The Vikings have a first-round pick in this week’s draft, but the remaining four picks are all mid-rounders between the third and sixth round. And with the possibility of a trade down with the first-round pick, along with potential player trades that could yield an additional mid-round pick or two, it makes sense to look at some potential mid-round gems that could contribute for the Vikings this season and/or fulfill some roster needs with good scheme fit.
Let’s have a look at some potential gems out there that could be drafted between the third and sixth rounds.
If the Vikings choose to draft another position early on, there is depth at the cornerback position in this year’s draft- one of the few position groups that have good depth. Brian Flores’ scheme demands corners that not only can play man coverage, but also be effective against the run and run-after-catch situations. The ability to blitz effectively is also desirable.
Terell Smith, U of MN. Consensus ranking: 132 / Dane Brugler 4th round grade
Smith has all the physical traits needed in a cornerback- 6 feet tall, 205 pounds, 4.41” 40 time including a 1.50” 10-yard split. He had an overall PFF grade of 80.4 last year with the Gophers, including a 78.7 coverage grade and a 78.9 run defense grade. A physical run defender with some good blitzing reps on tape as well. A physical press-man corner.
STRENGTHS: Impressive size/speed athlete with long arms … accomplished track athlete whose long strides show when carrying verticals, making up ground and when driving underneath … light-footed to stay composed with twitchy releases … utilizes his length to challenge at the line, forcing receivers to run laterally and avoid his jam … uses the sideline to his advantage to pin and restrict windows … decent hands to finish interceptions when in position … squares and drives as a tackler with force behind his pads and engulfing arms that help him hug to finish … declares his leverage when taking on blocks and uses physicality to detach from blockers … flashed blitzing skills on 2022 tape.
WEAKNESSES: Moves with a tall center of gravity, which can hinder his transition quickness … inconsistent finding and making plays on the football … needs to read receivers better with his back to the line of scrimmage … puts examples of route anticipation on film, but it isn’t a strength of his game yet … needs to exhibit better patience — will get grabby versus sudden receivers (two pass interference penalties and one holding call in 2022) … will turn 24 before his first NFL training camp … wasn’t a full-time special teams player in college … missed multiples games because of injuries in four of his five seasons with the Gophers.
SUMMARY: A three-year starter at Minnesota, Smith was an outside cornerback in defensive coordinator Joe Rossi’s mixed coverage scheme. After making a splash as a true freshman for the Gophers, he was lost in the wilderness for a few years before producing his best season as a senior, leading the team in passes defended.
Smith has impressive top-end speed and foot quickness that allows him to stay attached to routes, although his mirror transitions can get clunky at times. His matchup against Charlie Jones on the 2022 Purdue tape was a great example of what he does well and where he still needs to improve. Overall, Smith can be baited off course and leaves too much production on the field, but he has an intriguing blend of length, speed and physicality to match up with NFL receivers on the outside. He is a physical press-man corner prospect. - Dane Brugler, The Athletic
Mekhi Blackmon, USC. Consensus ranking: 188 / Dane Brugler 5th/6th round grade.
Blackmon is a little smaller CB prospect, like the top-ranked CB in this draft Devon Witherspoon, at 5’11”, 180 pounds. He has decent speed at 4.47” 40 time with a 1.47” 10-yard split. He had a 90.6 overall PFF grade last season with the Trojans, including a 91.1 coverage grade and a 79.4 run defense grade.
STRENGTHS: Adequate speed athlete and tends to play bigger than he appears … instinctive and fluid in his coverage transitions … shows the press strength to disrupt receivers early and late … understands field leverage and uses the sideline to his advantage … shows an instinctive ability to disrupt the catch point and is always raking for the football … started to show more trust in his downfield body positioning deeper into the 2022 season … above-average run defender … settles his feet and comes to balance to wrap and drive the ball carrier … doesn’t get bored, and receivers know they’re in for a dogfight … quickly endeared himself to USC coaches (Riley: “We like him matched up against anybody.”).
WEAKNESSES: Weighed less than 180 pounds at the combine … not a technically sound corner … turns his hips too early and can be driven off the top of routes … gives up too many slants and quick inside wins to receivers because he doesn’t seem to trust his pedal-and-drive mechanics … grabby at the catch point and draws flags with his late panic (penalized five times for pass interference in 2022) … average size will show up against tight ends or larger receivers … was banged up over his career and played in double-digit games only once (2022) in five FBS seasons; missed most of 2019 because of season-ending shoulder surgery … will be 24 years old on draft weekend.
SUMMARY: A one-year starter at USC, Blackmon was the left outside cornerback in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s man-heavy scheme. After four solid seasons at Colorado, he transferred and was one of the few bright spots on the Trojans’ 2022 defense, leading the Pac-12 in passes defended (15). A fluid athlete with average size, Blackmon has seen a lot of football, and it shows with his anticipation and confidence to be disruptive in coverage (allowed only one reception of 20-plus yards on 63 targets in 2022). Though he tends to play too physically, NFL coaches will appreciate his mental and competitive toughness at the position, especially in the run game. Overall, Blackmon will sacrifice coverage phase and attract flags when he doesn’t trust his technique, but he is instinctive and aggressive playing the ball in the air. He projects best on the perimeter with man-to-man responsibilities. - Dane Brugler, The Athletic
Starling Thomas V, UAB. Consensus ranking: 240. Dane Brugler 5th/6th round grade.
Thomas lacks ideal height at 5’10”, but 190 pounds is fine. He has great speed with a 4.38” 40 time. He had a 79.7 overall PFF grade last season with the Blazers, including a 79.1 coverage grade and a 79.2 run defense grade. He had 17 forced incompletions last season. Could possibly be considered at slot corner as well.
