Despite the NFL draft being months away, the scouting combine has the draft talk at a fever pitch. We know that the Vikings need a quarterback, but what if the team decides to go in a different direction with their first round pick? With so many holes on defense and the sting of a first round QB bust fresh in Rick Spielman’s mind, a defensive playmaker would make a lot of sense. We are a long way from getting clarity, but let’s take a look at some options should they decide not to go for a quarterback in the first round.
Khalil Mack (OLB) from Buffalo is the player that intrigues me the most. He turned a lot of heads at the combine and is flying up draft boards. Based on team needs ahead of the Vikings in the draft, it’s possible he will still be available at No. 8. Mack is a freak with the versatility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3. He is a natural pass rusher which is exactly what this defense needs. Despite playing for a small school, the stats and highlights speak for themselves. If he is the pick, the linebacker corps could consist of Chad Greenway and Khalil Mack on the outside with Michael Mauti or Audie Cole competing for the middle linebacker spot. Suddenly that doesn’t look so bad. If Mack is gone, Anthony Barr (OLB) from UCLA would be next on the list and would fit a similar need. The former running back turned linebacker has a knack for rushing the passer. He may be a little better fit for a 3-4 defense but you have to believe that coach Zimmer would make it work regardless of the scheme.
Cornerback is an obvious need to be considered. Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State and Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State have had impressive combines and would immediately upgrade a porous secondary. Both might be a slight reach at No. 8, but with such a hole to fill it may be warranted. However, since there is depth at this position in this draft, I would personally like to see Spielman wait to address it in the later rounds. Free agency also seems to be a likely avenue in finding a starter to play opposite of Xavier Rhodes.
Trading down is also a viable option. Spielman has already said he wants to accumulate 10 picks. We also know that he has no fear when it comes to wheeling and dealing. The Vikings may actually end up in a position of power with teams looking to trade up from the teens to take a player they really covet. Doing so would make a lot of sense because they could accumulate more picks and be in a position to take the top player at a number of defensive positions. Options would include C.J Mosley (ILB), Louis Nix (DT), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S) or Kony Ealy (DE). One of the cornerbacks listed above should be there as well. All would fill a need and could make an immediate impact but would represent the second tier of players in the first round.
Is your head spinning yet? I know mine is, but that is what makes the NFL draft so much fun. At this point in the process, if Khalil Mack is available at 8, he should be the pick. If not, trading down would be the next best option. Of course this is not as easy as we make it out to be. With free agency starting in two weeks, hopefully holes will be filled and narrowing down the pick will become just a little bit easier.