Vikings Take a Rising Defensive Prospect in ESPN’s Latest 2023 Mock Draft Mock Draft Has Vikings Trading Down from No. 23 Overall
Nov 5, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Drew Sanders (42) tackles Liberty Flames quarterback Johnathan Bennett (11) in the second quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN released their newest 2023 NFL mock draft this week, penned by Matt Miller, and within it, we see the Minnesota Vikings take a rising defensive prospect as we get closer to April’s draft. That prospect is Arkansas LB Drew Sanders.

Vikings Take Rising Defensive Prospect in ESPN's Latest 2023 NFL Mock Draft
Sep 10, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Drew Sanders (42) pursues South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) during the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas won 44-30. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Sanders began his college football career with Alabama in 2020 where he was productive, but largely limited to a rotational role due to the depth of the Crimson Tide linebacker room that also contained Henry To’oto’o and Christian Harris.

Because of that, the linebacker transferred to the Arkansas Razorbacks for the 2022 season where his production took off. During this past college football season, Sanders recorded 103 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. In his two seasons at Alabama, he recorded a combined 33 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, a single sack, and 2 passes defensed.

Obviously, Sanders’ improved numbers lie largely in an increased role during 2022 with the Razorbacks. However, he also made more of a transition to off-ball linebacker for Arkansas rather than being an on-ball linebacker that was used more as a pass rusher for Alabama.

Oct 2, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama linebacker Drew Sanders (20) wraps up Ole Miss wide receiver Dontario Drummond (11) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Miller illustrates a love for Sanders’ style of play in his write-up, saying, “When I visited [Arkansas] last fall, the defensive staff raved about his instincts and toughness. He became a three-down player with 9.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles and 111 tackles in his first season as a starter. The 6-5, 232-pound junior is still developing as a linebacker but has the potential to be a force in the NFL.”

This potential that Miller talks about is what makes Sanders such an intriguing prospect in this draft class. He’s really only played 12 games as an off-ball linebacker against SEC teams, and he still looked like one of the better players at the position.

Sep 24, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Max Johnson (14) is sacked by Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Drew Sanders (42) during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Now, I’ve discussed at length my love for Trenton Simpson as a prospect in this draft. I still think that he is the best linebacker in this class, and Noah Sewell out of Oregon may be another player that I’d rather take for an immediate impact on the defense.

However, especially if the Vikings opted to trade down from the 23rd overall pick, Sanders could be an explosive piece for Minnesota’s defense. Pairing him with Brian Asamoah, especially in a blitz-heavy Brian Flores defense, could overwhelm opposing offenses with Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith at EDGE.

I may not look to take him in the first-round of this upcoming draft because he is still a raw prospect, but his potential makes him very intriguing in Day 2, particularly if the Vikings find a way to get into the second round of the draft.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.