Vikings fans had to enjoy a great weekend of playoff football without being able to cheer on their favorite team. Although the Vikings didn’t make the playoffs there are still a lot of things to look forward to ahead of the 2021 season.
The National Championship takes place on Monday night and it will put an end to one of the most bizarre college football seasons in the history of the sport. Two of the most prolific programs over the last several decades are set to square off for the first time in a National Championship, as Alabama and Ohio State will kickoff in less than ten hours.
The game might not mean a lot to the Vikings’ fan base, but there are several players to keep an eye on that could end up in purple next season. Here are five names to watch throughout tonight's showdown.
Ohio State Guard Wyatt Davis
The Vikings find themselves with the 14th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. This isn’t prime real estate, meaning Rick Spielman could end up trading back to acquire more picks throughout the draft. If that’s the case Wyatt Davis could be on the team’s radar towards the back end of the first round.
Davis has shown flashes of being a dominant right guard and would more than likely be the day one starter for the Vikings.
The interior of the Vikings’ offensive line hasn’t been good and this addition could help Kirk Cousins in terms of seeing less pressure from the inside. Even average guard play could help the Vikings out, so it would make sense for the team to explore the position in free agency as well.
If the Vikings decide to stick with pick 14, selecting a guard wouldn’t be the best value especially if Davis isn’t close to the best player available.
Alabama Defensive Tackle Christian Barmore
The defensive line was arguably the Vikings’ worst unit on the entire roster throughout the 2020 season. Just to clarify how bad the unit was, Yannick Ngakoue still leads the Vikings in sacks, and he hasn’t played for the team since October.
An interior defensive lineman might increase quarterback pressures but getting the star of the defense back in Danielle Hunter should help in that category. Christian Barmore is projected to go in the second to third round and he’d instantly boost the Vikings at the 3-technique position.
The trenches were an ugly part of every Vikings game this season and finding a guy like Barmore on day two would be a huge steal for Andre Patterson and his defensive line. Getting Hunter and Michael Pierce back would help get some veteran leadership back around the unit, but more talent is still desperately needed.
Alabama Wide Receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle
There’s a better chance than not that both DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle will be off the board by pick number 14. However, if one of the two were to fall the Vikings would have to take a strong look. Justin Jefferson just had the best season ever for a rookie receiver and the Vikings still have Adam Thielen playing at a high level, but you can never have too many playmakers.
Even with two top-ten receivers the Vikings still desperately need help at wide receiver three. On top of that, Thielen will be 31 when the season begins, so it’s critical the position gets addressed at some point of the draft.
Both Waddle and Smith would be able to come in and secure that role rather easily, but it’s much more likely that the Vikings address the receiver position on day two or three. Smith was the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since 1991 and Waddle is actually looked at as the more talented receiver by many. It should also be noted that Waddle has missed a good chunk of the season and is still a game-time decision for tonight's game.
It’s unlikely that either ends up in Minnesota, but both players have a good chance at long careers in the NFL.
Ohio State Cornerback Shaun Wade
Shaun Wade has been a prospect that has hurt his draft stock as of late. He didn’t have a good performance against Clemson and Alabama’s wide receivers could push him even further down the board come April.
If he falls into the third-round the Vikings could attempt to get Wade’s play back to an elite level. He can play inside, outside and could even potentially be shifted to a safety role, another position the Vikings desperately need depth at.
The Vikings found a steal in the third-round in 2020 with Cameron Dantzler and there’s a chance they could do the same in 2021 with Wade.
Alabama Cornerback Patrick Surtain II
Yes, another cornerback makes the list after the Vikings spent two of their first four picks on the position in 2020. Patrick Surtain II would have to be added in the first round, as he’s looked at as the top cornerback in his class.
Surtain is the highest graded college cornerback since 2018 and has started since his freshman season for the Crimson Tide. The Vikings have utilized a lot of early round picks on the cornerback position since Zimmer took over as the head coach, but the group took a big hit in 2020.
The Vikings have one of the youngest cornerback groups in the NFL, so adding another playmaker could make sense. Dantzler and Jeff Gladney have shown flashes of being long-term starters at the position, but Mike Hughes hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If the Vikings don’t go cornerback on day one, I’d fully expect them to select one on either day two or three.
Bonus pick: Ohio State Quarterback Justin Fields
It’s not very realistic to expect Justin Fields to be available for the Vikings at 14, but Todd McShay has him falling to 15 in his most recent mock draft.
This isn’t a bash on current Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins, as he’s coming off one of his best statistical seasons. Having said that, there is never a bad time to draft a quarterback and we’ve seen proof of that from the Packers and Chiefs in recent memory.
If the Vikings see a chance at their future franchise quarterback they should most certainly do everything in their power to land that player. If Fields starts to fall towards the back half of the top ten the Vikings should even consider trading up to land the player that just battled through a shot to the ribs to beat Clemson.
Cousins has shown improved mobility and his stats are towards the top of the league, but landing a guy like Fields to learn behind Cousins could be what the franchise has needed for the past 20 years.
The Vikings, like the rest of the world, are ready to put 2020 in the rear-view mirror. There were plenty of ups and downs, but 2021 has the potential to be a special season in Minnesota. For that to happen the Vikings will have to have another successful draft come April. There are several players in this game that could make an immediate impact on the roster in 2021, so make sure to keep an eye out for the players mentioned above.
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