MINNEAPOLIS – It’s officially Draft Day, and to those who celebrate, it’s essentially the equivalent of Christmas morning.
Fans in attendance will flock to the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas Thursday night as the next round of top-tier prospects get picked up by various teams in the first round of the NFL Draft. Locally, the Vikings are holding a draft party at US Bank Stadium Thursday night that will include players Christian Darrisaw, Brian O’Neill, KJ Osborn, Irv Smith Jr. and Za’Darius Smith.
You can also watch draft coverage on Fox 9, as a live special “A New Era – Draft Outlook” will start at 6:30 pm The Vikings enter the night with the No. 12 overall pick, and it’s the first selection for Kwesi Adofo -Mensah as the new head of the front office. He’s replacing Rick Spielman after an 8-9 season in 2021, and missing the NFC Playoffs for the third time in the last four years.
This is a truly unique draft in that nobody really knows how the board will fall. Will the Vikings stay at 12? Will they move down? Will they move up? Regardless of who goes where, 32 players will make a life-long dream of playing in the NFL come true Thursday.
Here are the names that have consistently been linked to Minnesota in the week’s leading up to tonight.
DEREK STINGLEY JR.
Minnesota is in need of defensive backs, despite signing Chandon Sullivan and bringing back Patrick Peterson. Stingley played in 10 games for LSU the last two seasons, and has already been compared to Marshon Lattimore, Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. He tied for fifth in 2019 in FBS with six interceptions, had 38 tackles and 15 pass break-ups in 15 starts. He did nothing to quell the hype at a recent Pro Day, and is among the top defensive backs in the draft. He’s a no-brainer selection at No. 12 if he’s still on the board, and was eleven teammates with Justin Jefferson.
There’s another option for the Vikings if they want a secondary player at No. 12. Trent McDuffie out of Washington was a three-year starter for the Huskies, and can play press or zone coverage. He’s a little undersized at 5-11, 193 pounds, but he allowed just 16 catches on 296 passing snaps during the 2021 season. Several mock drafts have him drafted in the middle of the first round.
Garrett Wilson is one of the top receivers in the draft, and the former Ohio State star was an All-American last season who finished with 12 touchdowns in 11 starts. With Kevin O’Connell as the new head coach, the Vikings could go offense at No. 12 and add a star receiver to pair with Justin Jefferson, not knowing how much longer Adam Thielen will play in the NFL.
AHMAD “SAUCE” GARDNER
Sauce Gardner is the consensus top defensive back in the draft, and the Vikings may have to trade up from No. 12 if they want to take the former Cincinnati star. He’s considered a top-10 pick, and in 33 games with the Bearcats, he made 99 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, had 16 passes defended and nine interceptions. Two of those were returned for touchdowns. Getting Gardner would give the Vikings an immediate impact player in the secondary.
The Vikings need more edge rushers in their new 3-4 defense under Ed Donatell, and former Oregon star Kayvon Thibodeaux would check many of the boxes if available at No. 12. Despite an ankle injury last season, Thibodeau was still a First Team All -American with 50 tackles, seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 11 games, including nine starts. He’s another standout the Vikings may have to move up to get.
Eden Prairie native Jermaine Johnson is another name to keep an eye on for the Vikings at No. 12. He became a star defensive end at Florida State, and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He had 70 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, two pass break-ups and two forced fumbles in 12 starts. Simply put, he was a game-wrecker and would be a major talent alongside Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith.
If the Vikings want secondary help at No. 12, Kyle Hamilton is a name to keep an eye on. The former Notre Dame safety could become teammates with fellow alum Harrison Smith, who is 33 years old. Hamilton had 35 tackles and three interceptions last season, limited by injury. He’s one of the top defensive players in the draft, and is a steal at No. 12.
If the Vikings want a wide receiver at No. 12 and Garrett Wilson is gone, Jameson Williams becomes a very popular name. The former Alabama star is still recovering from a knee injury, but he’d be another deep threat to the Vikings. He made 79 catches for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 starts before tearing his ACL in the national title game against Georgia last season.
As it is every year, it will be very interesting to see what the Vikings do with their first round pick Thursday night.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism