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A few years ago, the Minnesota Vikings were Super Bowl contenders. Mike Zimmer’s team never built on a 13-3 season in 2017, and they recently tied the worst single-season winning percentage under their 64-year-old skipper. With seven picks in the top 150 selections, the Vikings can brighten their future with a strong showing in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter’s future in Minnesota remains unknown. Hunter wants out if the team doesn’t offer him more money, despite the 26-year-old missing the entire 2020 season with an injury. The Vikings already have massive holes along the left side of their offensive line. Hunter leaving would only further erode the team’s once elite core.

Minnesota’s rookie class must make an immediate impact within its first two years in the NFL, or Zimmer’s entire staff could be on the chopping block.

I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t project any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.

Round 1 (No. 14): Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL USC

Christian Darrisaw made it to 14th overall in almost half the simulations I ran, but it’s still unlikely he gets past the Los Angeles Chargers at 13. The Vikings need stability along the left side of their line, where Dakota Dozier and Rashod Hill are projected starters. Vera-Tucker is an elite guard prospect with experience as a tackle.

Vera-Tucker played left tackle in 2020 and left guard in 2019. He lacks the length of a tackle, and some speed rushers gave him problems this past season. However, Vera-Tucker has an exceptional reaction time and uses his hands well. His floor is one of the highest among all prospects in this draft class.

Some teams will play Vera-Tucker as a tackle when he enters the NFL and move him to guard if things go poorly.

Ideal pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT Virginia Tech

Round 3 (No. 78): Jackson Carman, OT Clemson

Enough is enough. It’s about time the Vikings fix their offensive line. I had a similar mentality when addressing the New York Giants in other articles. These teams keep throwing average assets at the line and wonder why things never get better. Minnesota should draft linemen early and often if the team wants to fill its holes at left guard and left tackle.

Carman’s proper position is my one concern about adding him to a team with no other elite left tackle candidates. While he protected Trevor Lawrence’s blindside in college, Carman projects as a right tackle. Playing him on the left side is less than ideal, but it’s a better option than starting Hill.

Carman could play guard for the Vikings, but he’s a capable tackle that shouldn’t kick inside without getting a chance at his natural position. Adding Vera-Tucker and Carman in the same class gives Minnesota two players with tackle experience and plus traits for guards.

This pick becomes more sensible if Los Angeles leaves Darrisaw on the board for Minnesota at 14th overall.

Ideal pick: Payton Turner, EDGE Houston

Round 3 (No. 90): Dayo Odeyingbo, EDGE Vanderbilt

This pick might change if I knew what’s going on behind closed doors with Hunter. Even without taking into account the Pro Bowl’s trade request, Minnesota needs another pass rusher. Zimmer’s team signed Stephen Weatherly to a one-year deal this offseason, and the franchise still has 2020 fourth-round selection D.J. Wonnum.

Odeyingbo is 6-5, weighs 276 lbs., and has over 35-inch arms. With his build, Odeyingbo can line up from anywhere along the defensive line and still have success. Other teams might view him as an interior player if he adds more weight. However, the Vikings can play him as a 4-3 defensive end and develop him to work with or replace Hunter.

The star plays and stats won’t come immediately for Odeyingbo. He’s still a raw prospect that needs to improve his balance and find better ways to use his natural gifts.

Unfortunately, Odeyingbo tore his Achilles several months ago.

Ideal pick: Pete Werner, LB Ohio St.

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Round 4 (No. 119): Monty Rice, LB Georgia

Rice doesn’t have prototypical length or speed, but he’s one of the few linebackers after Dylan Moses that could go in the fourth-round. Rice is instinctive and has a radar for the football. Despite his lackluster juice and twitch, the former Bulldog flashed sideline-to-sideline range at times. That lack of speed became a more significant issue in man coverage.

The Vikings have linebackers Anthony Barr, Troy Dye, Eric Kendricks, and Nick Vigil already on their roster. Barr and Vigil are free agents next year, and the defense’s play suffered when Kendricks missed five games last season. At worst, Rice is a backup middle linebacker.

