A year ago, I knew the Vikings would take UCLA running back-turned-linebacker Anthony Barr as the ninth overall pick in the NFL draft. He turned out to be an excellent choice, with only a knee injury keeping him from being ranked as one of the top defensive rookies in the league.

It’s more difficult to make a prediction this year, because the Vikings have needs at almost every position except center and quarterback. There are few defensive players the caliber of Barr who might be available when the Vikings pick 11th. Assuming the Vikings don’t make a deal to land a future Pro Bowl player, I’m going out on a limb and predicting they will take Brandon Scherff, a 6-5, 320-pound offensive tackle from Iowa who would fill the left guard position made available by the release of Charlie Johnson.

This year Scherff won the Outland Trophy as the best lineman in college football, the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award in the Big Ten, was a consensus All-America and won what is called the Coaches Appreciation Award from Iowa. Gophers coaches reported that Scherff was one of the meanest, roughest, toughest-blocking offensive linemen they faced all year.

Scherff recently told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that he doesn’t have a clue who will select him. “It’s been interesting to go through the process and see how it all works,” he said. “At the end of the day, nobody is going to tip their hand, so my approach has been to just be honest with teams and see where it leads.”

If the Vikings don’t make a trade to get a great defensive lineman or linebacker, or if Scherff is not available at the No. 11 pick, my prediction is there is a good chance they could take Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was sitting in the press box when Waynes put on a great show, intercepting two of Philip Nelson’s passes and making tackles all over the field in the Spartans’ 14-3 victory over the Gophers in 2013.

My inside scouting report comes from Brad Salem, son of former Gophers quarterback and coach Joe Salem, who I have known since he was born and who is one of the sharpest assistant coaches in the business. Salem has been on the Michigan State staff for six years and describes Waynes as a special player.

Waynes played over three years with the Spartans, starting 27 games, and was selected as a first team Big Ten player in 2014 and was a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in the nation.

NFL.com’s scouting report described Waynes’ strengths as: “Good length. Loves to compete in man-to-man and is mentally tough. Asked to play on an island and did so successfully. Allowed just two touchdowns over last two seasons. Bump-and-run specialist. Fastest cornerback at the NFL scouting combine.”

The truth of the matter is the Vikings have one first-class cornerback in Xavier Rhodes and Waynes would fill the other cornerback spot, just like Scherff would fill the big hole at left guard.

Late bloomer

Salem talked about how Waynes improved as much as any player he has coached. He didn’t have many major scholarship offers when he enrolled at Michigan State.

“He was a guy that we did not offer as a junior,” Salem said. “We were hoping he would come to camp and we stayed in communication with him. He came to our camp the summer before his senior season and it was almost like — if you remember the movie “Major League,” with Willie Mays Hayes running the 40[-yard dash] — you know he ran a 40 and everybody looked at each other like, ‘Can he run it again?’ We weren’t sure if it was really that fast. We must have made him run the 40 like six times and he kept running it in the 4.3s.”

Salem was asked if a lot of teams have been in contact with Waynes heading into the draft.

“I think he’s talked to quite a few teams,” Salem said. “He still had a year left of college, so he ended up declaring early, I think we were hearing that as we worked through his parents and himself in making that decision.”

Salem believes Waynes made the right decision because he will be a high first-round pick. He had a great showing at the NFL combine and an even better pro day at Michigan State.

Gagne a great athlete

Verne Gagne was mostly known as a professional wrestler, but the former Gophers athlete, who died Monday at age 89, was a great star for the El Toro Marines team, was highly recruited when he was discharged and was drafted by the Chicago Bears. The Bears would not allow Gagne to wrestle and play football because of their bad experience when another Gophers great, Bronko Nagurski, did both.

Gagne had a tough childhood. He left home at the age of 14 when his mother died, and he lived in many places.

Gagne left the Gophers after winning two NCAA wrestling titles, despite advice against turning pro from local wrestling promoter Tony Stecher. In fact, I recall Stecher didn’t think Gagne was big enough to wrestle pro, and he told me he was going to put him against the toughest competition possible for his first match to discourage him from wrestling. So Gagne’s first match in 1949 was against one of the most popular and feared wrestlers, Abe Kashey, and Gagne threw him around the ring with ease. His pro wrestling career was on its way.

In 1960, Gagne and Wally Karbo formed the American Wrestling Association, a promotion that did well until Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation began hiring away several of the AWA’s stars in the mid-1980s and Gagne and Karbo eventually were put out of business.

He was a very close friend, a great athlete who played all sports at Robbinsdale High School and excelled in every one.

Jottings

• Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who drafted Mario Lucia, said the son of Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia has decided not to turn pro and will stay in school at Notre Dame.

• The Gophers benefited to the tune of $14,000 in rent and a $2 per person facility fee, which added up to $28,044 for holding the Minnesota high school state football championships last fall at TCF Bank Stadium.

• Tom West, assistant director of public relations for the Vikings, has been given the coveted MSU Mankato distinguished alumni award for his career accomplishments.

• Former Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer played a big part in the Houston Rockets defeating the Dallas Mavericks in five games, averaging 14.4 points per game. Former Wolves point guard J.J. Barea started two of the five games for Dallas, averaging 11.8 points and 7.4 assists.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com