In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay projected the Vikings to use their 23rd overall pick to select Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker.
McShay said that "sitting behind [Kirk] Cousins for a year to learn the pro game and fully recover from a torn ACL could be the perfect setup for Hooker, who led the nation in QBR last season (89.5) before the injury."
He added that Hooker "is accurate to every level of the field but really thrives throwing deep."
McShay held a video conference call Wednesday for NFL media in order to discuss his most recent mock and answer a variety of other questions.
If the Vikings, who do not currently have a Round 2 pick, stay at No. 23 and select Hooker as McShay suggested, who could they have their eyes on in Round 3? Since other analysts have projected Minnesota to go after a receiver or cornerback in the first round, McShay offered options at those positions in the third.
"I actually think when you get into the third round, there's some really quality players who could be good No. 3 receivers at first and maybe develop into No. 2s," McShay said. "Cedric Tillman might go in the second round out of Tennessee, but he's a big, physical receiver who does a great job when the ball's in the air. A.T. Perry's another big receiver who can get down the field, coming out of Wake Forest. Rashee Rice has a great season at SMU the last two years, highly productive. He's a good route runner, and he knows how to uncover and get open.
"Jayden Reed is one of my kind of sleeper guys late on Day 2, out of Michigan State. He's a little bit undersized, but he accelerates off the line so quickly," McShay continued. "He knows how to uncover; great route runner; really confident with his hands, not only as a receiver but also in the return game. He's really productive in the return game. He's only 187 pounds, but he's 5-foot-11, and he ran a 4.45 [in the 40-yard dash] … and has good acceleration off the line. I think he could be a steal in Round 3, as well."
McShay stressed it's a "pretty deep group of cornerbacks" in this year's class, particularly if teams are looking for an option at "nickels or No. 3s" right off the bat who can continue to develop.
He mentioned Iowa's Riley Moss as a "ball hawk" who also has really good size, and he opined that Miami's Tyrique Stevenson is an underrated Day 2 option.
"Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson at TCU, he's the nephew of LaDainian Tomlinson – that guy, he's undersized, but he is always around the ball. He's a good tackler, even though he's a smaller corner. Great instincts in coverage. I think he's going to be a really good nickel/slot guy," McShay said. "Clark Phillips [III] from Utah has got size and length – a little bit of an up-and-down year this past season, but coming into the year, there was talk about him potentially as a first-rounder. So to get that ability in the third round would be a really good value. And even going down to Kyu Blu Kelly from Stanford, another cornerback who's got a lot of talent. Kind of up and down, had some injuries this past year, but if he gets right physically, I think he's got a chance to outplay where he gets drafted, as well."
Here are four other takeaways from McShay's conference call:
1. How does this WR class stack up?
McShay was asked during his call if this year's wide receiver class is a "drop-off" from years past.
While he acknowledged that's a true statement, he also pointed out that "we've gotten spoiled the past few years" at the position.
"These wide receivers – you look back the past three years, you've got three or four guys each year that you're already looking at Pro Bowls or future Pro Bowlers and some Hall of Famers," McShay said. "Last year Garrett Wilson wins Offensive Rookie of the Year; Jake London, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams is going to be fully healthy this year. In 2021 – Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen [Waddle], DeVonta Smith were the first few off the board."
And don't forget about 2020, right? In which the Vikings got Justin Jefferson, and the class also included Jerry Jeudy (Broncos) and CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys).
"We have just had some an influx of young wide receivers from the draft the last few years that it's kind of hard to keep up with that pace," McShay explained. "This class, to me, doesn't have a true top-10 receiver. But there's still good depth; there's still good players. I think you're going to see a run."
2. Evaluating the QB position
When it comes to quarterbacks in the NFL Draft, what are the biggest challenges and requirements of evaluating the position.
McShay said there's "obviously a lot to it" and shared his thoughts on the topic.
"There's so much that get overlooked, I think, in terms of how comfortable are they in their skin? Who are they as a person? What's their true level of football intelligence, and how do they translate what they learn on film and in the meeting rooms to the field? It kind of starts there for me," he said. "And that's the hardest thing to uncover because it's not necessarily what always shows up easily on tape."
As far as distinctly football traits, McShay opined the most important are "mental makeup" and accuracy, with arm strength and mobility following.
"But the game is changing, too, and mobility used to be kind of lowest on the list, and it's increasingly becoming more important at that position – especially for young guys," he said. "I think when you evaluate quarterbacks early in their career … they're not going to have all the answers to the test. When they take the snapshot pre-snap and then see how everything has changed post-snap, you know, it's too much for a lot of rookies to be able to diagnose and to understand. So they're going to make mistakes. All rookies make a lot more mistakes than veteran guys do, for an obvious reason, and so having that mobility is a fallback. And to be able to bail out with your feet has really helped a lot of these younger guys."
McShay specifically mentioned Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson as quarterbacks who "have developed into better pocket passers" as their careers have progressed but leaned on their mobility early on.
"To have that early in their career as a 'break glass in case of emergency' – there just so happens to be a lot more emergencies when you're a rookie quarterback compared to years two, three and four," McShay said. "That part has become a much more important part of the evaluation with these quarterbacks coming back because it's a different game than it was 5-10 years ago."
3. Late-round edge options
McShay was asked about edge-rusher options in the later rounds of this year's draft, and he said there are a few who could be excellent value picks in the third or fourth rounds.
"Nick Herbig, from Wisconsin, highly productive pass rusher – he's just undersized. So, where do you play him? Do you play him off-the-ball linebacker and utilize him as an edge or blitzer on passing downs? But he's a guy who just knows how to get to the quarterback," McShay said. "Yasir Abdullah from Louisville is another guy who's an edge rusher that I think brings a lot of value.
"Karl Brooks, Bowling Green defensive end, I think is a better player than most people think. I don't even think he was invited to the combine. But Brooks is a player that I think has potential," McShay continued. "Nick Hampton from Appalachian State is another name, fourth or fifth round, that could end up being productive. … and then YaYa Diaby from Louisville – really productive this last year. I like his traits. I think he is probably a third-round pick. Third, early fourth round. He could wind up being a steal in this year's draft, too."
4. Tight end class tops the rest
It's fair to say tight end likely isn't near the top of Minnesota's wish list heading into this year's draft, with T.J. Hockenson returning and the addition of Josh Oliver during free agency.
But it's still interesting to see which positions are especially lauded this year, particularly if a 2023 opponent snags one of the bigger names. McShay said the tight ends group is the best it's been in a long time.
"And it's not just the guys at the top like [Michael] Mayer and Dalton Kincaid. It's the depth that you have at tight end," McShay said. "You know, with Mayer, listen – he's not gonna run away from you. A lot of contested catches, but he's got the best ball skills … he knows how to get open, he knows how to box out defenders.
"It's rare to see these types of guys come out from the college ranks now, with everything being more spread [offense] and basically just yoked-up receivers playing the tight end position. But Mayer can do both of those things for you," he continued ."So if that's what you're looking for – an in-line guy who can still be a short, intermediate, very productive and he's a bulldozer running after the catch, than Mayer's your guy.
"If you're looking for a receiver who's not going to be very helpful in the run game, then it's Dalton Kincaid. And Dalton, he has explosiveness; he can stretch the seam; he can create after the catch; he has very good, outstanding, ball skills," McShay added. "It won't surprise me if Kincaid goes before Mayer, but those are the two guys I see as locks in the first round."