Let me stop you before you even say it, I know just as well as anybody that we are still months away from draft weekend, and that anything that can happen, will happen. But that certainly doesn't stop them from giving a struggling fan base a reason to find some hope during the thick of a season lost in abyss. The state of purple and gold is in a state of chaos with a 2-8 record, local bars are being shut down, the bus system has shut down, and looting has become trendier than Snapchat on a road trip. Things need to get fixed, and fast. When it comes to fixing an NFL franchise now a days, the golden rule is to start with the draft.
The catalyst for the Vikings 2013 turmoil is more complex than a five year olds bag full of Halloween candy. The statistics blame the defense while the media likes to point the finger at the coaching staff, or lack their of. But, even the mildest fan will tell you the game of football in the current era is won and lost at the quarterback position. A position Vikings fans have been trained to cringe at over time as their talented and youthful roster has turned from water to wine, and back to water, with the lack of a jesus-like signal caller at the helm.
Come draft day its anyones guess who will be making the decisions in the war room. Rick "The General" Spielman could be as good as gone after an underachieving season. Just as likely, there is a good chance Leslie Frazier won't have an influence on what card gets walked up to the podium, as he too could get kicked to the curb along with his coaching staff at seasons end.
Assuming they continue their downward spiral and end up with a top three pick in next years draft, here is a seven round mock draft for the Vikings filling their biggest needs. Note: The Vikings have an extra third round pick from the Percy Harvin trade from Seattle.
1st Round: Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon
This pick has to be a quarterback. Let me reiterate. This pick. Has. To. Be. A. Quarterback.
With Teddy Bridgewater all but a lock to be drafted number one overall Marcus Mariota is option 1A. In fact, Mariota has improved his stock so much as of late their are rumblings that he could overtake Bridgewater for the number one spot.
All though I'm not drinking that kool-aid I do think Mariota is an elite specimen at the quarterback position.
He is the 2.0 version of the newest breed of dual-threat quarterbacks that can beat you with his arm or feet as he has thrown 25 touchdowns through the air and ran another nine in for scores. His most powerful statistic however, through ten games he hasn't thrown an interception, music to anyone who has watched a Christian Ponder game as of late. He has an NFL caliber arm showing power and touch.
More importantly as Matt Miller has pointed out, Mariota can thrive as a drop back passer (vs. Standford and Tennessee) or as a dual-threat running quarterback (vs. Virginia and Washington). Scouts are comparing his skill set and style of play to Colin Kaepernick out of Neveda but more refined and polished. With pieces like Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, and Cordarrelle Patterson already in place, Mariota would be a tremendous complement with his skill set and would be a creative offensive cordinators dream (*cough one not named Bill Musgrave cough*). Turning one of the leagues most vanilla offenses into a juggernaut.
Plan B: Johnny Football, Quarterback, Texas A&M
This guys draft stock could soar starting at the combine and the weeks leading up to the draft. An ultra talented kid with an NFL arm, Johnny plays the game wreckless at times but can get away with it because of his athleticism. A true "Boom or Bust" prospect that you either love or you hate, Johnny has dominated the college football world on and off the field. Red flags have arose while he was investigated by the NCAA for violations on top of his cocky and arrogant attitude towards coaches and teammates.
My question is if his bag of tricks in college can translate to the NFL where quarterbacks simply can't get away with the things they do at their current level. None the less Johnny's skill set may be too good to pass up for a quarterback thirsty team.
Wild Card: Derek Carr, Quarterback, Fresno State
Durability might be the most underrated trait when it comes to the position because of the continuity that is vital to things like, chemistry, timing, and trust with teammates and coaches on and off the field. After all, how is a player expected to get better and progress if he can never get on the field.
Saying that, I personally favor the pocket passers like Carr over mobile ones because of the durability issues running quarterbacks encounter when taking huge hits in the NFL, just like RGII has already endured, along with a long list of other running quarterbacks.
As fun as the Micheal Vicks and Robert Griffins are to play with in "Madden" its the durable pocket passers that make it deep into the playoffs year in and year out ala Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, etc.
No, seriously, here is a list of the past five super bowl winning quarterbacks; Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger. Proving that all though choosing a signial caller with dual threat capabilities is sexy, it isn't wise to put your faith in one who uses his running tools as his main attribute as they simply can not be relied on for a full 19 game stretch.
Derek, the younger brother of former number one overall pick David, is another prospect I expect to rise during the weeks leading up to the draft and won't be considered a reach in the top 15 when it's all said and done. He has an incredible arm, tremendous accuracy, and a lightning quick release that is a safe bet to have a smooth transition to the NFL. All though much more mobile than most give him credit for, Carr at his very core, is a drop back pocket passer.
2nd Round: Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
The definition of a physical cornerback, Dennard will smash you in the chest and rip your mouth guard out within the first five yards. On top of that he is more than supportive in the running game sealing off the edge. Not going to wow anyone at the combine with 40 time etc. but will give his receiver fits during his whole route and gets his head around quickly with good ball vision. A key component to a Spartans defense that ranks first in the country as he has four interceptions on the year.
With Chris Cook a free agent after the season and a huge question mark to be resigned, Dennard would come in and line up opposite Xavier Rhodes by week one. Both play a similar style of press/man-to-man coverage that would force Minnesota to retire the vintage "Tampa 2" scheme which has been long over due.
Plan B: Ryan Shazier, Linebacker, Ohio State
This 6'2" 230 pounder is a long and lankey superior athlete with elite quickness and athleticism. An excellent pass rusher off the edge and is more than adequate when dropping back in coverage.
