It's the busy season for ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr.
Earlier this week, Kiper held a pre-draft conference call with media members, and Friday morning he rolled out his top prospects at every position and provided a detailed breakdown of each. Worth noting is that just because a prospect is Kiper's "favorite" doesn't mean he's projecting that player to be off the board in Round 1.
Below are Kiper's favorite prospects, including two names with Minnesota ties:
Quarterback: Joe Burrow, LSU
Running back: J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
Wide receiver: Michael Pittman, Jr., USC
One of the biggest wideouts in this class, Pittman surprised me – and a few others in the league – with a 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine. That's a great time for the 6-foot-4 [receiver]. Pittman had a monster 2019 season, catching 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns. And he's so smooth in and out of his breaks. I'm also partial to Pittman because his dad, Michael, ended up being a fourth-round steal in the 1998 draft, playing 11 NFL seasons at running back.
Projection:_ In any other year, Pittman might be a shoo-in for Round 1, but he'll be a second-round pick this year._
Tight end: Adam Trautman, Dayton
Tackle: Ben Bartch, St. John's (Minnesota)
A former tight end, Bartch dominated at left tackle for the Johnnies over the past two seasons. Of course, it was the Division III level, but he moves really well for his size (6-foot-6, 309 pounds). Bartch, who is just outside my ranking of the top 10 tackles, also looked good at Senior Bowl practices, holding his own against the best of the best. I called Bartch a potential Day 3 flier in November, but he has a chance to be drafted higher next week. He'll need some time to get adjusted to the NFL level.
Projection: Bartch should be off the board in the third or fourth round.
Guard: Robert Hunt, Louisiana
Center: Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
Defensive end: Chase Young, Ohio State
Defensive tackle: Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
The top two defensive tackles in this class (Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw) have gotten all the first-round buzz, but I wouldn't be surprised if a team in the 20s fell in love with Madubuike's upside as an interior pass-rusher. At 6-foot-2, 293 pounds, Madubuike plays low and gets after quarterbacks. He led the Aggies in sacks (5.5), pressures (34) and tackles for loss (18) last season.
Projection:_ Madubuike is likely to be off the board in the top 50 picks._
Inside Linebacker: Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
Outside Linebacker: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Safety: Antoine Winfield, Jr., Minnesota
Though my affection for Winfield's game got me in trouble with Alabama's Xavier McKinney, I'm not backing down. The 5-foot-9 Winfield is so fun to watch, a ball hawk who can play deep safety or play in the box and stick a running back at the line of scrimmage. He has rare playmaking upside on the defensive side of the ball — last year, Winfield became one of six defensive backs in the past 15 seasons to intercept seven passes and also have three sacks. He could also play some slot corner. If I was a general manager running a team, I'd want Winfield on my team.
Projection:_ There is a lot of first-round buzz around Winfield; I don't expect him to get out of Round 1._
Cornerback: Damon Arnette, Ohio State
Kicker: Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern
Punter: Alex Pechin, Bucknell
Note: Kiper didn't list anyone at long snapper.
Tarkenton Tabbed as Vikings Best-Ever Draft Pick
Minnesota is slated to have 12 picks in the just-around-the-corner 2020 NFL Draft.
The Vikings have drafted numerous players over the years who have made a significant impact on the franchise. But which draft pick is the best in team history?
CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin recently asked this question for each of the 32 NFL teams. For Minnesota, he arrived at quarterback Fran Tarkenton, whom Minnesota selected 29th overall prior to its inaugural 1961 season. Benjamin wrote:
Alan Page, Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss all had distinguished Vikings careers, but Tarkenton is easily the most accomplished QB in franchise history, and he was arguably way ahead of his time as a dual-purpose weapon. Between two stints with the team, he not only led Minnesota to three NFC title wins and captured 1975 MVP honors but became the league's most prolific scrambler with a rushing total that still trails only Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and Cam Newton. He also retired owning most major passing records.
Tarkenton played six seasons for the Vikings before being traded away to the Giants in 1967 after two Pro Bowl seasons in Purple. Bud Grant took the helm that same year, and in 1972, he brought Tarkenton back to Minnesota, where he played out the remainder of his career before retiring after the 1978 season.
In 13 total seasons with the Vikings, Tarkenton was 2,635-of-4,569 passing for 33,098 yards, 239 touchdowns and 194 interceptions. "Scramblin' Fran" racked up 3,674 rushing yards.
Who did Benjamin highlight for Minnesota's NFC North rivals?
For Chicago, he pointed to running back Walter Payton, who was the No. 4 overall pick in 1975 and went on to earn nine career Pro Bowl nods. Payton's 16,726 career rushing yards ranks second in NFL history.
Another team, another running back.
Benjamin said the Lions best-ever draft pick was Barr Sanders, whom they took with the No. 3 overall pick in 1989. Sanders was a four-time NFL rushing leader and 10-time Pro Bowler, and in 1997 he was named NFL MVP.
For the Packers, Benjamin spotlighted quarterback Bart Starr, who wasn't selected until No. 200 in 1956.
Brett Favre wasn't drafted by the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers has six fewer championships. It's not as if Starr just lucked his way into two Super Bowl wins and five more NFL titles, either. Green Bay historians will admit Starr wasn't the most gifted of passers, but he more than made up for his arm with his intangibles, five times leading the NFL in passer rating, earning 1966 MVP honors and willing the Packers to their dynastic run. He was the league's all-time leader in completion percentage upon retiring, and he still ranks as the all-time leader in postseason passer rating.