Written By Arif Hasan (ZoneCoverage.com)
Focusing exclusively on Senior Bowl players will be an unlikely plan for any franchise, including the two teams who had an opportunity to coach there. But it does give us a chance to feel for the landscape of some of the players that we’ve evaluated in Mobile and really focus on how the Senior Bowl went from a Minnesota Vikings perspective.
The Vikings are very likely to trade down in Round 1 or Round 2 of the draft in order to accumulate extra picks to round out their roster, but for now, we’ll focus on the picks that they have late in the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth rounds.
We’ve mistakenly added a seventh round despite the Vikings trading it away for Tramaine Brock, but have elected to keep it because seventh-round picks are coveted by the Vikings and easy to acquire.
Round 1: Isaiah Wynn, OG Georgia
The best offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl was likely Wynn, who did an excellent job winning both his pass protection and run blocking reps. He transitioned well from left tackle at Georgia to guard at the Senior Bowl, and didn’t show any awkwardness moving to the right side for a period of time. His punch timing, strength, leverage and movement capability fit the Vikings offense very well, and he has a very natural feel for the position. Though other guards, like Will Hernandez, may offer more overall upside, Wynn is a better fit for the Vikings primarily zone-heavy scheme and offers fantastic flexibility.
Round 2: Nathan Shepherd, DT Fort Hays State
Though Shepherd left early in Day 2 practices with a hand injury, it’s difficult to argue that he did anything but help himself at the event. Fluid, explosive and surprisingly efficient with his hand fighting techniques, Shepherd won nearly every rep he participated in, even against the best competition there. While his Fort Hays State work showed a player who needed more technical refinement, is showing here demonstrated coachability and an extraordinary amount of athleticism that someone like Andre Patterson could take advantage of.
Round 3: Kemoko Turay, DE Rutgers
The Vikings have been consistent about taking high-upside edge rushers in the third or fourth round and turning them into stars. They did it with Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter, and they could do it with Turay, an athletic, long and insanely flexible edge defender who could remind fans of Danielle Hunter with his lanky, well-muscled frame and lack of production in college. He’ll have to pass medical rechecks at the combine — two shoulder surgeries are the reason his production in college is lackluster — but his functional athleticism and strength at the Senior Bowl showcased a player with just as much potential as Hunter.
Round 5: M.J. Stewart, CB North Carolina
Having taken North Carolina’s career pass breakup record, Stewart was well-poised for a good performance in Mobile. Not many general managers will see him as an outside corner at 5-foot-10, but he has demonstrated the ability to play both. With a well-cut 198-pound frame, he’s unlikely to be bullied by all but the biggest receivers. On the first day, Stewart won all of his reps on the inside and outside and he continued his impressive performance in each of the coverage styles demanded of him, including the Vikings’ complex pattern match system.
Round 6: Fred Warner, LB Brigham Young
Though Warner didn’t have an opportunity to address his biggest knock — some are concerned about his physicality and these practices don’t get very physical outside of the offensive line/defensive line drills — he looked explosive, fluid and dominant in coverage. He read his keys well and reacted quickly to the ball without having to peek in the backfield. If Warner truly does have issues taking on blocks or finishing against running backs, he may never see the field as a base linebacker, but he could be a good alternative to dime packages or be a fantastic special teamer.
Round 7: Ito Smith
No one should the explosiveness or agility of Jalyn Samuels or Kalen Ballage in route-running and pass protection skills, but a distant third might be Smith, who still looked more than capable of filling the Jerick McKinnon role that the Vikings may have to address in the draft. He showcased great stop-start capability, explosive lateral movement and soft hands. McKinnon has set himself apart from other pass-catching backs by also being a capable runner, and Smith looks to be able to take up that mantle better than Samuels or Ballage could.