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Monday Morning Mailbag: Expectations for Young Defenders & Chances of 3 Picks in 1st Round

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With the loss of some key players on defense, which players already on the Vikings roster could see an increased role in 2020, especially on the DL and CB?

— Curtis in Pipestone, Minnesota

Great question from Curtis to start us off. To begin, here's a list of players who have signed with other teams in free agency — Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Linval Joseph and Stephen Weatherly. Everson Griffen is also still a free agent. That means potentially five starters on defense will be new, quite the turnover for a unit that has enjoyed incredible continuity over the years.

So, who can step up? Before we get into any current names, I'd expect to bring in multiple defenders through the draft to get some young talent on the roster.

But the names that come to mind immediately are defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo and defensive tackle Armon Watts along the line. Odenigbo broke through with 7.0 sacks, and Watts flashed in 2019. It's likely that both will see an increased role this season. Defensive tackle Hercules Mata'afa could take over Weatherly's role as an interior pass rusher on third downs and is another candidate to see the field more.

In the secondary, the Vikings could be looking at a handful of new starters. To me, this will be a big season for Mike Hughes. He's been a bit unlucky with injuries in his first two seasons, but with the recent departures at corner, he'll be counted upon in a big way in 2020. As mentioned above, perhaps the Vikings draft a CB or two to add more depth there. But at this point, the onus will be on Hughes and other youngsters such as Holton Hill and Kris Boyd to step up and deliver if they are on the field.

Change is weird, but remember that the Vikings have a veteran defensive coaching staff, too. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has a proven track record with defensive backs, and Co-Defensive Coordinator/defensive line coach Andre Patterson might be the best in the business in getting the most out of his players.

View the top photos of Vikings G Pat Elflein from the 2019 season.

Correct me if I am wrong on Pat Elflein. He had a good first year. He was injured his second year. He switched positions his third year, which is not easy. Who is to say a healthy and experienced Pat Elflein cannot have a successful season this year?

— Gerald Goblirsch

You may be spot on here, Gerald. Pat has certainly had some ups and downs over the past few seasons, and that included some inconsistencies in 2019.

He played well as a rookie center, but those injuries from the NFC title game seemed to hamper him in 2018, especially as he missed training camp and the early part of the season. Perhaps with a full NFL season under his belt at guard, Pat can take a step forward and help solidify the interior of the Vikings offensive line.

Is it safe to assume that NFL teams don't like all of the mock draft speculation because if the speculators are correct, it might "tip the team's hand" in a manner of speaking and help some of their competitors to strategize and help them decide whether or not they trade up in the draft? What do you think?

— Pete Chapman

Teams like playing things close to the vest, especially at this time of the year. Sometimes the mock drafts end up being correct and sometimes they aren't. There's a wide array of speculation from draft experts.

Mock drafts are great entertainment in the lead up to the draft, and some might be better informed than others, but the people who put them together aren't inside an organization and don't truly know what a team is thinking. If you think about it, there are always draft surprises each year where a team selects a player that nobody saw coming. It happens each year, and the GM/front office of that team will usually talk about how they kept things quiet before taking him.

We're less than two weeks from the draft, and as always, the fun is ramping up.

Do you think the Vikings will trade back into the first round to get three first round picks like they have in the past? Who would you pick?

— Matt in Panama City, Florida

The Vikings certainly have the assets to trade up for a top-tier player if they wish, especially with a pair of first-round picks, and five overall in the first 105 selections. Or, as you said, they could move back and amass more picks.

A trio of first-rounders would mean a bunch of excitement for the organization, similar to 2013 when the Vikings added Sharrif Floyd, Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson to the roster. Will they do it? Who knows? It depends on how the first half of the draft shakes out, and if they feel that they can get a fair deal, and that moving up or down is an absolute necessity.

View the best Skol Chant photos of Vikings players and fans from the 2019 season.

Will we still be able to possibly be at U.S. Bank [Stadium] to watch the draft?? That is our family's favorite kickoff to football!

— Shelby from Monticello, Minnesota

Unfortunately, all public events surrounding the draft are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These are uncertain times for everyone, and that includes fans that we appreciate so much. NFL teams are also being forced to adjust as everyone will operate remotely instead of inside of a team facility, and the Vikings are working on other ways to connect with fans while maintaining social distancing policies to help stop the spread. I hope you and your family are well during this time.

By the way, the NFL last week announced that 58 prospects will be participating in the draft "virtually," and the league is adding a "Draft-A-Thon" component to this year's three-day event that is scheduled to begin April 23.

The "Draft-A-Thon" will be a fundraiser to benefit six national nonprofits in their respective COVID-19 relief efforts and pay tribute to health care workers and first responders. The six nonprofits are as follows:

American Red Cross

CDC Foundation's All of Us: Combat Coronavirus Campaign

Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Fund

Meals on Wheels America's COVID-19 Response Fund

The Salvation Army

United Way's COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund

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