Breaking Down the Top 10 Prospects for the Vikings First Round Pick
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been writing a ton of profiles covering the prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft (here’s one right now!). For the most part, these profiles have been focused on evaluating prospects and whether or not they would be good fits for the Vikings first round pick. While I will still be writing plenty more of those as the draft is still a couple months away, the focus will now turn more towards days two and three.
Before we move on from that first round though, I wanted to focus on it one final time. In many of the profiles I suggest that [insert player here] could be a good fit on the 2022 Vikings, especially if [insert another player here] is already off the board. On Sunday, I did a quick ranking of what I believe the Vikings biggest draft needs are, but I haven’t gone prospect-by-prospect to determine which are my top choices. Today, we will finally do that. Without further ado, here are my top 10 choices for the Vikings first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Note: I am leaving out players like Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson, and Kyle Hamilton because I do not believe the Vikings end up with them without making a drastic trade.
1. CB Ahmad Gardner
This one is pretty straight forward. Some have come forward with valid arguments for the EDGE position, but I still believe cornerback is the most pressing need for the Vikings, especially in such a talented draft class. I’ve discussed Ahmad Gardner a ton this winter, and I truly believe he is the CB1 in this class. Whether or not he actually gets drafted at CB1 is a whole different story.
Gardner provides a ton of versatility at the cornerback position, and his instincts at the position are incredible. The Vikings’ secondary has struggled in recent years because they have lacked a true lockdown corner on the outside. The Cincinnati Bearcat would certainly bring that to Minnesota as a first-round pick.
2. C Tyler Linderbaum
I am willing to concede that No. 12 is quite high for an interior offensive lineman to be taken in the draft. That may ultimately be what deters the Vikings from taking Tyler Linderbaum in the first round. Even still, this feels like an unusual scenario because of how talented Linderbaum really seems to be. The main goal of a first-round pick is someone who can be a plug-and-play prospect. Linderbaum can certainly do that in Minnesota. There are others that feel this way too as The Ringer‘s NFL Draft guru Danny Kelly recently gave him a Corey Linsley comp.
There is no doubt that the Vikings desperately need help on the interior of their offensive line, especially at center. Garrett Bradbury’s future is murky at best, and with his development not going according to plan, it may be time for Minnesota to move on.
3. EDGE George Karlaftis
This is a pick my good friend Kyle Joudry will enjoy. As I mentioned earlier, there have been some rumblings that EDGE should be the position that Minnesota focuses the most on this offseason. Of course, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson are the clear top-two at the position and will likely be gone in the top five. After that, there are 4-5 guys that are quite similar in terms of potential.
My personal favorite of these ‘tier two’ guys is George Karlaftis. He is a bulldozer that is a master of using his explosivity and strength to create leverage and blow through offensive lines. He falls below the first two though because it feels like the Vikings could get an effective player in round two at this position.
4. EDGE David Ojabo
Michigan’s ‘other’ EDGE rusher David Ojabo is the yin to Karlaftis’ yang. While Karlaftis uses overpowering strength to get into opposing backfields, Ojabo relies on freakish athleticism. This is mostly due to the fact that Ojabo has played an extremely small amount of football in his life, but he has almost no technique when rushing the passer.
Overall, this is why I put Karlaftis above Ojabo even though I feel they have similar ceilings. Karlaftis feels like he is better suited to contribute to an NFL team right away. Additionally, the fact that he is more technically sound and doesn’t rely on pure natural talent to create pressure makes him translate better to the NFL. Ojabo will ultimately develop into a great player though, and Vikings fans should not be upset if they end up with him with the first-round pick.
5. CB Derek Stingley Jr.
Prior to the 2021 season, Derek Stingley would have been near or at the top of this list. In 2019 at LSU, he put together one of the most dominant freshman seasons we’ve ever seen in college football. That said, it’s been two years since that player stepped foot on the field. Ever since then, Stingley has been derailed by injuries, and when he has been able to play, it seems like he’s rested on his laurels a little too much.
There is no doubt that a talented player exists within Stingley. The questions remain whether or not an NFL team will be able to motivate or keep him healthy enough to extract that player onto the field. That’s a very scary question to be asking near the draft, especially for a team in the Vikings that essentially wasted a first-round pick on Jeff Gladney just two years ago.
6. LB Nakobe Dean
One position that I have been harping on that the Vikings need to get better at this offseason is the linebacker. Obviously, Eric Kendricks is going to anchor the middle, but especially if Minnesota moves to a 3-4 defense, there is an even higher emphasis on that position. Specifically, they will need someone to be able to play next to Kendricks.
Because of that, I believe Nakobe Dean would be an excellent prospect. He is extremely versatile, being able to drop into pass coverage, run stop, and pass rush. Dean and Kendricks together open up an endless realm of creative defensive schemes. It probably wouldn’t be a pick that many are expecting, but Dean is still a terrific player.
7. LB Devin Lloyd
Much of the same positives that I mentioned about Nakobe Dean can be said of Devin Lloyd. That said, Lloyd’s tape is much flashier. If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch his tape because he plays in the PAC-12, I implore you to treat yourself by finding some games on YouTube. Against some weaker competition in the conference, he absolutely dominated the opposition. The game that first comes to mind is this past season against Stanford.
Much of the same athleticism and versatility exists within Lloyd, but the competition is of course going to be a question mark. While Dean was dominating SEC opponents like Alabama, Lloyd was kicking it back against Stanford. Additionally, there are some problems in his run-stuffing ability that doesn’t exist in Dean. Overall, Dean just feels like a better fit in the Vikings defense. That said, Lloyd has some great upside to him as well.
8. EDGE Travon Walker
This is a player that has quickly risen up draft boards across the country in recent weeks. Travon Walker, unlike David Ojabo or George Karlaftis, doesn’t seem to be a player that overly relies on either his athleticism or his strength to cause problems. It’s a more balanced attack, but he is a ‘jack of all trades’ type player rather than one that has mastered a craft.
Of course, if he keeps his trend of improvement up, Walker is not going to be a bad player in the NFL. However, for a Vikings team that needs an immediate impact player, it doesn’t seem like a perfect fit at the EDGE spot. Especially if there is a move to 3-4, there will be more times where Walker would be forced to step back in pass coverage, and I’m not sure he can do that.
9. CB Trent McDuffie
Trent McDuffie is certainly a player that can step in as a CB2, but I’m not sure he is the true lockdown cornerback that Ahmad Gardner or potentially Derek Stingley could be. First off, he is smaller than either of these players which limits him a bit. However, he makes up for this by being an absolute bulldog on the field. He isn’t afraid of contact and may be the hardest hitting DB in this draft class. He still has some wonderful instincts in pass coverage as well and can be a blitzer when needed.
Overall though, the gold standard of this class is either Gardner or Stingley, depending on which prospect that teams feel they can get more out of. If the Vikings end up with McDuffie at 12, it is going to feel like they reached for a player that they could get a similar version of later in the draft.
10. QB Malik Willis
I don’t think there is a world where the Vikings should draft a QB in the first round, unless they both trade Kirk Cousins and acquire an additional pick in the deal. Should that happen, Minnesota better go with the guy with the highest ceiling. That player is Malik Willis.
I’m not sure I buy into all of them, but the parallels to Josh Allen are certainly there: small school, raw prospect, strong arm, thick build, and intriguing athleticism. If Willis puts the work in and ends up in the right situation, he could end up being an NFL starting QB for a long time. I don’t think he ever reaches Allen status in the league, but there is no doubt the tools for success are there. The scenario also exists where he doesn’t pan out and ends up closer to a current Ben Roethlisberger but fast.