There is good news for Vikings fans if Mel Kiper's assessment of the draft holds accurate: Positions of need, like defensive tackle and linebacker, are also positions of depth in the 2013 draft.
Last year provided a lot of "tweener" candidates, those who could play a pass-rushing defensive end spot in a 4-3 defensive scheme or be a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense. This year, defensive tackles are abundant, the draft expert from ESPN said.
"When you compare last year's group to this year's group and you look at the defensive linemen, a lot of those guys were combo guys," Kiper said, referencing 2012 picks like Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram and Bruce Irvin. "Defensive tackle-wise … this year, you've got more numbers. You have, potentially, right now, 12 or 13, 14 defensive linemen going in the first round. They are all first-round talent. This isn't a force. These guys would be first-round caliber players just about any year. It's a tremendous number, a high number, of defensive linemen that are worthy this season – more so than any I can remember. I'm going down very deep."
In the first version of Kiper's mock draft, he had the Vikings selecting receiver Terrance Williams in the first round, but he admitted in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that he considered giving the Vikings a defensive tackle with No. 23 pick in the first round of his mock draft.
Here are some of Kiper's favorite defensive tackles that he believes will go in the middle to late first round, along with other mid- and late-round prospects after that.
Sharrif Floyd (6-3, 303, Florida): Floyd was a highly recruited defensive lineman that, despite his size, has also played defensive end. NFL.com's Gil Brandt has Floyd going to the Vikings in his mock draft.
Kiper says: "If you get a Sharif Floyd from Florida in the late first round, most years he would be a mid-first-rounder, but there are other defensive linemen that are going to go a little higher maybe."
John Jenkins (6-3, 358, Georgia): Jenkins already has the size of an NFL nose tackle at 358 pounds. He had 50 tackles, two for a loss and one sack, but he sat out the Bulldogs' bowl game because of academic reasons, according to head coach Mark Richt.
Kiper says: "A big kid that can stuff the run like he can and occupy the way he can in the 20s (for draft position), that rarely happens. He potentially could be a better player than Dontari Poe. Poe went higher last year at No. 12; (Jenkins) could go in the 20s. I think the defensive line this year is better.
Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 320, Ohio State): Like several other defensive tackle prospects expected to go in the first round, Hankins elected to leave school early. He was credited with 55 tackles, including four for a loss, and a sack in his junior season. While Jenkins is more of the immovable object in the middle of the field, Hankins is considered more athletic and penetrating.
Kiper says: "You look in the middle of the first round and a Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State, another guy that had his ups and downs and had some games where he was a little quiet, but has enormous upside. If a Dontari Poe can go 12, Hankins should go somewhere in 15 to 25. Right now I have him 15 to New Orleans."
There are other defensive tackles currently carrying a late first-round grade, like Sheldon Richardson (6-3, 295) out of Missouri and Jesse Williams (6-3, 320) out of Alabama.
But if the Vikings follow Kiper's mock draft and select a wide receiver in the first round, there are some mid-round and late-round prospects at defensive tackle he still likes – Brandon Williams (6-2,328) of Missouri Southern, Jordan Hill (6-1,296) out of Penn State and Brent Russell (6-2, 297) out of Georgia Southern.
And, finally, a bit of a sleeper prospect – Chris Jones (6-2, 302) out of Bowling Green.
"I saw him in at least three or four games this year just dominate," Kiper said. "He's about 6-1, 6-1½. He's up around 300 pounds now. He was as productive as any defensive tackle in college football this year at any school at any program; he was as productive or more productive than anybody. So he's a kind of a guy, Chris Jones, when you get into the later round that I think could be a nice addition for somebody."
The good news for the Vikings is that the defensive line is considered a very deep position, a good sign as they look for the eventual replacement for Kevin Williams (or maybe even for Pat Williams if they slide Letroy Guion back to the three-technique after Kevin Williams is done).
More generally, with Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley free agents, Kiper said the entire front seven on defense holds depth in this year's draft.
"Whether it's front seven guys in general or just defensive linemen, this is a great year. Half of the first round is going be front-seven defensive players, 16 of the 32 teams, front-seven players on the defensive side, which would be amazing," he said. "… So a ton of defensive tackles, a ton of combo defensive ends, a pretty good group of linebackers. Front seven on defense is through the roof right now."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.