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Vikings GM Kwesi-Adofo-Mensah
(Harrison Barden-Minnesota Vikings)

My Minnesota Vikings 2022 NFL Draft first-round wish list

Vikings GM Kwesi-Adofo-Mensah
First-year GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. (Harrison Barden-Minnesota Vikings)

From a Vikings fan – My preferred first-round list:

It’s NFL Draft day, one of the best days of the sports calendar! The Minnesota Vikings, looking to bounce back after a disappointing 8-9 campaign a year ago, have eight picks, including the No. 12 pick in the first round. They will be operating with a new front office with first-year general manager, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, and first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell.

As some may know, a good portion of my time is consumed watching, writing or thinking about basketball (specifically Miami Heat basketball). But as (an oftentimes aggravated) Vikings fan, I decided to conjure up my “NFL Draft wish/tier list” for the first round. So this primarily comes from the heart, not the brain.

I’m also going to be operating under the assumption they keep the pick and don’t trade down.

Save your #StickToHeatBasketball comments for the end (or DM me on Twitter @mph_824_, if you dare). Without further ado, let’s get into it! Skol!

Players, who won’t fall to the Vikings, that I’d automatically take no matter what:

  • Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
  • Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
  • Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
  • Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
  • Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
  • Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia

All would atop my “If they fall, snag them immediately” list. They address team needs while providing excellent value for their positions and draft slot. A tiny part of me would be weary about if there was something (other) teams knew about these prospects that we (fans, public) do not, should they fall out of the top-10. But at No. 12, that would ultimately be the least of my concerns. Snatch ’em!

Other what-looks-to-be unrealistic options, but at CB:

  • Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
  • Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

I’m not super certain that either — let alone both — Stingley and Gardner fall to Minnesota. In fact, it’s pretty unlikely. Several mock drafts have both getting pegged inside the top-10. But corner is Minnesota’s biggest position of need with Patrick Peterson and Cameron Dantzler as Minnesota’s top returning starts. Behind them, they’re thin.

Stingley features good length (6-foot, 31-inch arms), athleticism and physicality at the point-of-attack. A couple years ago, he was thought of as maybe the top pick before injuries — including a Lisfranc injury, which required surgery, in Sept. of 2021 — hindered his production over his last two seasons. But when healthy, he was objectively awesome. Check out his freshman tape from 2019. You won’t be disappointed.

Gardner has climbed up draft boards throughout the pre-draft process, getting projected to be selected to as high as No. 2 to the Detroit Lions. He picked off three passes last season, in addition to 40 tackles, five tackles-for-loss and three sacks. Listed at 6-foot-3 with 33.5-inch arms, Gardner also possesses great length for a cover-corner that can press or play zone. Plus, he ran a 4.41 40 at the combine, so he has top-flight speed to keep up with most receivers with good agility.

I’m also giving Gardner a leg-up in the name game — “Sauce” Gardner is a very strong name. You can’t do much better than that, in my opinion.

Either would be a steal.

More realistic CB options:

  • Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
  • Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
  • Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

I’ll be honest, I’m not 100 percent convinced Adofo-Mensah would draft either Elam, McDuffie or Booth Jr. with the No. 12 pick, but who knows! I wasn’t in the meetings with any of them or what not, so the Vikings brain trust might be much higher than I or the rest of us are.

All I know is Minnesota desperately needs players on the outside, as I addressed above. And McDuffie, Booth Jr. and Elam are athletic, physical, rangy cornerback options that could fit into Ed Donatell’s scheme seamlessly. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if they go No. 12.

Yes, but this doesn’t address a need:

  • Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

See, now this is where it gets interesting.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen the idea floated around the Twittersphere of the Vikings drafting Williams. It likely means nothing — but, again, given this is Adofo-Mensah’s first draft — what if they actually do it?

The thought of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and (a healthy) Williams makes my spine tingle. Williams tore his ACL in the 2022 National Championship game against Georgia, so he might not be ready to play right away. But his ability to complete torch opposing secondaries with blazing speed paired with smooth route-running ability makes him a very intriguing fit in Minnesota’s offense under O’Connell.

Not my first choice(s), but I’ll absolutely take them:

  • Jermaine Johnson II, EDGE, Florida State
  • Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
  • Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
  • Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa

If a CB at the proper value isn’t there at No. 12, and assuming Minnesota doesn’t trade back, I see Adofo-Mensah dipping his toes into the water for help across the defensive line, the safety spots or the interior offensive line.

I understand Vikings’ fans PTSD of drafting an athletic center in the first round because Garrett Bradbury hasn’t necessarily worked out in purple (still holding out hope!), but Linderbaum appears to be a slam dunk prospect. PFF dubbed him the “the best center prospect we’ve seen in the PFF College era.” That’s sounds good, right? If he’s the pick, based on those 11 words alone: Sign me up!

I also understand the slight concerns of picking an interior defensive lineman (Davis) in the top-15 because it’s not necessarily a value pick, but I believe Davis would help bolster Minnesota’s pass rush led by Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. Hamilton would presumably be Harrison Smith’s heir apparent while Johnson would help stabilize Minnesota’s run defense, which was porous over the last two seasons.

My top candidate all along:

  • Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

I know, I know. The Vikings won’t do this after inking Kirk Cousins to a one-year, $35 million extension in March. Not that I think Cousins is a bad quarterback, because he’s not, but I’ve been on record about being a Cousins skeptic in the past.

For no reason other than I enjoy watching him play, I’m admittedly all-in on Willis. He has great arm strength (despite so-so accuracy, at times) and is very mobile. For a rookie quarterback with a ton of upside — that sounds like fun! The Vikings would absolutely be worse than it would be without Cousins, but after what we just saw with Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Josh Allen, I’m ready for the Vikings to take a swing-for-the-fences at QB in the draft — no matter how good or bad the QB class is.

The Vikings (in my biased opinion) deserve a franchise QB, and I’m not sold Cousins is that guy. However, if Minnesota wants to see what Cousins and this offense looks like under O’Connell, who am I to say otherwise?

No, but I’d enjoy the memes:

  • Sam Howell, QB, UNC

Only because of this one:


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