MINNEAPOLIS -- A pattern has developed for the Minnesota Vikings since general manager Rick Spielman began calling shots on draft day in 2012. Not once in that span have the Vikings traded up in the first round on Day 1 of the draft. Only twice have they selected an offensive lineman (Matt Kalil in 2012, Garrett Bradbury in 2019) with their first-round pick.
The script changes in Mel Kiper Jr.’s mock draft 3.0, with the ESPN draft analyst projecting the Vikings addressing the biggest need on their roster by doing business with someone they know well.
Kiper has Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell going to the Vikings after they move up from No. 14 to acquire the Denver Broncos pick at No. 9, a draft-day trade with former Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton, who is now the GM of the Broncos.
The rationale is simple, and it makes sense. Minnesota went heavy on defense in free agency, shelling out big bucks for defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and cornerback Patrick Peterson. And it doesn’t appear the Vikings are done addressing that side of the ball. There’s an opening at free safety opposite Harrison Smith that could be filled by a veteran on the free-agent market after Minnesota missed out on Kareem Jackson earlier this week (who coincidentally landed in Denver).
The Vikings created a hole at left tackle when they released Riley Reiff to save $11.75 million against the cap, adding to a side of the offensive line already under construction with an opening at left guard. Minnesota acquired center Mason Cole from Arizona on Thursday in exchange for a sixth-round pick. It’s possible the Vikings envision moving him to left guard, which solves at least one need, or using him as depth the way they did for several seasons with Brett Jones.
By mocking Sewell to the Vikings, Kiper believes Minnesota addresses its biggest need with a player who could put an end to the issues the team has had for years with the offensive line. The Vikings were 18th in pass block win-rate, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and allowed 39 sacks last season.
But for that to happen, Spielman has to do something he’s never done as general manager.
“It’s certainly their No. 1 priority and it’s certainly an opportunity because both of those kids -- Penei Sewell and also (Northwestern offensive tackle) Rashawn Slater -- opted out and didn’t play this year,” Kiper said. “They could be in a position where they can get one of those two. But can they get one of those two where they’re picking (at No. 14)? I don’t necessarily see that happening.
“I think they’ll both be gone. So if you want to get Sewell or Slater, you’ve probably got to move up from 14. And if you stay at 14, then you’re looking at Alijah Vera-Tucker, who’s more of a guard. Though he played left tackle, you’d want him as more of a guard in the NFL.”
Spielman saw Vera-Tucker at USC’s pro day this week and could be in the market to select the guard by staying put at No. 14 should he not use any of his 10 draft picks to orchestrate a trade on the first night.
Vera-Tucker is the 10th highest rated player on Kiper’s board, having played left tackle in 2020 after starting his career at left guard. He wouldn’t be considered a reach for the Vikings at No. 14 should Minnesota want to create competition on the interior in training camp.
Outside of the three aforementioned linemen and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, who projects as a right tackle, Minnesota would then be looking at Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins or Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg, both of whom could need more time to develop rather than excel as immediate starters.
“It depends what you want,” Kiper said. “If you want the career left tackle, the Pro Bowl, career left tackle that you can just put at that spot and forget about for a long time would be Sewell or Slater, it would not be Alijah Vera-Tucker. He’s probably going to end up being a guard.”
If the Vikings wait until the second round to work on the offensive line, there are plenty of Day 2 options with value. It worked out with right tackle Brian O'Neill in 2018, even though he has spoken about the difficulty of his jump from college to the pros. The Vikings can’t afford to wait and gamble on a potential project with multiple spots vacant at a key position group.