Ideal pick: Dylan Moses, LB Alabama

Round 4 (No. 125): Ambry Thomas, CB Michigan

Minnesota invested heavily at cornerback in recent years. Zimmer’s team recently agreed to a one-year deal with Patrick Peterson. The franchise also drafted Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney last year. You can never have enough corners though, and Thomas is a tremendous value selection in the fourth-round.

In his one year as a full-time starter, Thomas intercepted three passes and batted away three more. He isn’t twitchy or muscular but ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at Michigan’s pro day. That speed combined with Thomas’ proficiency in press coverage could become an asset for the Vikings.

Thomas is on the lighter side at 191 lbs., but he rarely missed tackles in college. Thomas should see defensive snaps after some initial time in the weight room and on special teams.

Ideal pick: Ar’Darius Washington, S TCU

Round 4 (No. 134): Josh Palmer, WR Tennessee

Vikings fans aren’t in love with how Chad Beebe played last year when serving as Minnesota’s third wide receiver. Gary Kubiak’s offense runs most two wide receiver looks, meaning that third spot doesn’t see many snaps. Ideally, the Vikings land one of the draft’s top-four tight ends, but those picks never materialized in the simulations I ran.

Palmer never had more than 500 receiving yards in a single season during his four years with the Volunteers. The 6-1, 210 lb. receiver doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s physical and displays great body control. He’ll refine his route tree more to create natural separation in the league.

Palmer beat NFL-caliber cornerbacks in the SEC. His traits and poor quarterback pairings at Tennessee make him a hot Day 3 commodity despite the lack of production.

Ideal pick: Kendrick Green, IOL Illinois

Round 4 (No. 143): Damar Hamlin, S Pittsburgh

The Vikings have Xavier Woods on a one-year deal, and 32-year-old Harrison Smith is in the final year of his current contract. Although Smith has plenty of elite play left, it’s past time for Minnesota to begin planning for a new era at safety.

Hamlin isn’t a fantastic athlete. His coverage leaves something to be desired, but the redshirt senior sees the field well. He’s tremendous coming downhill against the run and has elite length for a safety. Those 32-inch arms helped intercept five throws and break up 21 other attempts over the past three years.

Unfortunately, Hamlin lacks elite speed and burst. He won’t see many snaps in man coverage at the next level.

Ideal pick: Osa Odighizuwa, IDL UCLA

Round 5 (No. 157): Cade Johnson, WR South Dakota St.

Johnson could go either in the fourth or fifth-round, but he feels like a solid Day 3 prospect at this point. The former Jackrabbit dominated in the FCS, averaging over 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final two collegiate seasons. Johnson also put on an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. He effortlessly creates separation with his release and is difficult to bring down.

The Vikings already took Palmer earlier in this draft. A team that rarely uses three receivers adding two in one class is less than ideal, but all of the top tight ends were long gone by the early fourth-round. Johnson was a top-three available player in the simulations I ran, making him an easy value selection.

Ideal pick: Hunter Long, TE Boston College

Round 5 (No. 168): Joshua Kaindoh, EDGE Florida St.

Kaindoh and Marvin Wilson are two of the most underdeveloped prospects in this class, considering their potential. Kaindoh left college with only eight career sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. However, he has NFL-caliber physical traits that Zimmer’s staff can build on. Kaindoh is 6-5, weighs 260 lbs., and has 34.5-inch arms.

The Vikings plan on having Hunter in Minnesota this season, but the team should have backup plans in place. Drafting Kaindoh and Odeyingbo gives Zimmer a young duo to develop alongside Wonnum.

Ideal pick: Shakur Brown, CB Michigan St.

Round 6 (No. 199): Jamien Sherwood, S Auburn

At 6-2, 216 lbs., Sherwood fits the profile of a physical modern box safety. He lacks the range, speed, and twitch to play deep but can stick with some tight ends. He’s a bit of a tweener that might shift to linebacker. The Vikings might opt for a player with a more easily defined role here.

Ideal pick: Dax Milne, WR BYU