STRENGTHS: Elite long speed and easily makes up ground with his acceleration … quick in short areas for press-man and off-man coverages … fluid lower-body skills and shows burst in his movements … anticipates route paths … always around the football to crowd the catch point (25 passes defended in 26 games the last two seasons) … well-conditioned with trimmed bulk on his smaller frame … quick to support the run with above-average tackling skills for a player his size … toughness is unquestioned after he played the final seven games in 2019 with a torn ACL in his right knee (missed the 2020 season to recover) … offers return experience on punts (7.6 average) and kicks (16.0).
WEAKNESSES: Needs to keep his weight on the balls of his feet to stay attached versus shifty route runners … lack of ideal height and length shows against larger receivers, at the line and downfield … allows interception opportunities to come and go, and needs to find better body positioning … tends to get frenetic downfield when attempting to find the football, leading to early contact and penalties … accounted for 22 penalties the past three seasons, including five pass interference flags and one defensive holding in 2022 … suffered a torn ACL in his right knee (November 2016) as a junior in high school; tore the ACL in the same knee at UAB (October 2019) and underwent offseason surgery, missing the entire 2020 season.
SUMMARY: A three-year starter at UAB, Thomas was an outside cornerback in former defensive coordinator David Reeves’ balanced scheme. A Birmingham native, his college career was disrupted by an ACL injury, but he returned to lead the Blazers in passes defended his junior and senior seasons. Thomas displays the explosive acceleration and fluid movement skills desired at the position in the NFL. He gets his hands on plenty of footballs but needs to turn more of those breakups into interceptions and dial back his leaning mid-route, which allows receivers to become unglued at break points. Overall, Thomas lacks ideal height/length and needs to add more discipline to his scrappy style, but he has high-level speed and twitchy cover skills with the toughness to match. He has the skill set to play both outside and at the nickel. - Dane Brugler, The Athletic
It’s tough to find an immediate WR2 in the mid-rounds of this wide receiver draft class, but there are a couple that could contribute early on with WR2 potential later on. Here’s one that stands out the most to me.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton, West Virginia. Consensus ranking: 213 / Dane Brugler 7th round grade
At 6’4”, 220 pounds, with a 4.38” 40 time, 1.52” 10-yard split, and 41” vertical jump, Ford-Wheaton has everything you want in terms of physical traits at wide receiver.
He’s adept at contested catches and shows YAC ability as well. Lots of impressive contested catches outside the numbers, and on endzone jump-ball corner routes, in his college film. His 18 contested catches last season was tied for 4th most in college football. He embraces the physicality of the position, whether contested catches, physical run-after-catch, or being unafraid of contact on slants and middle-of-the-field catches. Needs to be crisper in his route running at the next level and clean up his drops, but I honestly don’t know why he’s not ranked much higher. He had a drop that went through his hands for a pick-6 this season, so maybe that’s part of it. His overall PFF grade last season was 69.7, with a 70.3 receiving grade, so maybe that’s part of it too. But Quentin Johnson from TCU, who’s been a first-round graded WR, had a 76.2 overall PFF grade with a higher drop rate than Ford-Wheaton, and is a little smaller and slower (4.51” 40-time with a 1.59” 10-yard split), so it’s difficult to see why such a significant difference in rankings. His weaknesses seem easily coachable as well. He turned 23 a month or so ago. His grandfather was an NFL running-back for the Broncos.
STRENGTHS: Limber and long with a stretched-out frame … special athlete with his explosive speed and agility (his 1.80 was the fastest “flying 20” at the combine) … has the leaping skills and springs in calves to play in the clouds … expands catch radius to reel in tough grabs … matches the physicality of defensive backs … at his best on linear routes where he can stretch out his stride length and utilize his size (fades, back-shoulders, in-breakers, etc.) … loose body movements and control along the sideline … quarterbacks feel comfortable giving him chances at 50-50 balls … has the easy acceleration to turn screens/slants into explosive plays … was a regular on punt coverage.
WEAKNESSES: Upright, undisciplined route runner … loose and liberal with his breaks/releases, giving cornerbacks a chance to jump his path … needs to use better route leverage to create expanded downfield separation … history of costly drops and must prove he has the hand strength to secure the rock … relies too much on his body to finish grabs, especially in traffic … can be knocked off schedule by press or firm hands mid-route … film shows hints of self-doubt at the catch point and as a runner … should be a better YAC threat with his athleticism.
SUMMARY: A three-year starter at West Virginia, Ford-Wheaton was the X receiver in head coach Neal Brown’s offense, lining up exclusive to the left of the formation. Though his catch volume increased each of the last four seasons, his yards per catch decreased as his receptions increased, and he never reached 700 yards receiving in a single season. Ford-Wheaton posted elite testing numbers at the scouting combine, and that athleticism flashes on tape, especially in jump ball situations or when he has a runway. However, he needs to sharpen his route angles and introduce more discipline to his approach. Overall, Ford-Wheaton must develop better confidence in his hands and routes to matchup in the NFL, but he is a rare height/length/speed athlete with potential to be a ball winner. He is a high-level developmental NFL prospect. - Dane Brugler, The Athletic
The Vikings need to add competition at cornerback and wide receiver in this draft. But with just one first-round pick, and no second-round pick, they’ll need to find contributors in the mid-rounds to fill roster needs. The Vikings have met with all of the players mentioned above at one point or another during the pre-draft process, so there would appear to be some interest from the Vikings in these players as well.
We’ll see this weekend if any of them hear their name called while the Vikings are on the clock.
Which of the above players would you most want the Vikings to draft with a mid-round pick?
This poll is closed
Starling Thomas V
None of the above