Vikings mock draft 1.0: Two trades, a bunch of defenders and making a big move for a QB

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Vikings mock draft 1.0: Two trades, a bunch of defenders and making a big move for a QB

The Super Bowl is over. The NFL Scouting Combine commences in two weeks. For the Minnesota Vikings’ decision-makers, it’s crunch time. For us, it’s the stage-setting season.

We’ve laid out key topics in free agency: the Vikings’ top players expected to be available and outside players they could pursue. But it’s also worth spending some time on the NFL Draft.

The Vikings currently have nine picks. They have plenty of needs, too, especially on defense. Thinking ahead and factoring in context gleaned from the Senior Bowl, I felt like a first mock draft would be a fruitful exercise.

Here are the selections, featuring one quarterback, two trades and a bunch of defenders:

Round 1, No. 11 overall: Byron Murphy II, DT, Texas

Murphy’s name surfaced frequently during conversations about potential draftees of interest for the Vikings at the Senior Bowl. This shouldn’t be surprising. The 21-year-old Texas product fits the profile of a Brian Flores-coordinated defensive unit in that he is massive (6-foot-1, 308 pounds) but mobile. In college, that size did not prevent him from punishing interior offensive linemen and monstering his way toward quarterbacks in the backfield.

The Vikings have not used a first-round pick on an interior defensive lineman since 2013 (Sharrif Floyd). Accounting for the shift in the defensive tackle market and how valuable interior pass rushers appear to be, Murphy makes sense at No. 11 — that is, unless a feasible trade-up scenario emerges for one of the three highly regarded quarterbacks. Murphy recorded six sacks in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus, which was tied for 13th in the country among 186 qualified interior defensive linemen. His 45 pressures ranked fifth among the 186.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler recently projected Murphy to go in the middle of the first round. “Disruptive against both run and pass,” he wrote, “Murphy had the best pass-rush win percentage (19.6) among all interior linemen in 2023 (no other DT was above 17.0 percent).” Adding a player with this profile would be a departure from previous Vikings strategies, and that seems A-OK.

Round 1, No. 30 overall: Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

How did the Vikings get to No. 30? The Baltimore Ravens have the 30th pick, and they tend to be willing to trade down. Baltimore would also be familiar with this strategy. In 2019, the Ravens traded into the first round to select a quarterback — a guy by the name of Lamar Jackson. To get this done, the Vikings would likely have to part with their No. 42 overall pick, a 2024 fifth-rounder and a 2025 third-rounder.

So why do this? Trading up would not only secure the Vikings their preferred option at quarterback, but it would also secure the potential fifth-year option.

Nix, specifically, is a polarizing prospect. He began his college career at Auburn, where he struggled mightily, but then transferred to Oregon and soared. The Ducks’ offense featured countless high-percentage screen passes and quick passes to the sideline. Buried in his film, however, are layered passes over the middle and full-field read ability (watch the Arizona State tape, for example).

This is not to say he possesses all the abilities head coach Kevin O’Connell seeks (the Vikings passed on Will Levis last year because he lacked some of those skills). But Nix would make sense as a mature developmental option whose rookie QB contract would offer immense flexibility.

Fourth round: Mohamed Kamara, Edge, Colorado State

The Vikings have two fourth-round picks in 2024. One is their own. The other is the Lions’, which arrived as part of the T.J. Hockenson trade. Why not use one of them to fortify the defensive front? Kamara was one of the most productive pass rushers in college football this season. He’s not massive at 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, but Flores proved last year how he feels about size versus production in his pursuit of linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

Like Pace, Kamara’s effectiveness in college is undeniable. He amassed the third-most pressures in the nation among 126 qualified edge rushers this season. His pass-rush win rate ranked seventh highest among the 126, according to PFF. Fourth-round picks are long-shot bets regardless, so it makes sense to place one on a player with a proven skill set.

Fourth round: Cam Hart, CB, Notre Dame

Last year, the Vikings selected Mekhi Blackmon in the third round. Evaluators had questioned Blackmon’s size, but the Vikings cared more about his performance. Blackmon graded out as one of the premier cornerbacks in college football and succeeded in man and zone coverage. Navigating a shoulder injury throughout the season, Blackmon’s results wavered, but he factors in as a potential starter in the coming seasons.

Still, Minnesota needs cornerback depth. Andrew Booth Jr. has not displayed starter-level traits. Opposing teams targeted Akayleb Evans over the final few weeks of the  2023 season.

Hart is different from Blackmon in that he fits the profile of an outside cornerback. He measured 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds at the Senior Bowl. During the game, he beelined into the backfield and fearlessly tackled the ball carrier. Infusing Daronte Jones’ position group with size and physicality would be a boon.

Fifth round: Gabriel Murphy, Edge, UCLA

The Vikings enter this year’s draft with two fifth-round picks, both of which were acquired through trades. Minnesota added one by trading back with the Kansas City Chiefs in last year’s draft and acquired the other by trading edge rusher Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns. I used one to move up to grab Nix. I’m allocating the other to another edge rusher.

Murphy is not the most decorated UCLA pass rusher in this draft. That accolade is reserved for likely first-round pick Laiatu Latu. Murphy is, though, in the same category as Kamara in that he is potentially a pass-rush-specific edge rusher with a skill set Flores could maximize. Among the 103 collegiate defenders who rushed the passer on at least 300 snaps in 2023, Murphy had the fourth-highest pressure rate. It only makes sense for a team so devoid of young edge-rushing talent to take multiple swings at prospects with upside.

Fifth round: Michael Barrett, LB, Michigan

Off-ball linebacker is widely regarded as one of the more difficult positions to evaluate ahead of the draft. Though athletic traits matter (e.g., Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah), players like San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner have made clear the value of on-field awareness and decision-making.

The Vikings could trade their sixth-round pick (courtesy of New England) and seventh-rounder for another fifth-rounder. Barrett is an older prospect, but he’s intriguing in that he’s a former dual-threat quarterback. His maturity and versatility feel like fits for what Flores seeks.

Sixth round: Kamal Hadden, CB, Tennessee

When Minnesota traded left guard Ezra Cleveland to Jacksonville, it recouped a sixth-round pick. Using this selection on another defender is symbolic of the need on that side. Hadden is, like Hart, a lengthy and physical cornerback. He is 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds, and although he only played 185 defensive snaps in 2023, opposing quarterbacks had the lowest QB rating when targeting him among 199 qualified corners.

(Photo of Byron Murphy II: John David Mercer / USA Today)