EAGAN, Minn. — Good luck finding a mock draft these days that has the Vikings taking an offensive player with the 12th overall pick.
In fact, in Version 7.0 of the Vikings 2022 Mock Draft Tracker, all 25 experts included had Minnesota tabbing a player on the defensive side of the ball in the first round.
ESPN's longtime NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., wasn't included in that roundup, but has since released his own latest mock draft, and also has the Vikings going defense with LSU cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr.
This is a great fit for both sides. The Vikings could get a corner with an elite, All-Pro ceiling and plug a hole, while Stingley could join a team with a few other former LSU stars (Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter, Patrick Peterson). The concern about Stingley is that his best tape is from 2019, when he starred as a true freshman. Can he return to form in the NFL — and stay healthy? That's a risk teams will have to consider. Still, I feel better making that bet at No. 12 than if I were picking in the top five.
Kiper held a pre-draft conference call Thursday morning for nearly an hour, taking questions on numerous draft topics.
But Vikings.com wanted to know, with so many defensive players projected to Minnesota at No. 12, does Kiper feel the Vikings will absolutely go defense right away?
"I think it will be, yeah. I think you look at D-line in the second round, a tight end at some point – but not in the first round," Kiper said. "It just screams 'corner.' You know, you look at 'Sauce' Gardner being gone, Derek Stingley, Jr. – if he's there – and I've said earlier, knowing we've all targeted Minnesota with Stingley. Will somebody trade up to get him? And if he's gone, you say, 'OK, who are we gonna do?'
"Well, Trent McDuffie is worthy of being the 12th pick. He had a great career at Washington. He didn't have as many interceptions, and neither did [Kyler] Gordon. Neither one of those corners at Washington had the interceptions, but their ball skills really showed to be pretty [good] on tape," Kiper added. "They tackle – McDuffie tackles extremely well. They can play anywhere in the secondary – very smart, very instinctive football players. If Stingley, Jr., were gone, I would still look at Trent McDuffie from Washington as a strong possibility."
Of the 25 mock drafts included in Version 7.0, cornerback was the pick all but five times.
Stingley was predicted to the Vikings eight times, while McDuffie landed in Minnesota seven times. Gardner went to Minnesota in three mock drafts, while Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., was projected at No. 12 twice.
Here are four more takeaways from Kiper's pre-draft press conference:
1. A first-round trade?
Although Kiper had Minnesota taking Stingley at No. 12, he also said Thursday on the conference call that other teams may be lurking to get him.
Kiper was asked about what New England might do at No. 12, and said the Patriots are a team he could envision moving up near the Vikings spot to get a top-tier cornerback, noting that "there is a drop off" at corner behind Gardner, Stingley and McDuffie.
"If [Stingley] drops to the 12-15 spots, are [the Patriots] going to go get him?," Kiper said. "He could have been the No. 1 player in this draft if he had not the COVID year and then the injury, OK? He could have been the No. 1 player on boards in this draft.
"If he slides a little bit, I would think New England would have to be aggressive to try and go up and get him," Kiper added. "Derek Stingley is not falling to 21. I'm anxious to see if New England and Bill Belichick are aggressive and get off that 21st spot and move up."
View photos of potential wide receivers the Vikings can select in the 2022 NFL Draft.
2. Analyzing the first-round WRs
A year ago, the draft featured a trio of wide receivers taken with the first 10 picks.
How does this year's wide receivers class compare to that group?
Kiper said while he doesn't have any 2022 prospects with as high a grade as DeVonta Smith, Ja'Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle from a year ago, he does still like the vibe of the current group.
The issue, Kiper noted, is that some current prospects have dealt with injuries, which has lowered his overall grade on them.
"None of these guys have the grade of a DeVonta Smith, Ja'Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle. Those three guys all had elite grades," Kiper said. "None of the guys this year will have a grade equal to any of those three. [Ohio State's] Garrett Wilson would be the closest.
"Drake London, had he gone through the process a little cleaner — remember he had the fractured ankle in late October. Jameson Williams, maybe could have been there [but] he had the ACL in the national championship game. Some things happened to prevent that, particularly Jameson," Kiper added. "I think he had a grade right there or close to the guys last year. But I think six of seven [wide receivers] go in the first round. It's a deep, talented group. But the three last year were higher."
While no wide receivers were projected to the Vikings in the past week or two, some players have been predicted to the Vikings at No. 12 in the past few months.
Cornerback has just been the more popular position lately.
View photos of potential offensive linemen the Vikings can select in the 2022 NFL Draft.
3. Depth at cornerback
And speaking of cornerbacks, Kiper also dove into the depth at that position on Thursday.
He went through a handful of prospects that could be available in the second round, including Roger McCreary.
The former Auburn standout was the Vikings second-round pick at No. 46 in a recent mock draft by Arif Hasan of The Athletic. [Hasan took McDuffie with the 12th pick].
As for McCreary, Kiper said the second round is the sweet spot for him.
"You look at guys who have been experienced and battle-tested, and Roger has," Kiper said. "Is he going to be a slot corner? Does he have the length to be an elite corner? Does he have the recovery ability? That's the thing you have to play out with.
"Recovery and long arms usually lead to pass breakups, and Roger's case, he doesn't have great length and tremendous recovery ability. But he's a heck of a football player overall," Kiper added. "He did have a higher grade coming into the year that he finished up with. I have him going in the second round, in the later portion to Arizona [at No. 55]. I think he's a solid 2. But he's a true professional and is going to come in with a professional approach. He's experienced, technically sound, smart. He'll provide second-round value."
Kiper also have some insight on Kyler Gordon, McDuffie's college teammate at Washington.
"Gordon didn't test as well. Trent McDuffie, of course, his teammate, much more highly regarded right now in the mid-first-round area," Kiper said. "But Gordon's got ability – there's no question.
"He's flashed a lot of talent," Kiper added. "At one point in time, I thought he would be a sure-fire, late-first-round pick. If he'd tested better, I think he would have been."
View photos of potential quarterbacks the Vikings can select in the 2022 NFL Draft.
4. Intel, info and insight
A year ago, the combine was medical-only event that primarily included info gathering from all 32 NFL training staffs that was collectively used by the league due to the pandemic. (For a deep dive on that process, click here).
In the present day, Kiper said he's heard that teams are operating about normal in the pre-draft process.
The Senior Bowl took place in February, the 2022 combine was back in Indianapolis and teams have visited pro days and also welcomed prospects into their facilities for visits.
With all of that in mind, Kiper said he expects a much more routine draft later this month.
"I think it's going to be more predictable, maybe. There's always some unpredictability, we know that. You can never be sure about anything," Kiper said. "But I think we have a lot of information on the players. They went through the process — Senior Bowl, combine, pro days — the normalcy was back, for the most part.
"Overall, big picture, it's settled in and we're going to have a normal draft because of that. The surprises may still happen, you always want surprises, but you won't have the lack of information," Kiper added. "These teams want to have as much information as possible on one of these players, and this year they certainly do. Sometimes less is more, and I say that over-analyst is paralysis. The draft used to be in February back in the day. Teams did a great job last year, but this year it's kind of back to normal."
The 2022 NFL Draft will be held from April 28-30. The first round will be on April 28, followed by Rounds 2 and 3 on April 29 and the final four rounds on April 30.