We all play dynasty fantasy football because the season never ends. We turn the page each year, but the quest to gain advantages over our opponents never stops. Never limited to one tool during the offseason, the best managers will remain active in trades, continue mining the waiver wire, and internally evaluate players already rostered. However, most time spent over the next several months will be spent evaluating the incoming rookie class. Most analyses will focus on fantasy-relevant positions, forgetting that there is a grander NFL picture. The DraftNerds series will aim to qualify the incoming rookie class in a fantasy and an NFL context. Reading each article will familiarize you with these prospects’ skill sets, draft ranges, and possible landing spots in the upcoming draft. Additionally, we will explore team need for each of the 32 franchises and the potential fantasy impact of incoming rookies.
We may also identify the potential for trades, but it’s important to note that trading picks will not be a part of this mock exercise. Compensatory picks have not been assigned and will not be included in this exercise either. Credit for the mock draft simulator is due to ProFootballFocus.
A Fresh Approach
The past Viking football season was refreshing for supporters of the team. Mike Zimmer was fired at the end of 2021, and Kevin O’Connell was brought in to recharge the Viking offense. While perhaps not high-octane, Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson embraced the rhythmic and precise nature of O’Connell’s offensive approach. The offense passed and scored more than in previous seasons, and the team was more interesting to watch.
Minnesota was involved in several high-scoring, closely contested games in 2022. Narrow victories over the Saints, Bills, Colts, and Giants propelled the Vikings to a 13-4 regular season record. Good enough to win the NFC North, Minnesota found itself at US Bank for a home playoff game. However, landslide defeats against Dallas, Philadelphia, and Green Bay throughout the season gave NFL and Viking fans edgy vibes. At 13-4 but with a negative margin of victory, the New York Giants eventually exposed the Vikings as flawed defensively.
The Vikings struggled to find a defensive identity when transitioning away from a 4-3 defense under Ed Donatell. Limited by the skillset of the secondary he was burdened with, Donatell and the Vikings played passive defense for most of the season. While Ed may not be entirely to blame for the Viking’s woeful defense in 2022, he was fired at season’s end and replaced with highly regarded defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
The former Miami head coach and Belichick disciple, Flores, employs a heavy man-coverage approach. The hope is that he will be able to harness more of the abilities of the current Viking defensive backs. Last season’s first-round pick, Lewis Cine, appears to be on track to be back from injury by training camp. Expected to be a big part of the secondary rebuild a season ago, Cine will be a welcomed addition. Andrew Booth, another rookie defensive back who struggled with injuries in 2022, is healthy again and may improve under Flores. However, much of this Viking defense will turn over in free agency.
2023 Free Agents and Cap Casualties
While not technically a free agent, Cousins is going into his sixth season as the Vikings starter and set career marks in 2022 in yardage. However, many of his efficiency statistics rate amongst his worst seasons, and he is 34 years old. Cousins has one year remaining on his current deal. An extension represents one of the easier ways for the Vikings to gain short-term cap flexibility. Before the news of the impending release of veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, the Vikings were $24.4 million over the cap. With Kendrick’s $9.5 million now gone, the Vikings still need to look at meaningful ways to save money. GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is in a tricky spot here. Minnesota is over the cap, with a QB on a lame-duck contract, all while attempting to secure Jefferson’s long-term services.
Aside from the uncertainty long-term at QB, the Vikings have a list of notable free agents or potential cap casualties. DT Dalvin Tomlinson and CB Patrick Peterson will join Kendricks as Viking defenders searching for a new team in 2023. The Vikings declined to pick up starting center Garrett Bradbury’s fifth-year option, so he and backup RB Alexander Mattison will also be on the open market. Additionally, to become cap compliant by March 15th, the Vikings must restructure one, if not multiple, veteran contracts. Adam Theilen, Dalvin Cook, Harrison Smith, Harrison Phillips, Jordan Hicks, and Zadarius Smith will all likely be asked to take less money. If they all refuse, several will be asked to turn in a tablet.
