I promise I won’t come rushing to this space every time an NFL INSIDER (very serious tone) puts out a new mock draft, but … let’s catch up to a couple of recent and interesting mocks in two parts — how they might challenge conventional wisdom about the Vikings’ plans at No. 18, and what the significance of any prediction is at this point in the process.

OK, OK. Shut up, Rand, you’re probably thinking. Tell us about the mock drafts.

The two of note from NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah (who put out his version 2.0 on Tuesday) and ESPN’s Todd McShay (who crushed his competition by putting out version 3.0 on Wednesday) both have the Vikings taking a defensive player in the first round.

Jeremiah has Michigan linebacker Devin Bush going to Minnesota at that spot, while McShay has interior lineman Ed Oliver of Houston going to the purple (pictured above at the combine).


Jeremiah is succinct in his reasoning, noting “Anthony Barr is a free agent. Bush is a three-down linebacker with outstanding playmaking skills and leadership ability.

McShay has a longer explanation that rests on both value and potential need: “Value, value, value. Oliver is one of the top 10 players in the class. So although offensive line is a more glaring immediate need here, the Vikings could plug Oliver into the middle of that defensive line between Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter and create headaches for offensive coordinators. He’s a perfect replacement for free agent Sheldon Richardson.

At least McShay has the decency to address the elephant in the room: the Vikings’ offensive line need.

What makes both mocks at least somewhat interesting?

1) They are the first educated guesses after the NFL Combine, which gives prognosticators (and teams) more data to move players up or down a board. In McShay’s 2.0 mock, for instance, he had the Vikings taking Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat. But after a monster showing at the combine, Sweat is now pegged as the No. 5 overall pick by McShay in this version.

2) Team executives and agents talk a lot at the combine. It’s possible that McShay and/or Jeremiah have gleaned from those conversations that Barr, Richardson or both are shaky propositions when it comes to re-signing with the Vikings.

But here’s where we arrive at the point about the mock drafts right now that, while they are potentially interesting they aren’t of great use yet.

Free agency starts next week, and what happens in the coming days should have a significant impact on the Vikings’ draft board. Even if drafting for value in the first round is a good idea, for instance, the likelihood that the Vikings would take Oliver (if available) would logically decrease if they signed Richardson to a long-term extension. Same with Bush if Barr signs a big deal to stay.

If the Vikings part ways with an established veteran like Everson Griffen, maybe a defensive lineman makes more sense. If they strike out in significant offensive line upgrades in free agency, maybe they listen to the screaming fans and take an O-lineman at No. 18.

When plenty of good players are available, need can be a tiebreaker.

After the first waves of roster reshuffling and free agency, mock drafts should start to get more meaningful (if not accurate). McShay is only on his third one, and last year he did so many he lost count (and also had the Vikings taking an O-lineman when they actually took corner Mike Hughes).

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