t any 6th or 7th round picks, which makes this an unusual Rick Spielman draft, if it played out that way, I did try trading back with the last picks but it’s much harder to trade down with late picks on TDN mock machine than it is for Rick to do in real drafts. Go figure.

But with the salary cap saved, the Vikings would have some money to pick up a couple quality free agents to fill in other areas as well.


If the Vikings drafted these four prospects, along with four more late round picks, would you be happy?

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