We have officially entered NFL Draft season. In just four weeks, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will lead his first draft as general manager of the Minnesota Vikings. After spending the first few weeks of free agency adding starting-caliber players at all three levels of the defense, what remaining need does he consider most pressing?
- Does adding a potential No. 1 cornerback make sense?
- Is it beefing up the interior of the offensive line?
- Harrison Smith is getting up there — time to build for the future at safety?
- Why not look to turn Minnesota’s basement-dwelling run defense into a strength overnight by selecting a run-stuffing nose tackle?
- Would giving Kevin O’Connell a new dynamic receiver elevate his offense?
- How about one of those athletic edge rushers that this draft is apparently full of?
- Is it too early in the competitive rebuild process to build the bridge at quarterback?
- What about a rangy linebacker who can fly around in coverage and stop the run on early downs?
Eight of the Vikings’ 22 projected starters will be at least 30 years old by Week 1, so legitimate cases can be made for Minnesota to go any and every direction when they’re on the clock with the 12th-overall pick. And with so many different avenues to go down, where will this new regime’s GPS tell them to go with their first-round pick?
If you don’t pay much attention to football on Saturdays in the fall, or if you choose to have a healthy, sustainably balanced life that doesn’t require you to dissect approximately 37 new mock drafts every day, allow me to let you in on a little secret.
When once-in-a-generation SEC schools with National Championship pedigree have a surplus of talent entering the NFL, that’s your north star when navigating the first round of the draft.
Let’s wind back the clock for a minute. Fresh off an undefeated, National Championship season in 2019 that featured college football’s most prolific offense, with an average of 48.4 points per game, the LSU Tigers set a school record with five selections in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
- Quarterback Joe Burrow
- Linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson
- Wide receiver Justin Jefferson
- Linebacker Patrick Queen
- Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
And with receiver Ja’Marr Chase immediately entering the league as a superstar just a year later, it’s no coincidence that this group’s success on Saturdays made for an easy transition to Sundays. Folks have claimed that LSU’s 2019 team had the best offense in college football history, while some still tend to believe that either USC’s 2004 offense or Miami’s 2001 team still holds the crown.
The debate may be ongoing about where LSU’s offense ranks in the hierarchy of college football supremacy, but the title for best defense in college football history was just cemented this past season.
The 2021 Georgia Bulldogs led all of college football with an average of 10.2 points allowed per game. The team that was runner-up in points allowed (Clemson) allowed an average of 14.8. To further paint the picture of just how dominant Georgia was this past season, the 4.6 points per game differential from No. 1 to No. 2 was the largest gap in college football since the dawn of the 21st century.
And all of this took place just a few months after the greatest defensive-minded head coach in the history of college football had this to say about the current landscape of the game.
Although Saban’s foreshadowing proved to be true in the SEC Championship with Alabama’s 41-24 victory over the vaunted Georgia defense, the Bulldogs had the last laugh when they put the Crimson Tide in a 33-18 stranglehold in the National Championship game a month later.
So with all this talent that the Bulldogs have coming into the league, where would they fit with the Vikings?
Edge rusher Travon Walker has skyrocketed up draft boards since his jaw-dropping performance at the combine. Before Indianapolis, he was widely regarded as a mid-to-late first-round pick. Now he’s expected to go in the top five. It would be a big surprise if Walker is still on the board when the Vikings are on the clock with the 12th pick.
Defensive tackle Jordan Davis wowed evaluators with a 4.78 40-yard dash at Lucas Oil Stadium — all while weighing 341 lbs.! Regarded as the best run-stopper in this year’s draft, Davis has drawn comparisons to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 340 lb. alien Vita Vea — who, coincidentally, was also picked 12th-overall in 2018. And with Dalvin Tomlinson entering the final year of his contract in 2022, Davis checks the competitive rebuild box for Adofo-Mensah as both an immediate and long-term force in the Vikings defense.
Fellow defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt ran an impressive 4.77 40-yard dash at the combine at 315 lbs. Although both Davis and Wyatt left a lot to be desired statistically, with a combined 12 sacks over their four seasons together in Athens, their collective presence in the middle of Georgia’s front was the catalyst of the best defense in college football history. Like Davis, Wyatt is regarded as an elite run-stopper and would make life considerably easier for fellow defensive linemen Harrison Phillips and Tomlinson, as well as edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter.
Linebacker Nakobe Dean was the unquestioned leader of Georgia’s championship defense. He quite literally did it all for the Bulldogs this past season, whether it was disrupting opponents’ run game, dropping into coverage, or getting after quarterbacks on blitzes. And with Eric Kendricks‘ play slipping over the past two seasons, it might be time to target a potential future green-dot linebacker for Minnesota’s defense. Dean has all the makings of the second-coming of current Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David with his ability to make plays sideline to sideline.
While Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, Boston College guard Zion Johnson, top cornerbacks Sauce Gardner, Derek Stingley, Trent McDuffie, and Andrew Booth, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, or any of the remaining surplus at edge rushers and wide receivers could certainly help the Vikings as they embark on a new era, having the ability to insert a true game-wrecker with championship pedigree in the front-seven of Minnesota’s defense would put the finishing touches on turning this defense into a unit that can surprise the league in 2022.
The Georgia Bulldogs were a once-in-a-lifetime defense this past season with multiple potential unicorns scattered throughout their front-seven. And with Minnesota’s aging middle linebackers along with Tomlinson entering the final year of his contract, selecting any of these former Bulldogs in the first round could prove to be exactly what the doctor ordered for Adofo-Mensah’s competitive rebuild.