Dynasty fantasy football is a year-round affair. A sharp manager will be thinking about all aspects of the dynasty season at all times. Those managers who are keen enough to look ahead will be the ones that can grab themselves an edge over the competition. A large portion of the dynasty off-season will be spent discussing incoming rookies and the related topic, the NFL draft. It is easy for us to fall in love with the next workhorse running back or prototypical alpha wide receiver, but a manager that is in tune with the entire draft class as a whole will find themselves ahead of the game. Whether scouting the next road-paving interior offensive lineman or genetic freak edge rusher, we can find ourselves at quite the advantage in April by building an entire picture of how the 2022 class will play out. Those that prepare ahead will not be often surprised at the outcomes.
The draft order used in this article reflects the order prior to NFL Week 12. Credit to the mock draft simulation goes to The Draft Network, and team needs are also generated from this site. Compensatory picks have not been assigned and will not be included in this exercise.
The Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have been amongst the most entertaining and gut-wrenching teams to watch this season. Heartbreaking losses to Cincinnati, Arizona, and Baltimore, along with overtime wins against Detroit, and Green Bay, serve to underscore the knife’s edge that the Vikings dance on weekly. While some credit for the coin-flip nature of this team falls on Mike Zimmer and a coaching staff seemingly willing to play this brand of football, some things are beyond a coach’s control.
The Vikings have completely turned over a secondary that belly-flopped in 2020, and while the results have been better, for Minnesota to get back to a dominant defense, coverage still has a long way to go. The loss of superstar edge defender Danielle Hunter to injury for a consecutive season, necessitates building depth along the defensive line.
The Vikings have three top-75 picks and four in a narrow range in the late 5th through mid 6th. We should expect that through trading, the Vikings will look to shorten the gap between pick 70 and pick 173. Despite some holes, this is still a talented roster that may not have to hit rock bottom before re-establishing itself as a true playoff contender. Let’s look at how I would go about accomplishing that, given the current structure of their draft.
1.20 | Ahmad Gardner | CB | Cincinnati
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Like many NFL teams, the Vikings currently lack the perimeter playmakers needed to regularly employ press or man-to-man concepts. Patrick Peterson has been a stabilizing force in zone coverage for a secondary that struggled mightily in 2020. However, adding another sticky press and cover cornerback to second-year press-man CB Cam Dantzler would open up possibilities defensively.
Enter the Cincinnati Bearcat’s long and lean star cornerback, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardener. A willing tackler and edge run-defender, Gardner has some added appeal in a world of rising cover-2 coverages. His length and ability to disrupt receivers at the line and then win from trail positions make him a perfect fit for a team, like the Vikings, looking to play more man under a cover-2 shell.
Since his freshman season at Cincinnati, Gardner has started and excelled, recording three interceptions every year on campus. Yet, there will always be some concern over the level of competition Ahmad has faced in the AAC. Unfortunately for Gardner, a back injury prevented him from competing in the Peach Bowl vs. Georgia in 2020, his best opportunity to showcase his talents against a Power-5 bully. However, assuming Cincinnati holds serve and makes the CFB Playoff, we should see the man they call Sauce given that chance at better competition. A strong performance against a talented WR room like Alabama or Georgia could cement his value in the top-15 overall of this class.
For now, the Vikings scoop up the talented Bearcat at twenty overall. The cornerback class is robust in the early portions of the 2022 class. Whether it’s Gardner or another, I expect the Vikings will prioritize cornerback early on.
2.37 | Daxton Hill | S | Michigan
Mike Mulholland | MLive.com
Free-agent addition S Xavier Woods is enjoying a bounce-back season. Nickel CB Mackensie Alexander is back, adding some stability to sub-packages. Late-round rookie Camryn Bynum has added versatility to the safety room. Still, the Vikings here smartly begin grooming the defensive backfield leader to replace Harrison Smith in the years to come.
Daxton Hill aligns everywhere for the Wolverines. Excellent in coverage against slot receivers and tight ends, Hill does his best work from the slot. He is also an excellent blitzer and edge run defender because of his elite pursuit skills and closing speed. That closing speed is Hill’s defining trait, and it allows him to support the run from deeper alignments. From these deeper centerfield alignments, Daxton plays with good eye discipline and tracks the ball well.
Only one season starting for an early declare is slightly concerning. Still, Hill’s athletic upside and versatility as a hybrid coverage and run-support defender make him worth a first-round, or in this case, early second-round selection. In this spot, Minnesota rectifies the mistake of taking CB Jeff Gladney over hometown legend S Antoine Winfield one draft previous.
3.70 | Perrion Winfrey | IDL | Oklahoma
The Vikings have been attempting to fill defensive tackle since Sheldon Richardson was brought in via Free Agency, the first time. Sheldon is on his second stint with the Vikings and is no longer the wrecking ball he was as a Jet or in previous seasons with Minnesota. Big-money acquisitions Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson haven’t been able to stay healthy. Efforts late in drafts to address tackle have produced mixed results. Armon Watts continues to flash competency but is more of an early-down defender. James Lynch is a high-motor player but should remain in a depth or situational role.
Perrion Winfrey jumps aboard the Skol Ship here to add some athletic bounce and penetration skills to an interior defensive line that, even when healthy, is primarily built to stop the run. Perrion is a JUCO transfer with minimal starting time at OU, and his lack of experience shows. He may not be ready to hold up against the run as a rookie. However, Winfrey would instantly upgrade the Vikings in sub-package formations. In these situations, down and distance can allow an elite athlete like Winfrey to be just that. Raw and athletic is the Viking’s bread and butter at DL. Perrion fits the bill and has the tools to develop rapidly into an impact starter.
