ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who is to blame/thank for launching the cottage industry of draft speculation — depending on your perspective — on Thursday released the first version of his 2019 first round NFL mock draft.

As is the custom this time of year, it comes with a enough caveats to make the entire process ALMOST worthless, but we still love mock drafts anyway. Writes Kiper:

Remember that teams are early in their evaluations, and we still have to get through postseason all-star games, combine testing, medicals, pro days and individual workouts before their draft boards become set. Free agency in March also will change needs for several teams. I’m predicting each first-round pick here based on a combination of my Big Board rankings, each team’s needs right now and my view on positions that could be upgraded.

In other words, this is less of a mock draft and more of an educated guess. And when Kiper looked at the Vikings, drafting No. 18 after missing the playoffs, he saw what a lot of people can see: they need to upgrade the offensive line.

He might as well be on Twitter every Sunday yelling about how Kirk Cousins has no time to throw.

Kiper has the Vikings taking Ole Miss offensive tackle Greg Little with their first round pick. He writes of Little:

There’s a case to be made that Little is the best true left tackle in this class. He’s certainly the most talented. The former five-star high school prospect was inconsistent at times in college, but he should take off in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Coach Mike Zimmer loves guys who get after quarterbacks too, so that’s going to be in consideration here.

This would certainly fill a need and be out of character for the Vikings, who between 2003 and 2018 have spent exactly one of their 18 first-round picks on an offensive lineman (Matt Kalil in 2012). That said, they’ve made more attempts to address the line in early rounds recently, taking Pat Elflein in the third round in 2017 and Brian O’Neill in the second round in 2018.

Taking another OT could set the Vikings up for a while if both O’Neill and a 2019 pick work out.

That said, Zimmer often gets his way on draft night — including corners taken in the first round in 2015 (Trae Waynes) and 2018 (Mike Hughes). If the Vikings decide not to sign linebacker Anthony Barr and/or defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, those positions could be in play in the first round.

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