The 2021 NFL Draft occurs in less than seven weeks, and the Minnesota Vikings will rely on its draft class in 2021 more so than other years. Due to Minnesota’s already-finicky salary cap standing and the NFL presumably slashing budgets because of coronavirus fallout, rookie players will require immediate involvement for the 2021 Vikings. The Vikings have pressing roster to holes to patch. ProFootballNetwork released a mock draft this week, authored by Nick Farabaugh, and Minnesota is on tap to select a defensive end with its 14th overall pick – Kwity Paye of Michigan. On Paye, Farabaugh writes: “The Vikings’ defense is a hot mess. However, they have been at their best when they can trust their pass rushers to get to the quarterback. Outside of Danielle Hunter, however, there are just a bunch of guys at edge rusher in Minnesota. Kwity Paye comes in and gives the Vikings a high-upside type of guy with explosiveness and a growing repertoire of moves, despite lacking the ideal length.” Also this week, CBS Sports dropped a mock draft of its own. Josh Edwards of CBS sends Gregory Rousseau of Miami (FL) to Minnesota: “Minnesota needs to replenish the talent on their team. Until they address the unstable cap situation, their growth will be hamstrung. Gregory Rousseau is the Everson Griffen replacement that the team had hoped Yannick Ngakoue would be.” For now, the stars are aligning for a defensive end to the Vikings, and that should be applauded. The Need The Vikings had the NFL’s worst pass rush during 2020 per Pro Football Focus. Ben Linsey of PFF notes on the Vikings 2020 pass rush: “The Vikings lost their starting edge tandem from the 2019 season of Danielle Hunter (to injury) and Everson Griffen (to free agency), and they struggled to replace that production in 2020. The only player on the team with more than 25 pressures was Ifeadi Odenigbo (42), and their team pressure rate of 21.6% ranked dead last over the course of the regular season. That was just part of the story for a Minnesota defense that parted ways with many of their starters this past offseason.” When a Mike Zimmer-coached football team is last via pass rush, something is wrong. Very, very wrong. While it is accurate that the returns of Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce will substantially aid the defensive line, quarterback pressure is rapidly becoming a prerequisite for Super Bowl champions. So – the more the merrier. Look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did to Boy Wonder Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV. Kwity Paye or Gregory Rousseau would get the Vikings closer to pass-rushing supremacy. Natural Blend of Need and Best Player Available A defensive rusher like Paye or Rousseau falling into general manager Rick Spielman’s lap checks two important draft philosophy boxes. The selection of either man does not compel the Vikings to “reach” for a need with the 14th pick. Why? Because Paye and Rousseau, for now, are theorized to be that damn good. And guess what? Minnesota needs a defensive end. Ifeadi Odenigbo might return to his late-2019 form when he went on a marvelous run opposite Hunter. But that is a gamble that leaves a lot of 2021 game-planning to chance. Of course, Paye or Rousseau could be terrible, but the two undeniably have a higher ceiling than Odengibo. Hunter-Paye or Hunter-Rousseau will create more long-term fear in opponents than Hunter-Odenigbo. With Odenigbo, one can reasonably be excited if he tallies about seven sacks because of the expectation of his ability. Paye and Rousseau should, in time, register Hunter-like numbers in sacking quarterbacks. EDGE in Round 1 is Overdue If national punditry is correct, Minnesota selecting a defensive end at No. 14 will be nostalgic. The Vikings have not chosen a first-round defensive end since 2005. It was the same year wideout Troy Williamson was regrettably plucked from the 1st Round and the same season that Daunte Culpepper’s career unceremoniously concluded in Minnesota. At pick No. 18 of the 2005 NFL Draft, Minnesota tapped Erasmus James from Wisconsin for pass-rushing services. He started a total of 12 games in his tiny NFL career and tallied five total sacks. Perhaps this is why Minnesota imposed an at-least 15-year drought on choosing EDGE rushers in the 1st Round. James was a bust. The Vikings also were emphatically not a defensive team in 2005. Mike Zimmer was a defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys at the time. Now, he’s the defense-always-first head coach for the Vikings. A Spielman-Zimmer joint selection of Paye or Rousseau should be significantly more profitable than James’ bust-worthy performance.
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