Things are heating up in the NFL.
The on-field timing and testing part of the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine will start Thursday, just eight weeks ahead of the opening night of the NFL Draft.
Mel Kiper, Jr., of ESPN published his second mock draft this week, which includes a complete first round that features three trades.
For Minnesota at No. 23 overall, Kiper projected the Vikings selecting Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks in the first round. He wrote:
New mock draft, same position the Vikings should target. New Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores wants to be aggressive, but he needs the cornerbacks to do that, even if free agent Patrick Peterson returns. The 6-foot-2 Banks is coming off a breakout season in which he locked down opposing wideouts — often in man-to-man coverage — and had eight pass breakups and a pick. His tape is impressive, and I've heard he's going to run in the low 4.3-second range in the 40-yard dash at the combine. That's elite for his size. Andrew Booth, Jr., a second-round pick last year, should be in the mix for more snaps, but Banks has No. 1 corner potential.
Kiper also has an array of moves made by teams within the first five picks. He wrote Chicago will send the No. 1 overall selection to Houston before moving down again to the No. 4 spot in a trade that gives Indianapolis the second overall pick. Kiper then sees Seattle (No. 5 overall) and Carolina (No. 9 overall) trading places.
In addition to his mock draft, Kiper also unveiled his top 25 overall prospects and top 10 prospects at each position.
View photos of current Vikings players during their time at the NFL Scouting Combine from previous years.
Offensively, Kiper listed Texas' Bijan Robinson as his top running back and at No. 6 overall. He wrote:
Robinson did absolutely everything for Texas. He ran inside and outside, caught passes and scored a bunch of touchdowns. Robinson's 2021 season ended when he dislocated his left elbow, but he showed elite ability in those 10 games. He led the FBS in broken tackles forced per game (4.1) and averaged 112.7 rushing yards per game. He is a cut-and-go runner with outstanding vision and explosiveness. Another thing I like about Robinson's game: He catches passes with his hands, not his body. He had 19 catches this season, averaging 16.5 yards per reception. I think NFL teams could use him even more in the passing game.
At wide receiver, Kiper placed four prospects on his list: Boston College's Zay Flowers (No. 13 overall), Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 14), TCU's Quentin Johnston (No. 22) and USC's Jordan Addison (No. 23).
On the defensive side of the ball, Kiper wrote outside linebackers Will Anderson, Jr., (Alabama) and Will McDonald IV (Iowa State) rank within his top 10 overall.
Anderson's sack numbers were down (10) from his historic 2021 season (17.5), but he ranked sixth in the country with 19.5 tackles for loss after being No. 1 (34.5) last season. He had a stunning 130 pressures over the past two seasons, which is 45 more than the second-best defender (San Jose State'sViliami Fehoko). He is a dominant and complete edge rusher who might have been the No. 1 pick last April if he had been eligible for the draft. Anderson doesn't take plays off, is versatile and plays the run well. He's explosive off the line of scrimmage. Nick Saban & Co. used him as a stand-up outside linebacker, as a down defensive end and even at tackle, where he can blow up guards and centers at the snap.
McDonald is a big riser in these rankings, thanks to a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. He was unblockable. There was some concern over his frame, but he weighed in at 241 pounds in Mobile, Alabama, which assuaged some concerns about whether he could hold up at the next level. McDonald is a speed rusher who is super explosive. He had five sacks last season, but he put up 11.5 in 2021 and 10.5 in 2020, so he has a history of production. He's going to be coveted by teams that run a 3-4 because such teams always have a need for high-end edge rushers.
Kiper also put three cornerbacks in his top 11, including Illinois' Devon Witherspoon (eighth overall), Oregon's Christian Gonzalez (ninth) and Penn State's Joey Porter, Jr., (11th). He wrote:
Witherspoon allowed 16 receptions on 54 targets as the primary defender this season, according to ESPN charting. He gave up just 3.3 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns while breaking up 14 passes and picking off three more. He was extremely consistent all season. He doesn't get handsy with receivers, so his game will translate well to the NFL. He also will tackle when needed.
Gonzalez started 18 games at Colorado — including six as a true freshman in 2020 — before transferring to Oregon before the 2022 season. After an inconsistent game in the season-opening loss to Georgia, he was a lockdown corner the rest of the way. He picked off four passes in 2022; he has the hands of a receiver. Gonzalez has excellent length and has the recovery speed to make up for mistakes in his technique.
[Porter] is aggressive, although he had just one career interception in 30 career starts. With all corners, the testing numbers at the combine will really matter, but I like what I see from Porter on tape.
