You can’t predict the future, but you can figure out what Minnesota is likely to do in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.
Consider the following:
- “Trader Rick,” the nickname for Vikings GM Rick Spielman, has made 36 draft-day trades since taking over in 2012, including the last two drafts which led to first-round picks Christian Darrisaw (OT, Virginia Tech), Justin Jefferson (WR, LSU) and Jeff Gladney (CB, TCU).
- Despite ranking sixth in the league in sacks (44), the Vikings’ top two pass rushers – Everson Griffin (mental health) and Danielle Hunter (injuries) – have missed significant time this season. Griffin hasn’t played since the win over Green Bay on Nov. 11. Hunter hasn’t played since tearing his pectoral muscle Oct. 31 in the loss to Dallas.
- The loss of Griffin and Hunter has led to increased playing time for pass rushers D.J. Wonnum, a fourth-round pick in 2020, and Kenny Willekes, a seventh-round pick that year, and this year’s rookie third-rounder, Patrick Jones II.
- Wonnum took 93 percent and 92 percent of the team’s defensive snaps the last two games, respectively, both season-highs. Overall, he’s taken 78 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, most among the linemen, and his 6 sacks are tied with Hunter for the team lead. Willekes (14.4 percent) and Jones (7.7 percent), though, have only received sporadic playing time and have a half-sack between the two of them.
Now combine that information with Minnesota’s current roster construction:
- The team is likely set at QB behind Kirk Cousins and with this year’s rookie third-rounder, Kellen Mond. The OL is relatively young and developing, as Minnesota has drafted eight offensive linemen the past three drafts, tied with the secondary for the most of any position. The team has All-Pro talent at receiver and running back, and TE Tyler Conklin is 10th in the league among tight ends for receptions.
- While LB Anthony Barr will be an UFA at the end of the season, the Vikings have young talent at the position along with Eric Kendricks, who has taken 91.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, second on the team behind free agent signee Xavier Woods at safety, who has taken every snap. Likewise, CB Patrick Peterson will also be an UFA, but the team has invested heavily at the position in recent years, including five the past three drafts. Finally, aside from the aforementioned issues facing Minnesota’s defensive line, it’s also important to note that Griffin will be an UFA at the end of the season.
And finally, consider what we know about the 2022 draft, even though it’s still early in the process:
- Even with several underclassmen who have yet to make their draft intentions known, it will still be a deep year for pass rushers. There are 35 pass rushers ranked among the top 258 prospects in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, including nine in the top 50 and 22 in the top 100. To put that into perspective, there were 33 pass rushers drafted last year, which was only the third time since 2010 that 30 or more pass rushers were drafted.
- It’s also shaping up to be a “top-heavy” draft at pass rusher, with only two Edge players who are consistently ranked among the top 10 in Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. Overall, most publications list five in the 10-20 range, including Michigan’s David Ojabo, Georgia’s Travon Walker and Purdue’s George Karlaftis.
The final analysis?
You can combine the known facts with the team’s current roster construction and how the 2022 draft is shaping up to glean the following information:
- Pass rusher is among Minnesota’s top needs, if not the top need;
- Minnesota could trade that pick. If it does, the aforementioned pass rushers might not be available. The next wave of pass rushers includes USC’s Drake Jackson, San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas, South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson and, depending on what position he’s listed at, Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal. Since there has never been a draft in which 10 pass rushers have been selected in the first round, at least one of those players should be available late in the first round.
- A trade from Minnesota’s current draft slot, No. 12 overall, to late in the first round should net, at the very least, an extra second-round pick, if not more. For example: trading the No. 12 pick to Detroit for its second first-round pick, currently No. 30 overall, would net Minnesota the Lion’s second-round pick, No. 34 overall.
And that’s what Minnesota will likely have to come to terms with: Is it happier staying put and going with a tandem of Georgia’s Travon Walker in the first and CB Derion Kendrick in the second? Or would it prefer to trade down and come away with a trio like SDSU’s Cameron Thomas in the first and Utah LB Devin Lloyd and Kendrick in the second round?