5.173 | Chris Autman-Bell | WR | Minnesota
A luxury pick here, but the Vikings spend it to keep Autman-Bell in the Twin Cities. The Gopher standout adds some size and physicality to a WR core that role receivers KJ Osborn or Ihmir Smith-Marsette do not possess. Autman-Bell will be best utilized as a movable chess piece. CAB is big enough and just fast enough to threaten corners on the boundary. He is also tough enough to absorb hits up the seams and middle of the field. A tackle breaker after the catch and competent blocker in the run game, Chris Autman-Bell is a well-rounded WR prospect. He will help in three-wide sets in year one.
6.182 | Ali Gaye | EDGE | LSU
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Image
I mentioned raw and athletic as the Vikings bread and butter at DL. Let’s add length to that list. The Vikings stay true to form and select one of the longest and most athletic edge defenders left on the board. Another JUCO transfer with untapped potential, the Vikings look to recreate the massive success of Pterodactyl DE Danielle Hunter, conveniently another former LSU Tiger. Gaye is a little tight when bending around the edge. However, his ability to straight arm and rip through offensive tackles will transfer to the next level. Gaye figures to be a fast riser as we approach the combine. For now, this is a steal for an organization that excels at developing this archetype of prospect.
6.184 | Charlie Kolar | TE | Iowa State
A true Inline-Y is difficult to find. At this point in the draft, it’s typically F and H move tight ends that are being selected, but the Vikings address the hole left by TE departure Kyle Rudolph here in the 6th round. Irv Smith Jr will be back in 2022. However, it was clear before his injury that the Vikings wanted a traditional, hand-in-the-dirt Y to complement Irv. Charlie Kolar fits that billing ideally, and at this point in the draft, he is a massive steal. Kolar catches anything inside his massive 6’6” frame and is an adept route runner at the short and intermediate levels. Lacks the athletic juice to be an impact fantasy player, but an excellent role piece for an already well-supported offense.
6.196 | James Cook | RB | Georgia
Jerrion Ealy got sniped one pick ahead of this spot, and I decided to have a little fun. James Cook is the younger brother of Vikings superstar Dalvin Cook, so I guess it would be a little brother fun. Dalvin is much more well-built than his Bulldog brother. However, the ability to be electric in space and bend the edge transferred down the family tree.
Alex Mattison would remain the handcuff and primary backup if Dalvin were hurt or possibly facing suspension in 2022. Still, James Cook would add a pass-catching and big-play element Mattison lacks. Scat-back RBs are numerous late in this draft. I could see the Vikings filling a more pressing need like IOL or LB and signing a UDFA RB that falls through the draft. Yet, James Cook is the best of the satellite-first backs, and I couldn’t resist pairing him with big brother Dalvin.
Post-Draft Offensive Fantasy Impact
A draft primarily focused on the defensive side of the ball early seems likely. Then the Vikings should then turn their attention to adding offensive depth late. They accomplished that here, and if that is the way the draft plays out, a few things could change for the Vikings.
The most obvious change would revolve around the overall team philosophy. It is no guarantee that HC Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Speilman are retained going into the 2022 offseason. I worry about the Viking’s likelihood of staying offensively aggressive with a better defense, assuming the primary decision-makers are back. The Vikings, in recent weeks, have finally realized that repeatedly running and attempting to keep games close is no longer the best method for seeking wins. What was a Cook-centric offense is now trending towards favoring the second-year, Gumbi-like Justin Jefferson. That is solely connected to the defense’s ability to consistently get stops, not because we have seen any drop-off from Cook. Would that still be the formula with a defensive first HC coaching a better defense? My instinct says no.
The potential of going back to a more run-centric offense could be offset by the possibility of more possessions and better field position. Jefferson may be elite enough to avoid any significant cause for concern. Still, I question what this all could mean for more tertiary weapons, such as aging WR Adam Thielen or the aforementioned Irv Smith Jr, if the Vikings decide to lower the sails and drop anchor in 2022.
Kirk Cousins is also enjoying his most efficient season as a Viking, but many could be wondering if the Vikings would consider selecting a QB in this class. There is some intrigue in that idea because of the relatively depressed value of QB’s 2-6 in this class. However, Cousins still has another fully guaranteed year on his contract, and 2021 third-round selection Kellen Mond serves fine as a developmental QB. Kirk remains undervalued in dynasty because of this perception as replaceable, and I’m betting Kirk holds this job through 2022. If a regime change is coming, I expect the Viking’s long-term QB will be targeted in the 2023 class.
Post-Draft Defensive Fantasy Impact
Finally, for our IDP brethren, additions of Ahmad Gardner and Daxton Hill could significantly improve the Viking’s EDGE potential for sacks and splash plays. Solving the problems on the back-end may finally unlock Danielle Hunter for the elite season he is capable of having. Staying healthy would be a massive component of that. However, no one could convince me better coverage wouldn’t equal better sack production for the still only 27-year-old star.
Additionally, a need that we haven’t covered and that I did not address with this draft is LB. Michael Kendricks and Anthony Barr have been staples in Minnesota for some time now. Yet, Barr’s contract and inability to stay healthy makes a future in Minny cloudy. However, I avoided LB because I believe in Chazz Surratt’s ability to fill that weak-side LB spot. Surratt was a third-round selection just a year ago and needed a developmental year. The LB class that currently looks to go undrafted is deep, which, similar to RB, is not uncommon. Look for the Vikings to use that final draft selection on RB or LB and address the other need with an undrafted free agent.