Draft Needs and Results
With an aging roster needing a reset, the Vikings are under-equipped from a draft perspective. They currently possess five draft selections but are missing their second-rounder. Difficult decisions await second-year GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. All three levels of the defense need an influx of talent, and deciding how to manage the long-term quarterback situation for the Vikings will be critical. Deciding Captain Kirk’s fate is outside the intention of this exercise. However, I’m pretty confident we can help fix the worst playoff defense in 2022. Let’s take a look at the mock!
1.23 Deonte Banks, CB Maryland
Relatively unheralded coming into the 2022 college football season, few players have seen a more precipitous rise since we turned the calendar to 2023. Already pushing his way into most first-round mock drafts, Banks solidified his ascension at the NFL Combine last weekend. Banks ran a blazing 4.36 forty-yard dash and performed marvelously in the vertical (42.00″) and broad (11’4″) jumps.
Few landing spots would be more fitting and beneficial to Banks as he transitions to the NFL game. This prospect’s upside, in combination with the guidance of Flores, makes a dangerous mix. Banks currently resides at CB4 for me and would instantly give the Vikings an alpha skillset outside.
3.87 Byron Young, DL Alabama
From a development and archetype standpoint, Young is the anti-Banks. Young is a four-year standout at Alabama but tested poorly at the recent NFL Combine and rarely flashed the explosion on film that indicates tremendous upside. However, he is as pro-ready and technically sound as prospects get as we approach the end of the first 100 picks.
Excellent in close-quarter, hand-to-hand combat, Young quickly sheds blocks when required and understands run concepts. The Vikings need developmental upside but also need players who can contribute immediately. Young may never achieve All-Pro status, but he will be an effective and disciplined defender for an NFL organization.
4.119 Ivan Pace Jr, LB Cincinnati
The Vikings moved on from Kendricks. Brian Asamoah, a third-round selection from Oklahoma a year ago, is slated to fill that role at weakside linebacker. With that in mind, I wanted to make a suitable match with Asamoah long-term. Jordan Hicks may return for 2023 but is not the long-term starting middle linebacker.
Enter Pace, a self-made player, as are many of the Bearcats we’ve seen recently in the NFL Draft. A relentless motor and a ferocious downhill approach make him a terrific compliment to Asamoah’s speed and open-field ability. Pace can excel as a blitzer in sub-packages as a rookie and develop toward starter status in 2024.
5.160 Ricky Stromberg, OC Arkansas
Minnesota gets a value in the fifth, picking up my OC3 in the class. As mentioned, Bradbury is unlikely to be in purple in 2023, and Stromberg can challenge for a starting spot immediately. A powerful run-blocker, Stromberg can add some aggression to a talented but largely finesse-oriented Minnesota offensive line.
Stromberg has challenges redirecting in pass protection and had a few unforced errors in 2022. However, before declaring he’d return to the Razorbacks in 2022, he was my OC2 behind current Raven’s starting center, Tyler Linderbaum. Though I expect the Vikings will bring in competition at center, like past rookies Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram, Stromberg has the experience and can contribute immediately.
5.177 Mohamed Ibrahim, RB Minnesota
Ibrahim has spent the last six seasons in Minneapolis. Why not add the beginning of his NFL career as well? Mattison certainly will depart the team, and Ibrahim could seamlessly slide into that backup role behind Cook. However, as mentioned, Cook may also not be in a Viking uniform in 2023, and I think this pick serves excellent as a short-term band-aid to lead the position if necessary.
Ibrahim showed again in 2022 he is capable of absorbing a massive workload. Despite an Achilles injury that cost him all of 2021, Ibrahim carried the rock 320 times for the Gophers in 2022. While Ibrahim moving from Huntington Bank to US Bank stadium may not pass, he is an early-down workhorse who will best serve an NFL team with an immediate need.
The Vikings have added defenders to all three levels in this draft, and while none may be IDP starters, we successfully addressed several needs in this mock. Young and Pace are defenders ready to contribute early in their careers. Combined with getting last year’s first-round selection Cine back healthy, the Vikings also make a sizeable addition to their secondary landing Banks.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the additions are enough to change the Minnesota Vikings’ identity or trajectory. Likely chasing on the scoreboard or scoring to keep an opponent at arm’s length, I expect the Viking offense will again churn out several fantasy reliable starters outside Jefferson. Short of making a drastic move at quarterback, the status quo remains for Viking skill players who stay in purple.
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