NFL Draft 2023: 6 Senior Bowl DBs who could make sense for the Vikings

NFL Draft 2023: 6 Senior Bowl DBs who could make sense for the Vikings

MOBILE, Ala. – Beginning Tuesday, a few key members of Minnesota Vikings management showed up for Senior Bowl practices at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was present, conversing with high-level officers and observing exercises in the field. Fellow front office members Ryan Grigson, Demitrius Washington and Mike Sholiton also rated talent and added additional perspective to a slew of player ratings ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Meanwhile, the Vikings’ defensive coordinator position remains vacant. A source familiar with the thinking of head coach Kevin O’Connell said Wednesday that O’Connell was patient and considering all potential options.

Four men have already interviewed for the position: Brian Flores, Sean Desai, Mike Pettine and Ryan Nielsen. The Falcons hired Nielsen. Flores was interviewed for the position of head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. And although it was reported that the Dolphins were hiring Vic Fangio to be their defensive coordinator, Miami has yet to finalize that hire. Desai also interviewed for the role of the Dolphins.

The source added Wednesday that O’Connell believes he has several good candidates. Getting the right hire is the top priority.

Whoever the Vikings pick will join the organization-wide goal of reshaping the defense. Given the important role personnel will play in this transformation, I thought it would be helpful to highlight six secondary stars in the Senior Bowl who could be options in the draft.

Kyu Blu Kelly, BC, Stanford

Even before the start of the Senior Bowl, Dane Brugler of The Athletic ranked Kelly as his ninth-best cornerback in this draft class. Kelly unquestionably backed up that ranking over two days of practice, athletically closing in on defenders and passing.

Lined up in man-to-man coverage on the left side during a drill early Wednesday, Kelly ripped a pass out of the hands of a receiver and ran away with an interception to the end zone. Back in the zone later, Kelly read the quarterback’s eyes and almost picked another one.

“At Stanford, I was 80% in the press,” Kelly said Wednesday, “so that’s my comfort zone. But being able to sprinkle a bit of Cover 2 and 3 today was great to show different ways of player.

Kelly is the son of Brian Kelly, who played cornerback at USC and then for 11 seasons in the NFL. Young Kelly (6-0, 204 lbs) explained that his dad always criticizes his performance after every practice. He is expected to be a second- or third-round pick in April.

Senior Bowl Official Measurements #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️

— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) January 31, 2023

Tyrique Stevenson, BC, Miami

A few years ago, Stevenson played in Georgia alongside current Vikings goaltender Lewis Cine. Stevenson then transferred to school in his hometown of Miami and became a prospect. Brugler ranked the No. 10 cornerback in this draft.

Stevenson’s body type is similar to Kelly’s (6-0, 214 pounds) and his physique shows off on the court. On Wednesday, Stevenson faced man-to-man coverage against rising draft prospect Andrei Iosivas and pushed the Princeton receiver to the sideline, forcing an incomplete.

Last season, Stevenson was only targeted 40 times in 13 games. Only 17 of those targets turned into receptions, according to Pro Football Focus. He also has experience in systems that play different covers.

“Playing for Manny Diaz (in Miami),” Stevenson said, “was a lot of zone and 2 coverage. So I’m comfortable in any scheme we have.”

He is expected to be a late Day 2 or Day 3 draft pick.

Official Senior Bowl Measurements #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️

— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) January 31, 2023

Julius Brents, CB/S, Kansas State

First, you notice its length. Brents is 6-foot-3 and has arms as long as Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen. He uses that size to his advantage, moving receivers on release with his strength. The only current Vikings cornerback who compares is 2022 draftee Akayleb Evans, who impressed as a rookie before being sidelined with multiple concussions.

“I like to be physical with guys,” Brents said. “But I’m trying to show that I’m versatile and capable of playing off-man coverage with zone eyes on the quarterback.”

In 2022 at Kansas State, Brents was targeted 52 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Only 24 of those targets became captures. He also played in all of his team’s games in his last two seasons, answering questions about his availability.

Brents’ bravado also showed on the field in Mobile. After a near-interception on Tuesday, he cried audibly. It was a snapshot of her pure presence, which was constantly on display. He is considered a likely choice for Day 3.

Senior bowl official measurements #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️

— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) January 31, 2023

Riley Moss, BC, Iowa

Coincidentally, Moss was Brents’ teammate at Iowa before Brents transferred to Kansas State. While Brents dominates most receivers, Moss hovers around 6 feet with a wingspan about 10 inches shorter than Brents. His arm length can also be used against him – at 30 3/8 inches, his are the shortest in the Senior Bowl.

His calling card, however, as evidenced on Tuesday, is his speed. Moss topped all Senior Bowl defenders at 19.7 mph. Pair that pace with noticeable fluidity in his lower half and you have a cornerback who can successfully navigate zone coverage.

National team @seniorbowl fastest DB on day one yesterday? It was the guy many lazily project to safety, Riley Moss from Iowa. @R_moss5 hit 19.73 on @ZebraTechnology tracking data.💨💨💨

— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 1, 2023

“This guy is the ultimate contender,” Brents said of Moss. “Very fast guy too. I saw it on screen today with the fastest speed here.

Moss showed his talent for Iowa, limiting opposing quarterbacks who targeted him to a below-average passer rating of 78.5. Like Brents, Moss hasn’t missed a game in 2021 or 2022. He’s expected to be a top pick on Day 3 of the draft.

Marte Mapu, Nickel/S, Sacramento State

Last week, Diante Lee of The Athletic wrote of Mapu, suggesting, “He has the height and stature NFL staffers covet in his position.” That was before the Senior Bowl added him to its roster, and after a short time here, Lee’s line holds true.

Mapu is 6ft 2in and weighs 217lbs, giving off a safe vibe. That said, his covering ability — which showed up in an impressive pass breakup on Tuesday — could make him the perfect nickel cornerback against NFL tight ends.

“I’m like a hybrid,” Mapu said. “That’s what I used to be.”

Don’t let the Sacramento State context fool you. Mapu is a defender who has only continued to climb and could be a Day 3 selection.

Official Senior Bowl Measurements #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️

— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) January 31, 2023

Darius Rush, BC, SC

When NFL Draft evaluators discuss South Carolina’s cornerbacks before April, they’ll likely focus on Cam Smith, whom Brugler ranked his fourth-best cornerback. Rush, however, opened a number of eyes here in Alabama.

An agent, who was watching his client (a receiver), said clearly, “This guy was something else.” Rush is approximately 6-foot-2 and weighs 196 pounds. Most impressive, however, is his stature, which, among cornerbacks, ranks only behind the lanky Brents.

Like many of those defenders, Rush is another example of corner depth in a draft where, for the Vikings, it’s a position of considerable need. Rush should be a late pick on Day 3.

Official senior bowl measurements #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️

— Reese’s Senior Bowl (@seniorbowl) January 31, 2023

(Photo by Tyrique Stevenson: Jack Gorman/Getty Images)

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