Vikings

Ranking the Vikings' 2020 Draft Picks at the Halfway Point

Photo Credit: Harrison Barden (USA Today Sports)

Normally we publish a preseason power ranking that orders how well each Minnesota Vikings draft pick is performing, but because of a shortened training camp and no preseason games, we opted to hold off until the midway point of the season. The Vikings hit that mark Sunday with a 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions to move to 3-5.

These rankings are based on performance vs. expectations. If two players were contributing at an equivalent level, the lower draft pick would likely earn the higher ranking. Because of the truncated offseason, however, you’ll find that this year’s list is fairly linear by draft position with only a couple exceptions.

NO RANKING:

  • S Brian Cole II (7th Round)
  • QB Nate Stanley (7th Round)
  • DE Kenny Willekes (7th Round)
  • G Kyle Hinton (7th Round)
  • T Blake Brandel (6th Round)

We’ve yet to see any of these five players in a game, so there’s little point in ranking them.

Brian Cole II was released early in training camp, making him the only draft pick not still with the organization. Kenny Willekes suffered a reported ACL tear, landing him on injured reserve. The rest have spent the season on the practice squad. Nate Stanley is still the QB4 in the organization behind Jake Browning, while offensive linemen Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton are more than likely getting a redshirt experience in Year 1.

#10: DT James Lynch (4Th Round)

There was optimism that James Lynch could vie for the starting 3-tech role this offseason, which was only bolstered when Shamar Stephen shifted to nose tackle to replace the opted out Michael Pierce. But Lynch spent a quiet training camp with the third-team defense and rode the bench for the first four games of the season.

Lynch got activated in Weeks 5-8, and even recorded his first career sack, but all told his 32 snaps are a disappointing total for a fourth-round pick at a position of need. Lynch was deactivated for Sunday’s Lions game in favor of Abdullah Anderson, which leads to further questions about his readiness.

#9: WR K.J. Osborn (5th Round)

The Vikings drafted K.J. Osborn with the apparent intention to make him their new return specialist. While the team has never been shy about using roster spots on exclusive special teamers, you’d like more from a fifth-round pick than just below-average work in the return game. Osborn hasn’t contributed as a wide receiver, and he’s been left off the gameday roster in three of eight games. When Osborn has been active, his return work hasn’t provided much of a spark. He ranks 15th of 23 in kick return average at just over 22 yards, and he’s only returned two punts on the year for a total of three yards.

#8: S Josh Metellus (6th Round)

Like Osborn, the Vikings foresaw Metellus as a special teams player at first, but Metellus has performed his job better than Osborn. Pro Football Focus ranks him 23rd among all special teams players with 100 or more snaps, and he co-leads the Vikings with five special teams tackles.

#7: CB Harrison Hand (5th Round)

This wasn’t supposed to be a year where Harrison Hand needed to play cornerback snaps, but countless injuries at the position have left the Vikings’ cupboard bare. Hand has admirably entered two games and not been too much of a liability, allowing just 1.3 yards per cover snap — on par with what Mike Hughes has done this year. He’s yet to allow a touchdown and permitted only two catches against the Packers in Week 8. Hand has also taken on a bigger special teams role as the season has progressed.

#6: LB Troy Dye (4th Round)

A stint on the injured reserve slowed Troy Dye’s rookie season, but he’s returned to a starting role in the Vikings’ base defense. With Anthony Barr, Cameron Smith and Ben Gedeon all out for the season, Dye has had to grow up quickly. He struggled tackling in his debut against the Indianapolis Colts, though he may have been playing through injury.

The Oregon rookie’s tackling seemed greatly improved in Weeks 8-9 — he recorded four against the Lions — and the team clearly prefers him to other depth linebackers like Hardy Nickerson and Ryan Connelly.

#5: CB Cameron Dantzler (3rd Round)

If this list were based on preseason hype, Dantzler would be No. 1. Expectations were set awfully high for the third-round pick, who earned a starting role out of training camp, but Dantzler has dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness instead of backing up the publicity. Don’t get it wrong: Dantzler still has tremendous upside, but the rookie gave up a touchdown in each of his first four games and has yielded a passer rating of 133.8 in five games played. He’s currently missing time after a scary-looking head/neck injury against the Packers that forced him to leave on a stretcher as a precaution. Dantzler also missed Weeks 2-3 with a rib injury.

When on the field, Dantzler has shown noticeable improvement in his tackling and overall physicality, but he’s givien up big plays. He allowed receptions of 24, 31, 39 and 45 yards in his first four starts, and the Vikings went 1-3 in those games.

#4: DE D.J. Wonnum (4th Round)

It can’t be easy getting propped up as Andre Patterson’s “pet cat” before even setting foot on the field. D.J. Wonnum was billed as another raw talent ready to be molded on the Vikings’ defensive line and seems to be gradually growing more comfortable. Keep in mind that only three rookie defensive ends have played 200 or more snaps this year: Wonnum, second overall pick Chase Young and 20th overall pick K’Lavon Chaisson.

Unlike predecessors Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter, Wonnum isn’t getting the opportunity to ease into the league as a subpackage pass rusher with sage veterans above him. He has even bigger responsibilities.

Wonnum hasn’t shown a game-wrecking gene that we’ve seen from previous Vikings edge rushers, but he’s still a rookie getting valuable reps. He has two sacks this season, including a game-winning strip sack of Aaron Rodgers in Week 8, and has played in all but one game.

#3: OL Ezra Cleveland (2nd Round)

For a while, it seemed as if Ezra Cleveland was looking at a lost season. The second-round pick was practicing with the second and third teams in camp amidst a switch to left guard. Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia got inserted in the starting lineup before Cleveland (both of whom were struggling), which seemed curious. Then after another positional switch to right guard, the Vikings inserted him in place of the injured Samia with encouraging results. After a rocky first start in a loss to Atlanta, Cleveland’s work at guard has coincided with Dalvin Cook‘s two biggest games of the year as the Vikings have steamrolled the Packers’ and Lions’ front sevens.

It’s tough to see Cleveland giving up his starting spot now. With Pat Elflein and Dakota Dozier in contract years, Cleveland is the future. The question is: Where? Right guard was probably not the plan entering the offseason, but the Vikings need competent guard play right now more than they need tackle play. Down the road, Cleveland may be asked to reprise his original tackle spot depending on Riley Reiff‘s future, but at least he’s added some positional flexibility to his resume.

#2: CB Jeff Gladney (1st Round)

It hasn’t always been technically pretty, but Jeff Gladney has been the only cornerback who has been able to stay on the field this season. His seven starts are a position-group high after losing the job to Dantzler out of the gate, but head coach Mike Zimmer is finally seeing Gladney mature in his ability to read and react to defenses. Gladney gave up multiple touchdowns against Atlanta and Green Bay, but he played the best game of his pro career against the Lions with a defense-leading 82.2 PFF grade.

Stack him up against other rookie corners and he looks pretty good. Out of eight rookies that have played 50% of more snaps, Gladney ranks second, per Pro Football Focus, behind only fellow first-round pick A.J. Terrell. He also leads all corners in run defense grade with 12 run stops.

Having been the only constant in the Vikings cornerback room, