Minnesota Vikings: Ideal first-round targets in 2021 NFL Draft

The Denver Broncos trade down and snag Rashawn Slater in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft (Photo by Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)
The Denver Broncos trade down and snag Rashawn Slater in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft (Photo by Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports) /
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2021 NFL Draft, Rashawn Slater
2021 NFL Draft prospect Rashawn Slater #70 of the Northwestern Wildcats (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Vikings 7-9 season in 2020 marked the worst season under head coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings decided to stick with their seven-year head coach and continue their rebuild with the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Despite being one of the busiest teams in the free agency period, the Vikings will have plenty of positional groups to address come April.

The Vikings’ decision to cut long-time offensive tackle Riley Reiff created an immediate need on a struggling offensive line, allowing Spielman to address other needs through free agency. After freeing over $11 million in cap space, becoming compliant with the reduced salary cap, the Vikings were able to turn their attention to several significant free agency signings.

Minnesota completed marquee signings bringing on former All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson and productive defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Tomlinson will be joined by 2020 free agency signing Michael Pierce who sat out last season and should significantly help improve a weak interior line. Peterson’s arrival in Minnesota was matched with the return of former Vikings corner, Mackensie Alexander, adding experience to a rookie cornerback duo.

In addition to the depth added at corner, Minnesota further improved their safety group after the departure of Anthony Harris. The Minnesota Vikings signed Cowboys safety Xavier Woods to a one-year deal and will expect Woods to immediately fill in for Harris. In addition to the decision to cut Reiff, the Vikings successfully restructured Anthony Barr’s contract, allowing Spielman to improve a defense ranked 28th in points allowed.

Despite the improvements made defensively, the Minnesota Vikings have several options to address with the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Rashawn Slater, Offensive Tackle, Northwestern

With top-ranked offensive tackle Penei Sewell off the board in the early first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings will hope Northwestern left tackle, Rashawn Slater falls to 14. Slater is projected to be one of the top offensive linemen selected in the Draft and would give new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak options on the offensive line.

Slater was a three-year starter at Northwestern both at right and left tackle. Pat Fitzgerald’s staff moved the high school guard to right tackle and Slater made an immediate impact at Northwestern, appearing in the Freshman All-Big Ten team. Slater was moved to left tackle his junior year and continued to rise up draft boards prior to the Big Ten’s decision to suspend the 2020 season, a move that resulted in Slater opting out of his final year with the Wildcats.

Slater’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season could see his draft status take a slight hit this April. His versatility as a premier tackle at the college level and a skillset more favorable to the interior line make Slater an enticing prospect for any franchise. With 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland filling in at right guard, the Vikings could bring in Rashawn Slater, allowing Cleveland to take over for Reiff.

Slater looks to be one of the most versatile and coachable linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft class and will likely be selected in the first round. If Minnesota decides to address their biggest positional need, Speilman could take the ideal zone-blocking lineman who could immediately step in at any position across the front.