Lacks NFL bulk as of now and will get pushed around at next level specifically when trying to shed blockers until he can add more power through muscle.
An All-Amrican last year and has played lights out for the Buckeyes in 2013 while playing in a conference that is known for producing NFL caliber linebackers.
Would be a tremendous compliment to Chad Greenway and his eventual replacement. The combination of former first round picks Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, and Sharrif Floyd would be a tremendous foundation to build off on the defensive side of the ball. Either way the Vikings would be lucky to add Shazier or Dennard to their defense.
3rd Round: Daniel McCullers, Defensive Tackle, Tennessee
Not exactly a guy you want to invite over for Thanksgiving dinner, at 6'8" 360 pounds McCullers will eat everything in sight including pets, furniture, and small children. He is a beast of a man who demands double teams and is unblockable at times in the middle of the defensive line. A pure nose tackle or "zero technique" in every sense, he is a force in the running game and collapses the pocket with a surprising quick burst. He has tremendous strength but plays upright to much as a man of his stature is unable to get low and win the leverage game. None the less the Vikings have been desperate for a nose tackle since Pat Williams left and McCullers would be a tremendous asset making everyone around him better.
3rd Round (Second Pick) Ty Zimmerman, Safety, Kansas State
Zimmerman would be an exceptional complement to Dirty Harry at the safety position as he has been one of Kansas State's most productive players on defense. He is underrated in the zone game and has excellent closing speed once he has distinguished the play. Not a burner with his speed but is quick in short areas and plays with a good burst. Loves to get his nose in the line of scrimmage and get his pads on someone, and is a sound open field tackler. Has the instincts and feel for the game you want at the position as he is always around the ball. Would be an instant starter on special teams while creating depth and competition at the strong safety position.
4th Round: Lamarcus Joyner, Cornerback/Safety, Florida State
Mr. Do-It-All, Joyner is a superb athlete who at 5-8 190 pounds is pound for pound one of the best secondary players in college football. Arguably the Seminoles best playmaker on the defensive side of the ball Joyner has three sacks, three forced fumbles, three tackles for a loss, and one interception thus far. A semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe award given to the nations best defensive back. Joyner has the awarness and instincts to line up at safety or cornerback and would give the Vikings depth at both positions. A Honey Badger style of player, would most likely line up in the slot at cornerback in the NFL, and play both sides of the ball on special teams.
5th Round: Cody Hoffman, Wide Receiver, BYU
If you've watched a Vikings game in the last three years you know stretching the field vertically has been one of the their biggest flaws, unable to take advantage of the 8/9 men in the box thanks to the MVP in the backfield.
Hoffman is a big target at 6'4" and has a long lanky frame. His ability to catch the ball at its highest point is second to none as he has exceptional leaping ability. Hoffman runs crisp routes and uses his body extremely well to shield his defender away from the ball, especially at the sidelines.
He drops an easy pass once a game and must work on his consistency and also doesn't possess the straight line speed expected at the next level which will result in his draft stock to drop.
None the less he would be a perfect complement in the Vikings offense as he has the ability to win one-on-one jump balls down the field as well as being a terrific red-zone threat forcing defense to leave him or Kyle Rudolph open in the end zone. Everything the Vikings were hoping Greg Childs would be.
6th Round: Dri Archer, Running Back/Wide Receiver, Kent State
Archer is listed as a running back first but lines up in the slot and out wide just as much. With Toby Gerhart expected to leave in free agency Archer would be a great change of pace back to Adrian. Archer is small but scary explosive and should be viewed as a Tavon Austin esk, given his 4.3 40 time and his ability to take it to the house on any given play. He will be used as a versatile chess piece lined up at multiple positions in the backfield and as a receiver much like Percy Harvin was used (well, how he was supposed to be used anyway). Archer also is a dangerous return man and would give the purple anoter weapon on special teams.
7th Round: Casey Pachall, Quarterback, TCU
Prototypical size at 6'4" 220 pounds. Pachall's best attribute is standing in a collapsing pocket and delivering an accurate well thrown ball in the midst of taking a big hit music to a Vikings fans ears. Has quick release and goes through progressions very well. Lacks rocket arm but has spunk on short and intermediate routes, as well as good touch on fade routes. Willing to take a hit under pressure as he stands in the pocket with poise. Got into some trouble with alcohol and left the team in 2013.
A John David Booty pick here, needs to sit and learn for a year as a third stringer but has tons of potential. If the Vikings decide to clean house at quarterback and start fresh, Pachall would be a great addition as their developmental quarterback of the future. Would be a steal at this point if he chooses to enter the draft.
The most important thing the Vikings can do is walk out of this draft with a new face of the franchise with the elite signial caller they've been looking for since Brett Favre retired. Anything after that is really just gravy (thats how important hitting on a quarterback is this year), but adding some big pieces on defense along the way would be a huge bonus. Specifically, with Cook hitting free agency, Josh Robinson being inconsistent and injury prone, and no clear cut strong safety on the roster for the future, adding pieces like Darqueze Dennard, Ty Zimmerman, and Lamarcus Joyner would be huge additions. Turning a once depleated and often abused secondary into a reliable and play making unit.
McCullers would not only solve the four year search for a nose tackle, but would be an asset to the linebackers with his ability to soak up blockers and create space. While Hoffman, Archer, and Pachall will all be raw walking into the NFL but have huge ceilings and infuse the roster with young playmaking talent.