Count Mel Kiper, Jr., as a believer that Jonah Williams will end up with the Vikings with pick No. 18.
The ESPN draft analyst released the third edition of his mock draft on Tuesday morning, and it was much the same as his second mock (which was before the combine), with Kiper continuing to project that Minnesota will select the Alabama offensive lineman.
Here is what Kiper wrote about Williams fit with the Vikings in his third mock draft:
The Vikings would be thrilled with Williams, a tackle in college — he made 43 consecutive starts for the Crimson Tide — who could play guard at the next level. If Minnesota moves Riley Reiff inside to guard, Williams (6-foot-4, 302 pounds) could stick at left tackle. As always, don't be shocked if Coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman target a pass-rusher here.
Kiper later held a conference call with national media members, which gave Vikings.com the chance to ask him about his prediction of Williams to Minnesota.
The longtime draft expert said he believes Williams can play either tackle or guard in the NFL.
Kiper also noted that Williams' experience in big games — particularly his performance in January's College Football Playoff National Championship game against Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell [whom Kiper has going 16th overall to Carolina] — will help him transition to the pros.
"I think he's a right tackle or a guard, definitely. People always look at that Clemson game and say [Clelin] Ferrell beat him up bad, and that wasn't the case," Kiper said on the call. "You go back and watch the tape of that game, and there's one play where Ferrell got the best of him when Jonah was a little off-balance, and he kind of embarrassed him on that one play. Jonah more than held his own against Ferrell in that game, and he wasn't a liability at left tackle at any point in his career.
"You look at Jonah and his short arms … yeah, that's the case. But they're not incredibly short arms. And the fact of the matter is that the kid plays with an attitude, gives you everything he has and was a really good player for a long time for Nick Saban there," Kiper added. "I'd say right tackle or guard, definitely, he can be a plug-and-play standout right away, which is why I thought the Minnesota Vikings would be a great opportunity … because he presents so much versatility and is so NFL-ready from an experience and technique standpoint."
Williams started every game of his Alabama career, finishing with 44 straight starts. He made 15 starts at right tackle as a freshman before switching to the left side as a sophomore and junior.
The California native was a unanimous First-Team All-American in 2018 and also earned First-Team All-SEC honors. He also won the SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is presented to the conference's top offensive lineman.
Here are three other takeaways from Kiper's conference call:
1. Day 2 linemen
Kiper had seven total offensive linemen going in the first round of his most-recent mock draft, with Williams being the second player in that group taken.
With almost a quarter of the first-round being devoted to offensive linemen, what options would there be in the second and third rounds?
Kiper gave a lengthy list of names that teams could consider on Day 2.
The key, Kiper noted, was that many lineman have the ability to play numerous spots.
"I think Dalton Risner from Kansas State is a tackle/guard," Kiper said. "Michael Deiter [of] Wisconsin, with his versatility. Connor McGovern of Penn State and Max Scharping of Northern Illinois are all versatile guys. They can play tackle, they can play guard … some can move into center.
"Chuma Edoga of USC was a right tackle but can play guard," Kiper added. "If you're looking at a pure guard situation Beau Benzschawel of Wisconsin, Dru Samia of Oklahoma."
Kiper did say the best pure guard prospect would be Chris Lindstrom of Boston College, whom Kiper had the Seahawks taking with the 21st pick.
"At that particular spot, Chris Lindstrom is the best guard," Kiper said. "He played some tackle but that was in 2017. He played guard pretty much three-and-a-half of the four years.
"He started a ton of games and he's a guy I thought tested really well, had a really good Senior Bowl week and a great career," Kiper added. "He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but I think he'll be gone in the first round. If he slid into the second, he'd be a great option."
2. Kiper says Iowa State's Hakeem Butler leads WR depth
Kiper predicted on his call that there will be a gluttony of wide receivers available in the second round who can make a splash with their new teams.
He ranked Iowa State's Hakeem Butler near the top of that list as a non-first-round wide receiver who could make a similar impact that others have done in recent years.
"He's one of the top 10 receivers in this draft, but there's probably going to be two to three [wide receivers taken] in the first [round] and then six to seven in the second round," Kiper said. "There's going to be a lot of second or third-round wide receivers who are going to turn out to be like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Michael Thomas and guys like that. I think second round for Butler right now."
Butler earned Second-Team All-American honors in 2018 after he posted 60 catches for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns. He had 110 receptions for 2,149 yards and 18 scores in his three-year career for the Cyclones.
3. A committee approach
Gone are the days when NFL teams rely on just one running back to carry the load on offense.
That was the case for the Vikings in both 2017 and 2018, as the combination of Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon all pitched in along the way. McKinnon departed for San Francisco after 2017, and Murray signed with New Orleans this offseason.
Kiper said Tuesday he believes there are a handful of running backs who can step in right away and help a team out on the ground without being the featured back.
"I think Damien Harris has always been in that committee role with [Josh] Jacobs and with Najee Harris. He was expected to be the guy this year, and it ends up being Josh Jacobs," Kiper said. "Miles Sanders of Penn State is an interesting guy. There were some games where I really liked him and some games where the offensive line didn't help him out and he was contained a bit.
"I love Devin Singletary, everything about him from Florida Atlantic, except the 40 speed. But again, he's quick and not fast. I think he plays faster than he times," Kiper added. "And I think Ryquell Armstead [of Temple] could be a really good fourth or fifth-round pick. There's some depth to this group."
Kiper said that even Day 3 prospects could have an impact at the running back position.
"You have a couple injured guys — Bryce Love from Stanford and Rodney Anderson from Oklahoma — who, had they not been injured, would have been much higher picks. Love would have probably been in the second or third-round discussion, and Anderson would have been in the third-round discussion," Kiper said. "If they get pushed down, then they become good value picks.
"And you can't forget about David Montgomery from Iowa State … all he does is move the chains. Teams keyed on him and he was able to break tackles and earned the real estate he was able to get. I think he's more in that second/third-round mix," Kiper added. "I think all those guys could be in that committee role, and there's a host of backs that I think will have solid careers in this league."
Kiper said he has Jacobs as the top running back in the draft, followed by Harris, Sanders and Montgomery.