EAGAN, Minn. — Welcome to draft week.
The three-day 2020 NFL Draft will look different than in previous years, but the responsibility of general managers, coaches and scouts is still the same.
What positions could Minnesota target later this week? Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders recently wrote that the Vikings could focus on the defensive side of the ball early and often.
Knowles opined that Minnesota's biggest need is at cornerback, an area where the Vikings have lost three starters in recent weeks in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.
You could make an argument for any number of positions here; the cupboard is bare, and the Vikings desperately need to restock, with wideout and edge rusher particularly crucial. Cornerback continues to outshine them all, however. Minnesota's strong defensive DVOA came from its pass rush and stellar safeties; cornerbacks were a liability.
Knowles added that Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson and Clemson's A.J. Terrell could be prospects who fit the Vikings defensive scheme.
While Knowles believes cornerback is Minnesota's biggest need, he added that one of their quieter needs is also on that side of the ball at defensive tackle.
Minnesota released Linval Joseph and added Michael Pierce in free agency, but Knowles believes more depth is needed.
Pierce is one of the strongest guys in the league and is in the conversation about the best run-stuffing linemen in football. He's coming off of a down year, thanks to a bum ankle, but he's a very useful role player. He's also really only a role player, an early-down run-stuffer without a long track record of pass-rushing success. That's an upgrade over the Joseph of 2020, if not the Joseph of days gone by. Alongside him is Shamar Stephen, basically just a rotational piece. While the trade of Stefon Diggs, the release of Josh Kline and the general cornerback exodus all rightfully draw more attention to those positional groups, more depth on the interior would be a welcome addition.
Knowles tabbed Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore as a player who could help out in the trenches.
And while Knowles believes the Vikings will focus on defense, he also noted that tight end likely won't be an area of need later this week.
That leads us to point to tight end as Minnesota's most stocked position. Kyle Rudolph finished in the top three in DYAR for the third season in a row and is coming off the greatest season in his career by DVOA, ranking fifth overall, at 26.9 percent. Last year's second-round pick, Irv Smith, Jr., had a very solid year for a rookie, and Tyler Conklin and Brandon Dillon provide young depth. There really isn't any room for another draftee to make the roster.
The Vikings have 12 scheduled selections in the draft, including two in the first round at No. 22 and 25.
Brandt's top 50 prospects include 10 wide receivers
Gil Brandt has been involved in the draft for a long time, as the respected analyst first got his start in the NFL in the 1950s.
Brandt worked for the Cowboys for nearly 40 seasons, and then transitioned to studying the draft on his own.
Now a senior analyst for NFL.com, Brandt released his top prospects for the 2020 class, leading with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
The most-common position in Brandt's list was wide receiver, a group that is widely viewed as the deepest among any positions this year.
Brandt had 10 wide receivers in his top 50 rankings and analyzed each one. While Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III are expected to go before the Vikings pick at 22, here are the next four players on Brandt's list.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
No. 30 on Brandt's list; No. 4 WR
The junior college transfer only played two years at ASU, and he only started one full season, in 2019. He's a very strong runner after the catch, collecting 378 yards after contact last season, which he finished with 65 catches for 1,192 yards. He's very good on kickoff and punt returns, averaging 31.9 yards per kick in 2019 and 16.1 yards per punt.
Justin Jefferson, LSU
No. 31 on Brandt's list; No. 5 WR
Jefferson caught 111 passes in 2019, with 18 touchdown catches, including four recorded in the Tigers College Football Playoff game against Oklahoma. The three-year player (27 starts) is from a very athletic family — his father played basketball at Nebraska, and his two brothers also played football at LSU. Jefferson is a very good route-runner who makes hard catches and will block.
Jalen Raegor, TCU
No. 42 on Brandt's list; No. 6 WR
Reagor has strong hands but will drop some easy ones. His father, Montae Reagor, spent nine years in the NFL and was a second-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos in 1999. I think Jalen Reagor could be a very good corner, but Montae is against the idea of a position switch. Reagor can return punts and kickoffs. He had 22 touchdown catches in his three years at TCU.
Lynn Bowden, Jr., Kentucky
No. 44 on Brandt's list; No. 7 WR
Bowden was not heavily recruited out of high school in Youngstown, Ohio, but he's an athlete who posted 114 catches in three years at Kentucky, gaining extra notoriety by splitting his time between receiver (five games) and quarterback (eight) in 2019. He's very tough and possesses plus special teams talent; he'sreally turned his life around.