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Vikings projected to go for offensive line help in opening round of draft

Ncaa Football: Virginia Tech At Pittsburgh
Nov 10, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw (77) blocks at the line of scrimmage against Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre (5) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 52-22. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who will the Vikings take with their first-round pick?

With the team’s disappointing 7-9 season complete and plenty of areas where upgrades are necessary, it’s time to turn our attention to mock drafts. Todd McShay of ESPN published his initial mock on Thursday, and his prediction is the Vikings will go for offensive line help with the 14th pick on April 29.

McShay has Minnesota taking Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw.

Here’s what McShay writes: Ezra Cleveland, last year’s second-rounder, has helped the offensive line, but the Vikings still need a dominant tackle. They were one of 12 teams that allowed quarterback pressure on at least 30% of their drop backs. Darrisaw is a talented left tackle who has power as a pass protector and can get to the second level to help block for Dalvin Cook in Minnesota’s zone run schemes. Other possibilities might include pass-rush aid — the Vikings had the fifth-fewest sacks in 2020 with 23 — or a safety.

Taking the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Darrisaw would enable the Vikings to leave Cleveland at right guard and also would mean Minnesota almost certainly would not pay Riley Reiff the $5 million roster bonus he’s due three days after the new league year begins in March. The 32-year-old Reiff, coming off a solid season, is owed a base salary of $6.65 million in 2021 and would carry a cap number of $13.95 million.

Darrisaw, who just completed his junior season, was selected as Pro Football Focus’ 2020 pick for the Outland Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top interior lineman. He led all Power 5 tackles in both pass- and run-blocking grade this year and had a 95.6 PFF overall grade for the season. Darrisaw had 293 pass-block snaps in 10 starts this season and only gave up six pressures, according to PFF.

Darrisaw’s addition would make the left guard spot the one place the Vikings still need to upgrade. Dakota Dozier started at that position this season, but likely won’t remain in that role. Center Garrett Bradbury, a first-round pick in 2019, needs to improve in pass protection but appears to be in no jeopardy of losing his job.

One major surprise about McShay’s draft — and something that almost certainly won’t happen — is that he has Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields still on the board when the Vikings pick. McShay has New England taking Fields at No. 15. McShay, however, isn’t doing trades in his mock and if Fields begins to fall a team almost certainly will move up to get him. Fields threw six touchdowns against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and will face Alabama on Monday in the national championship game.