EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings have options ahead of them for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Minnesota currently is slated to have the 23rd overall pick in this year's three-day event. Will General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah opt to stay at 23 or potentially trade up or down? And which position will the team target first?
All of the above questions are fun to speculate on with the draft now just over a month away.
ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., held his annual call with league media members Wednesday, and he touched on a variety of topics, including what the Vikings might do in the first round. Worth noting is that Kiper's most recent mock draft had Minnesota taking TCU receiver Quentin Johnston at 23.
"I went big receiver because of Adam Thielen [departing] in free agency," Kiper said during his conference call. "If you move down, some think Johnston could be there in the late first round, early second. I don't, but we'll see on that."
Other options Kiper likes to the Vikings, particularly if they move down a bit in draft order, include Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt.
"He's a speed guy, angular," Kiper said of Hyatt. "Needs to expand his game just as a bit – had a drop every now and then – but overall, when you can take the top off the defense like he can and you're as productive as he was this year, with Hendon Hooker at quarterback, that bodes well."
Kiper initially projected a cornerback to the Vikings at 23 and believes that's still a position Minnesota could draft.
"[If you move down], I think you're looking at, is Deonte Banks or Emmanuel Forbes still there?" Kiper explained. "If not, I think you'll be looking more to Cam Smith from South Carolina, Kelee Ringo from Georgia – somebody like that in the second round.
"[But] I think moving down out of the early first and into the early second may end up more wide receiver than corner," he added.
View photos of the Vikings 2023 coaching staff.
Here are four other takeaways from Kiper's pre-draft call:
1. Cornerback depth
The 2023 cornerback class is a deep one. Like, really deep.
"I'm looking at 35 to 40 corners that I think will play in the league out of this draft," Kiper said.
He highlighted a number of names during his call, paying special attention to Forbes from Mississippi State.
"I mean, this guy had 14 career interceptions, he had six pick-sixes – one of which against Will Levis this year," Kiper said. "He ran 4.35 [in the 40-yard dash], had a 37.5 vertical; he's 6-1, 166. He's got length. I call him Splendid Splinter 3. DeVonta Smith was Splendid Splinter 2, and he's Splendid Splinter 3. … He was durable. He only missed one game, and that wasn't an injury, in his career. Emmanuel Forbes, really good football player."
Kiper also mentioned Christian Gonzales, who took a big step forward for Oregon in 2022 and nabbed four interceptions.
"Deonte Banks, Maryland – he can't locate the deep ball as well as you would want, that's the one thing he could work on, but I'll tell you what. He tested well, he had a heck of a year, came back from a shoulder injury," Kiper said. "D.J. Turner from Michigan; Cam Smith, South Carolina. …. I'm telling you, I'd go 29-35 deep at corner. It's the deepest position in the draft, by far.
"You're gonna find corners like Kei'Trel Clark at Louisville; LaMiles Brooks, Louisiana Tech; Lance Boykin, Coastal Carolina; Corey Trice, Jr., Purdue," Kiper continued. "Eric Scott, Southern Mississippi, is a little underrated. Nic Jones, Ball State."
2. Speedy receivers
Kiper did address 40-yard-dash numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine and regional Pro Days, and he emphasized that in-game speed, versus straight-line speed, is "really all that matters."
Asked about some of the speedy wideouts in this year's draft, he said he believes the "quickest" guy is Boston College's Zay Flowers.
"He's electric with the ball in his hands. A few say he has his drops. I don't see them," Kiper said. "I've watched a lot of Zay Flowers, and I saw a couple, but it was nothing that was on him – the ball was not perfect, he was trying to run before the catch – I don't see that. I think his hands are really good. I think he's a great kid.
"I think the guys that play fast – I think Jackson Smith … is deceptive. Very deceptive in the way he's smooth. And I think he lulls some guys, when they're taking angles after the catch, into a false sense of security there," Kiper continued. "I think when you look at Josh Downs from North Carolina, a really quick slot guy. I really like him in the second round. I think you look at Cedric Tillman – he doesn't run great, but I'll tell you what – as a No. 2 receiver, he will go get the ball in traffic and go make the tough catch."
Kiper called Houston's Nathaniel "Tank" Dell "a very underrated slot guy" that could help teams on offense and on special teams a punt returner.
"The receivers, I'll tell you what they are. … Some of these guys you'll hit on, and there are some guys who are gonna miss. There are hit-or-miss guys," Kiper noted. "Kayshon Boutte from LSU, who was expected to be a highly rated guy, didn't test great, didn't have the kind of year expected. How does he perform in the NFL? That's going to be interesting to see there."
3. Later-round linebackers
Most fans will focus on Round 1 of the draft, but every year there are hidden gems unearthed by teams all the way into the seventh round.
Kiper was asked about potential linebacker options for a team later into the draft and said there are a number of possibilities in this year's class who could make an impact on defense and/or special teams.
He listed Trenton Simpson (Clemson), Jack Campbell (Iowa), Daiyan Henley (Washington State) and Dorian Williams (Tulane) as Day 2 prospects.
"And then if you get into Day 3, Dee Winters from TCU, Noah Sewell from Oregon, Henry To'oTo'o from Alabama, Owen Pappoe from Auburn," Kiper said. "A couple guys that I think are a little underrated for late Day 3 – Ivan Pace, Jr., from Cincinnati, Isaiah Moore from N.C. State. Drake Thomas from N.C. State's another one. Ventrell Miller from Florida – undersized but all over the field making plays.
"Those are some guys, I think, that could be taken from a variety of places," Kiper added. "From second round, early Day 3, late Day 3, I think you can find some off-ball linebackers."
4. Hawkeye to the NFC North?
Kiper believes that a name familiar to Midwesterners could end up in the Vikings division this season.
He said Iowa Hawkeyes pass rusher Lukas Van Ness is "still learning" but could be a good player at the next level.
"That's the one thing – I thought another year would have really benefited him," Kiper said. "You look at him with the length he has, the versatility he has, the power in his pass rush is just something you see when you watch him. And he's gonna keep getting better. He's got the ability to play inside, outside – he can play with his feet.
"I think Green Bay, and that's where I project him at 15, would be a nice spot for him. Detroit at 18 if they don't go defensive line early," he added. "There's a lot of options for him in the first round. He's gonna be a solid mid-to-late first round."