It’s a completely new chapter in the Minnesota Vikings story heading into the 2022 season. The departure of long-time Head Coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman spelled the end of an era of up and down results for the Vikings, culminating in a disappointing 8-9 season. Now, with Kevin O’ Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at the helm, the 2022 Draft could be the beginning of something special in Minnesota, but there is a lot of issues on the roster that need to be fixed.
For the new look coaching staff and front office, it’s hard to tell what a good first season would look like, and with cap space being an issue and there being holes in the roster, the best sports betting apps currently have the Vikings at the long odds of +3500 to win the Superbowl next year. This article looks at where the Vikings can look to improve their roster in the upcoming draft to start the new era off right.
There’s some cruel irony to the fact that Vikings fans derided Mike Zimmer for drafting cornerbacks too often, then as soon as he leaves, the most glaring hole in the Vikings roster is – you guessed it – cornerback.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was arguably the Cincinnati Bearcats most influential player as they had a Cinderella run to the College Football Playoffs where they eventually lost to Alabama. During his three years playing for the Bearcats. He didn’t allow a touchdown in over 1,000 coverage snaps according to PFF. At 6’3”, 190 pounds, Gardner is a long, athletic and physical corner who excelled in press-man coverage and was so excellent at Cincinnati that teams would often just not even pass to his side of the field.
The only issue for the Vikings, is that he may not be available when they pick at 12th overall.
A year ago, Derek Stingley was seen as a can’t miss corner prospect that was destined to get picked in the top five. His 2019 season as a true freshman at LSU was one of the most dominant seasons in college football history for a player so young, as he was one of the most important players in their sensational national title win. However, he has only played in 10 games over the past two seasons due to various injuries, illness and COVID protocols, and in those games, he has failed to register an interception.
Still, the raw talent is absolutely there and if he were to fall to pick 12, he would represent incredible value for the Vikings.The Vikings are absolutely not the only team in desperate need for reinforcements at cornerback, and it could well shake out that Stingley and Gardner are gone before the Vikings pick. Fortunately, it’s a deep corner class, and there are other options.
Andrew Booth Jr. out of Clemson is an aggressive and athletic player with great ball skills and has a big build. Trent McDuffie out of Washington doesn’t have the same length as the other three options, but makes up for it with toughness and power and possesses great skills in man coverage and as a run defender.
While Danielle Hunter’s return from injury will shore up the Vikings’ defensive line, they are in desperate need of an edge rusher. It could be better to target corner in free agency and edge in the draft. Under Rick Spielman, the Vikings never drafted defensive linemen before the third round, and they haven’t taken one in the first two rounds since 2005.
This could be the year that changes, as Adofo-Mensah was in the front office of the Browns, a franchise that has valued taking edge prospects early and often.
David Ojabo from Michigan is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire draft. While he has only been playing football since his junior year of high school, having been born in Nigeria and spent the majority of his childhood playing soccer in Aberdeen, Scotland, he has all the raw tools to be a superstar in the NFL. He was overshadowed on the Michigan line by potential first overall pick Aiden Hutchinson, but his 11 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2021 is nothing to scoff at for someone so new to the sport.
Another option for the Vikings could be George Karlaftis from Purdue. He had his 2020 season cut short due to injury, but when fully healthy in 2019 and 2021, he managed an eye-catching 109 pressures and 13 sacks as well as proving to be a technically gifted run defender. He may not have the ceiling of Ojabo, but Karlaftis would improve the Vikings defensive line straight away, and would be a solid pick.
Kevin O’ Connell has said Kirk Cousins will be his quarterback, and he has just signed a one-year extension keeping him with the team through the 2023 season, with a no-trade clause included. However, the question in many fans’ minds remains: is he good enough to lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl? Many would say no. An option they could go for, though it seems unlikely given Cousins’ extension, would be to take a project quarterback in the draft and let him develop.
Malik Willis is extremely raw and unproven, having played at small school Liberty during college, but has a high ceiling and all the tools to shine in the league if he can put it all together. He has a cannon of an arm and incredible athleticism, boasting the highest PFF rushing grade of any player in college football last season and the most number of broken tackles at the FBS level. Willis could come in and learn for a few years under Cousins, and then be ready to play having had time to acclimate. It would be smart long-term planning, but a definite risk that doesn’t improve the team in the short-term, something the new-look front office and coaching staff would be keen to do straight away.
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