Prospects who could rise during the NFL Scouting Combine
Throughout the next few days, 319 draft-eligible prospects will put their athleticism on display for teams across the NFL during the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Max Chadwick of Pro Football Focus identified a key prospect at each position that could benefit the most from participating in the combine.
Chadwick wrote Texas A&M running back Devon Achane could impress teams with his speed in the 40-yard dash.
If there's anyone who could come close to John Ross' record 4.22-second 40-yard dash, it's likely Achane.
Not only does the junior have breakaway speed on the gridiron, but his speed is also verified on the track as well. Last spring, Achane ran the 100-meter dash in 10.14 seconds and the 200-meter dash in 20.2 seconds for Texas A&M's track and field team. Both of those times would've been sixth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
On the offensive line, Chadwick noted North Dakota State tackle Cody Mauch will use his size and athleticism to his advantage during the on-field drills. He wrote:
Mauch had one of the most incredible body transformations of anyone in this class, as he entered North Dakota State as a 221-pound tight end before beefing up to 303 pounds to play left tackle this past season. Despite gaining over 80 pounds, he maintained his freakish athleticism. Mauch's 90.8 grade and 19 big-time blocks led all FCS offensive linemen this season.
Defensively, Chadwick said Washington State's Daiyan Henley could move up the draft board with a solid outing this weekend.
Henley is one of PFF's darlings in the 2023 NFL Draft. Despite ranking outside the top five on most linebacker rankings, the redshirt senior is our top linebacker prospect in the draft.
He spent his initial two years at wide receiver at Nevada before transitioning to linebacker. He maintained that athleticism through the position switch and has an 86.2 coverage grade over the last two seasons.
Chadwick added similar to Achane, Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo is one of the fastest players available. He wrote:
Ringo is one of the best athletes in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Ringo clocked an approximate speed of 23.5 miles per hour during one of his pre-draft workouts. For reference, the fastest ball carrier in the NFL this season, Parris Campbell, came in around 22 miles per hour. He seems to be slipping on most big boards lately but can cement his status as a first-round pick if he lives up to the hype in Indianapolis.
Three Vikings to be inducted into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame
Mick Tingelhoff, Paul Krause and Scott Studwell have already earned inductions into the Vikings Ring of Honor. Krause and Tingelhoff were also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 and 2015, respectively.
Today, the three Vikings legends will be a part of the latest class to be inducted into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held at the Mall of America at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
"We were team-first guys who respected the team, the fans, what it means to be a Viking," Krause told Mark Craig of the Star Tribune. "Basically, everyone on Bud Grant's teams did that. We laced it up and played."
Tingelhoff, Krause and Studwell will join Jim Marshall, Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Randall McDaniel, Alan Page, Grant and Max Winter as Vikings inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame.
Craig wrote Krause found a lot of success at the University of Iowa before setting records at the NFL level.
[Krause's] 81 interceptions as a safety appears to be an unbreakable record. The active leader in 2022 was Devin McCourty — with 35. Through 13 years.
Emlen Tunnell held the mark previous record of 79 from 1961 until Dec. 2, 1979, when the Vikings were playing the Rams in Los Angeles. Krause's 80thpick came against Vince Ferragamo on the final play of the first half. His final interception came against former Vikings teammate Bob Lee in the second half.
"I remember the Ferragamo interception," Krause said. "I remember all 81, actually. I don't know if it's an unbreakable record or not. I just know it's a pretty good number to have."
View the best photos of the Vikings defensive line during the 2022 season.
Craig added Tingelhoff established a record for being an ironman throughout his 17-year NFL career. He wrote:
Tingelhoff started Week 1 [in 1962] and never missed a game through the end of the 1978 season. His 240 consecutive regular-season starts rank fourth in NFL history and remains a record for centers.
Craig wrote like Krause, Studwell had a strong collegiate career at the University of Illinois before breaking tackling records with the Vikings.
Studwell's 177 tackles in 1976 led the Big Ten and still ranks second in the history of Illinois football. When he left the Illini, Studwell ranked second in career tackles behind only one guy: Dick Butkus. The All-Century team at Illinois had three middle linebackers: Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Studwell.
Studwell played for the Vikings from 1977-90 and worked in the team's scouting department for another three decades. He still holds franchise records for tackles in a game (24), a season (230) and a career (1,981).
"Stud's stats are ridiculous," former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "And that career record for tackles is out the window."
Studwell's lead in career tackles is 529 more than anyone else.
"Tackling," Studwell said, "is about 10% technique and 90% effort and heart."