After a miraculous ending in a divisional round win over New Orleans, the Vikings hit the proverbial wall that was the Philadelphia Eagles. Hanging their hat on defense in 2017 and ranking in the top 2 in passing and rushing yards allowed, the Vikings allowed their most passing yards (346) and 5th most rushing yards (110) of the season in the NFC title game. The best third-down defense in 2017, allowing opponents to convert just 25.2% of attempts, allowed the Nick Foles-led offense to convert 10 of 14 on their third down attempts. The 38-7 defeat was the second largest deficit from Minnesota in their postseason history. The 38 points scored on them was tied for the fourth most points allowed in the 29 seasons they’ve went to the playoffs.
Having seen the top three quarterbacks on their roster walk away in free agency, management pulled up the Brinks truck to sign Kirk Cousins and trade for Trevor Siemian within a span of five days. Within that same week, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was added to help the defensive line. Entering the draft with 8 picks (before some shuffling around from Rick Spielman during the three-day event), the Vikings finished with 8 picks, surrendering their third round picks and one of their sixth round picks to gain a fourth and extra fifth round pick.
Round 1, Pick 30: Mike Hughes, Central Florida
The secondary struggled in the Vikings’ loss to the Eagles, missing tackles and struggling on assignments and communication. Selecting Mike Hughes, ITP’s #3 ranked overall cornerback, should help stabilize the slot position harbored by Mackensie Alexander and veteran Terence Newman.
Lead scout Jalun Morris said that Hughes “shows good foot patience, efficient footwork, and excellent quickness to mirror wide receiver releases” when in press man – a staple defense for Minnesota. For his size, he shows very good play strength due to his violent hands enabling him to disrupt the receiver’s release and timing. His excellent athletic ability and route anticipation helps him to match routes in the short and intermediate areas of the field and he possesses the speed to keep up with receivers vertically; he has been known to bite on double moves however. Despite the defensive accolades, the Vikings ranked 23rd in turnovers. Hughes’ closing speed on his man accompanied with his very good ball skills could help generate some more pass break-ups and hopefully interceptions. Despite his involvement in run support, he needs to improve his open-field tackling and increase his play strength to shed blockers. He also brings value in the return game which is needed after the departure of Cordarrelle Patterson last offseason (in 2016, the Vikings ranked 6th in kick return yardage but dropped to 21st in 2017).
Round 5, Pick 167: Daniel Carlson, Auburn
A “prolific leg” according to ITP’s kicker guru Jessica Brand, Carlson was perfect during his collegiate career on extra points (198 total). The Vikings went 87.2% on extra points placing them second to last in 2017. Competition will be fierce between “Legatron” and Kai Forbath, who was tied for fourth in the league with six 50-yard field goals made (compared to 13 made 50+ field goal attempts by Carlson). Forbath only made 84.2 percent of his field goals, tied for 15th in the league. Hopefully fans no longer have to hold their breath when the kicker gets on the field.
Immediate Role Player
Round 5, Pick 157: Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan
With the first of their fifth round picks, the Vikings selected a former basketball player with a 38” vertical. Conklin shows soft hands and very good athletic ability, he’s a versatile player, who should be lined up all over the field in John DeFilippo’s offense to create mismatches against the opposing defense. He’s also a capable run blocker because of his hands and toughness. Creating separation with his route running and inline blocking needs to see improvement.
Round 2, Pick 62: Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh
91st overall and the 7th ranked offensive tackle in ITP’s draft guide, O’Neill is a tremendous athlete at the offensive tackle position, garnering a 9.59 Relative Athletic Score (which is on a 0 to 10 scale). Lead scout Marcus Johnson raved on his ability on down and reach blocks due to his hand placement, base establishment and excellent lateral movement. He is best suited in a zone blocking scheme, which fits with Minnesota. With improvement on his lower body strength when anchoring, pad level and use of hands, he could fill in and replace offensive tackles Mike Remmers or Riley Reiff in a couple of years.
Round 4, Pick 102: Jalyn Holmes, Ohio State
Ranked 127 overall and the 14th ranked edge rusher, Holmes should see some snaps as a rookie due to Mike Zimmer’s method of rotating defensive linemen. He can line up anywhere across the defensive line, but general manager Rick Spielman says the team sees him more as an inside rusher. His 34” arms match that of fifth overall pick Bradley Chubb, and are just a shade under Carlos Dunlap, Jason Pierre-Paul and Cameron Hayward. Lead scout Nick Falato said Holmes shows “good explosiveness off the line of scrimmage…and establishes good inside hand placement on the edge”. Using his length, he is able to set the edge and shows a very good ability to stack and shed blocks vs the run. According to Falato, he’ll need to work on his pad level and snap timing, due to being one of the last ones to react to the snap.
Round 6, Pick 213: Colby Gossett, Appalachian State
The second offensive lineman taken by Minnesota, Gossett held his own vs the likes of Tennessee and Miami. He possesses the needed frame for guard (6’5’’ and 311 lbs) and has the lower body strength to anchor vs bull-rushing defensive tackles. He’s not very athletic in space to get his man on the second level or as a puller. He struggles vs quicker edge rushers.
Round 6, Pick 218: Ade Aruna, Tulane
A tremendous athlete, he was more productive in college in 2016 than in 2017, being reduced in his alignment. His athletic profile and arm length (same as Holmes) favors what Zimmer values. More of developmental player needing work on his use of hands and pass rush plan, but had flashes in 2017.
Round 7, Pick 225: Devante Downs, California
A leader and versatile player in college, Downs is extremely smart and has good size at the linebacker position. He was making a case for himself getting Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017 before tearing his ACL vs Washington State. Minnesota team doctors feel hopeful he will be ready before training camp, according to Spielman.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
Holton Hill, DB, Texas: Ranked 170 of 185 in ITP’s Draft Guide, Hill has very good athletic ability, change of direction, excellent acceleration and good balance to go along with his ability to read route combinations. He provides immediate value on special teams but needs to polish his footwork in coverage, tackling technique and ball skills.
Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Mississippi: Ranked 161 in ITP’s Draft Guide, Robertson is a strong receiver who wins on contested catches and by creating yards after the catch. He doesn’t have the desired speed and quickness to separate consistently.
Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State: Possesses good athleticism and quickness when inside, but his size is best suited as an edge rusher. He is most suited to play in pass rushing situations while he works on his lower body strength and use of hands.
Jake Wieneke, WR, South Dakota State: A big body receiver with excellent concentration and strong hands making tough catches in traffic. He needs to improve on his release and burst off the line of scrimmage and doesn’t possess the speed to be viewed as a deep threat.