The 2020 NFL Draft is less than a month away, and the Vikings are currently one of four teams that hold multiple first-round picks.
Minnesota holds the 22nd overall pick — which was acquired from Buffalo in a trade — and also the 25th pick, which the Vikings originally had.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr., believes the pair of picks will give the Vikings plenty of options to address certain needs.
Kiper held a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning and outlined his top areas of focus for the Vikings. The longtime draft analyst opined that Minnesota should focus on two offensive positions — wide receiver and offensive line — plus look at adding depth at defensive end.
Kiper released his most-recent mock draft Tuesday and had the Vikings taking a wide receiver at No. 22 before following up with a defensive end. In his conference call, he expanded on the possibility for Minnesota in the four-pick span.
"In terms for first-rounders for the Vikings, you look at needs — it's defensive end, offensive tackle and wide receiver," Kiper said. "I have them taking a wide receiver at 22 in Denzel Mims from Baylor, who really benefited from the draft process in addition to having a great year. Then I have them taking the defensive end — A.J. Epenesa from Iowa.
"They could go, at 25, with Josh Jones, the offensive tackle from Houston. They could go with Ezra Cleveland, the offensive tackle from Boise State," Kiper added. "There are going to be offensive-tackle options at 25. Defensive-end options with Epenesa, and the wide receiver options at 22 or 25, whatever they deem, with the guy they really want, where can they get him?"
The draft remains scheduled for April 23-25 but without public events.
Here are four other takeaways from Kiper's conference call:
1. Mims highlights WR depth
Kiper said Mims — who produced a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in his college career — will certainly be in the mix for Minnesota's consideration. Kiper offered insight into how Mims' draft stock has risen in recent months.
"Mims, with the kind of year he had, you think about all-star scenarios and going down and doing what he did there, you think about a 4.38 [40-yard dash], almost a [38.5-inch] vertical, the size – 6-3, almost 210 pounds … What you want to do is nail the process," Kiper said. "Have the year, all-star, combine, and if it all comes together positively, you're going to soar up the board. And he did.
"Justin Jefferson [of LSU] nailed the process, as well. He had a great year and then a great combine. Mims did, as well. So I think Mims and Jefferson, along with [Clemson's Tee] Higgins, are all vying for that fourth receiver off the board spot, and that's going to determine the team you go to," Kiper said. "You're talking about several teams in that area needing wide receivers. I could see Dallas taking one, even though they've got a lot of money wrapped up in [Amari] Cooper. I could certainly see Vegas taking one at 19, I could see Philadelphia, Minnesota – you could see certainly Minnesota at 25 – all looking at wide receiver. Minnesota with those two picks, one of those picks you would have to think is a wide receiver."
Mims had 186 catches for 2,925 yards and 28 touchdowns in his four-year career at Baylor.
If the Vikings don't go the wide receiver route at 22 or 25, Kiper noted that Minnesota will have plenty of Day 2 or 3 options to get a playmaker for Kirk Cousins.
"Some of those other receivers I like are Antonio Gibson from Memphis. He's a really good football player and has great versatility as a running back and receiver. You can use him on jet sweeps, and there's a lot of things you can do with him. You can throw him into that group and say he belongs solidly in the second-round discussion," Kiper said. "Then Lynn Bowden, Jr., out of Kentucky, he has great versatility. He played quarterback this year out of necessity. He's in the third-round mix. I think Isaiah Coulter from Rhode Island, he did a good job against some big-time opponents. He tested well at the combine and could be a fourth or fifth-round receiver.
"You can wait until the second or fourth round. I think we'll have 30 or 35 receivers with second and third-round grades, so there are going to be some fifth-round receivers out of this group. You'll see some really good receivers drop," Kiper added. "I didn't even mention Jalen Reagor from TCU in the second round. James Proche from SMU is going to be a really good fifth-round pick for somebody. The other receiver at Rhode Island — Aaron Parker — is a late-round [pick]/free agent who can play. You're going to get guys that aren't even drafted that are going to make teams at wide receiver this year."
Click here for a breakdown and analysis of the draft's top prospects at wide receiver.
2. Evaluating Epenesa
Kiper beefed up the Vikings defensive line at pick No. 25 with Epenesa, who measured at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds at the combine.
Kiper believes the Iowa defensive end can move around in the trenches, primarily on passing downs.
"In terms of Epenesa, he dropped a bit with that 40 time [of 5.04 seconds]," Kiper said. "The good thing about Epenesa is that you can kick him inside. On third down, he can be an inside guy there.
"He has great versatility, great production against pretty good offensive tackles late in the year. Austin Jackson, he dominated, from USC [in the Holiday Bowl]," Kiper added. "I think he's a late 1, early 2 at worst. I think he'd be a real good fit of Minnesota. They lose Everson Griffen in free agency. They pick at 25, and that's where I have him going. I'd say, at worst, an early second."
Epenesa recorded 26.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss in 39 career games for the Hawkeyes. He had back-to-back, double-digit sack campaigns in 2018 and 2019 and also forced nine fumbles in his college career.
3. Offensive line observations | By Lindsey Young
Kiper talked about a handful of offensive tackles during his call, including Iowa Hawkeyes standout Tristan Wirfs, who impressed in multiple timing and testing drills at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Kiper projected Wirfs to the Cardinals at No. 8 overall and called him "a right tackle who played two games at left tackle and did a pretty good job."
He also looked at Andrew Thomas out of Georgia, identifying him as the second-best left tackle in this year's draft that could be an option for teams needing someone on that side.
Another name that Kiper evaluated was Cleveland, whom he mocked to the Titans at No. 29. At the combine, Cleveland ranked third among offensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (4.93 seconds) and fifth in the bench press (30 reps). He topped the position group in the 3-cone drill with a time of 7.26 seconds.
"Cleveland had a great combine on the heels of a really good career as a left tackle," said Kiper. "I think you look at Cleveland as a guy who's moved up. I think he's [a late first-round option]; I think at worst, he's an early second. Right now when you stack the offensive tackles on the board, he's moved up to the point where he's the sixth guy.
"That puts him in the late first, ahead of Austin Jackson from USC and ahead of Isaiah Wilson from Georgia," Kiper added.
4. Maintaining 'normalcy' through NFL Draft | By Lindsey Young
The 2020 NFL Draft is scheduled to still happen April 23-25, despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kiper was asked by a media member to share his thoughts on the league's decision against postponing the draft. He said he agrees with moving forward as originally planned.
"I think that everybody needs normalcy to set in," Kiper said. "We're doing the radio, we're all doing all the draft stuff – the mocks, everything is going along. Free agency went along as scheduled. Even though everything wasn't perfect and ideal, we've seen players moving all over the place, trades being made, everything's being done. The draft can be done, obviously, without having everybody together. No teams go to the draft, anyway.
"Everything's going to be different; you have to adjust it," Kiper continued. "There's a lot more important things going on, obviously, than the NFL Draft, and everybody's trying to deal with the health of their families and trying to get through this the best they can. I think the NFL can get through it. I think it's important to, like I said, give people something to focus on and occupy their minds, and that's something that's kind of 'escape' during these trying times."