A "glaring" need for the Vikings in the eyes of ESPN Senior Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., could be fulfilled with a strong supply when the 2021 NFL Draft opens two weeks from today.
Kiper on Thursday held a conference call to cover his fourth installment of his mock draft. After forecasting Southern Cal offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker to Minnesota with the 14th pick in each of his first two mock drafts, Kiper had Minnesota trading with Denver to move up five spots and select Oregon tackle Penei Sewell in his third mock.
The latest version, which has had time to process the departure in free agency of Riley Reiff, has the Vikings choosing Christian Darrisaw out of Virginia Tech at 14.
"This year, the needs, the way they set up for the Vikings, it kind of works with the draft pretty well, in terms of lining up properly," Kiper said on the call. "Some years it does and some years it doesn't. They need offensive line and pass rusher, and if you look at where they're picking, Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech, whether it's him or a guy like Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern, who will probably be gone by 14. Penei Sewell from Oregon will be gone. Do they try to trade up to get Sewell, trade up to get Slater or just sit at 14? Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC is a pure guard. They could use help there."
In the explanation of the Darrisaw pick, Kiper had written: "Darrisaw was outstanding at left tackle for the Hokies last season; our Stats & Info team tracked him at 264 total pass-block plays, and he allowed just three pressures and one sack. Put him at left tackle on Day 1 for the Vikings."
Kiper said he considers the offensive line group to be the "third-strongest" position this year behind receivers and cornerbacks and noted it "isn't always strong."
"So if you need offensive line help, which they do, this would be the year to get it, and it's not at multiple positions," Kiper said. "You hope [Ezra] Cleveland can continue to develop, but you always have mistakes made when the draft doesn't work out that the players coming out that year are up to the level they are in other seasons. In this particular year, this mysterious year because of COVID, offensive line at tackle, guard and center look really good."
The other avenue that Kiper most sees the Vikings traveling is adding an edge rusher.
"Do you take a Kwity Paye from Michigan or a Jaelan Phillips from Miami? They could move down and look at Phillips, maybe move down and look at Paye, so whether it's an offensive lineman or a pass rusher, I think those are the two positions they'll look to address with that first-round pick," he said.
We covered Gophers receiver Rashod Bateman along with several other receivers in our ongoing positional look at 2021 prospects on Tuesday. Kiper has Bateman going to Green Bay with the 29th overall pick but was asked if Cleveland might tab him at 26.
"I would have no problem with Bateman. … Great kid, great route runner, good hands, only had a couple of drops in his career, so to me, Rashod Bateman could play slot or X and give you versatility," Kiper said. "To me, he's a first-rounder. I have him going to Green Bay. I know Baltimore could be a possibility, certainly Cleveland, New Orleans. There's a lot of teams in the late first round that could be looking at Rashod Bateman. I would have no problem with that. Going back to August, he looked like a top-10-to-15 pick."
Weighing in on former Bison
Kiper also was asked about former North Dakota State Bison tackle Dillon Radunz from Becker and quarterback Trey Lance from Marshall.
Kiper said the showing Radunz made at the Reese's Senior Bowl "really did help him."
"Just the way he sets up, his balance in pass protection is excellent. He can adjust to secondary moves really well. For a [FCS] player, he really gives you hope that he can adjust quickly to the NFL. It's not going to take him much time," Kiper said. "A great kid as well, so I think Dillon Radunz in the second round. There's going to be a host of teams in the second round that are going to be looking at him."
Kiper currently has Radunz landing with Pittsburgh as the 55th overall pick because of his status as a "natural" left tackle.
In contrast to Radunz's perceived readiness, Kiper believes that Lance could benefit by backing up a veteran early to offset the fact that he only made 17 starts in college.
"For Trey Lance, Atlanta would be perfect. The Arthur Smith offense would be perfect. Louis Riddick has been talking about that a lot in the last couple of weeks, how ideally suited he'd be in that offense, that style," Kiper said. "He would have to sit for a year or two, and perfect, because Matt Ryan has a minimum of two really good years left, so it could be like a Jordan Love going to Green Bay and sitting behind Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre. Patrick Mahomes sat for a year behind Alex Smith, so for me, it's a perfect scenario for a 20-year-old quarterback who only started 17 games and one game this past year and comes out of the [FCS] level and needs to improve his accuracy a little bit."