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ESPN's Kiper Explains His Best Fit for Vikings

The NFL Draft has domino effects each year.

In 2020, Minnesota was selecting at the 22 spot, wondering if Justin Jefferson would be available to help the team replace Stefon Diggs.

Jefferson lasted as four other teams picked a receiver ahead of the Vikings, including the Eagles, who tabbed Jalen Reagor one spot ahead of Jefferson. Reagor turned in respectable numbers for a rookie with 31 catches for 396 yards and a score, but Jefferson's 88 for 1,400 record-setting yards and seven scores proved to be the cream of the crop.

Fast-forward to 2021, and there could be another scenario where a team picking immediately before the Vikings — who are scheduled to pick at 14 — directs its attention to the same position group.

That's the way ESPN Senior Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., sees it. He's currently forecasting the Los Angeles Chargers will pick Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 13. Kiper has had the Vikings picking Southern Cal tackle/guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 14 in each of his mock drafts.

They would be the second and third offensive linemen taken if things shake out the way Kiper expects. He has Cincinnati tabbing Oregon tackle Penei Sewell at No. 5.

We asked Kiper Monday during a national conference call what gives Slater the nod ahead of Vera-Tucker and what aspects of Vera-Tucker's game would sell the Vikings on him over a pick that could help the defensive side of the ball.

"In terms of Slater, right tackle/left tackle and he could be an inside guy at guard, to Vera-Tucker, a left tackle [who was] formerly a guard. I think that's going to be his best spot, so he fits the Vikings, who are looking for that left guard," Kiper said. "That's an option for them if they want a hole-filler right away. When you can move out to left tackle and play exceptionally well, like Vera-Tucker did, that bodes well. He was always an outstanding guard, so Slater has been a tackle, a left tackle and right tackle, and figure there with the Chargers, or they could kick him inside.

"Obviously pass rusher, defensive backfield, defensive line overall for Minnesota is a need," Kiper added, "but I just felt like the up-the-gut pressure bothers quarterbacks like [Kirk] Cousins as much as anything, and I thought that getting a guy who's an immediate starter, could be a Pro Bowl-caliber player early in his career, I think Vera-Tucker at 14 is not too high, based on the great performance he came through with at left tackle on the heels of what he already had done at guard. He's a guy that's just a very good football player all-around."

Ben Goessling of The Star Tribune asked Kiper about possibilities at defensive tackle that the Vikings might consider later in the draft if they do go with offensive line in the first round.

"In terms of defensive linemen, in the second round, Christian Barmore from Alabama could be a late 1 or early 2. Daviyon Nixon would be a solid second- or third-rounder out of Iowa. Levi Onwuzurike from Washington, a second-round type of guy.

"Alim McNeill, N.C. State, is more of a third rounder, and some of these opt-outs like Jay Tufele from USC Tyler Shelvin from LSU, it will be interesting to see where they factor in," Kiper added. "Any of those defensive tackles, because, remember when Jarran Reed came out, he was projected to be a late 1 and went in the second, so Barmore could certainly go in the second."

The Seahawks tabbed Reed out of Alabama in the second round (49th overall) in 2016. He's started 63 of the 72 regular-season games he's played. Reed recorded 10.5 of his 22 career sacks in 2018.

Barmore was mocked to Minnesota here and here by other draft analysts. He was a redshirt sophomore in 2020 who entered the draft with eligibility remaining after totaling 63 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 10 sacks in the past two seasons.

Nixon also declared early. He began his college career with Iowa Western Junior College before transferring to the Hawkeyes in 2018 and redshirting. Nixon totaled 74 tackles (19 for loss) and 8.5 sacks in 21 games for Iowa.

After totaling 95 tackles (16 for loss) and 7.0 sacks in 39 games for the Huskies from 2017-19, Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season. He participated in the Reese's Senior Bowl in January.

McNeill entered the draft after his junior season in 2020. He totaled 77 tackles (17.5 for loss) and 10 sacks in three seasons at N.C. State.

Tufele opted out of his 2020 junior season. He recorded 65 tackles (11 for loss) and 7.5 sacks from 2018-19 for the Trojans.

Shelvin redshirted in 2017 and played sparingly in 2018 before becoming a key player in LSU's championship march in 2019. He totaled 48 tackles (4.5 tackles for loss) and 1.5 sacks in 21 games from 2018-19.

The Vikings currently have 10 selections in the draft, which is scheduled for April 29-May 1.

Minnesota does not have a second-round selection but does have two choices in the third round.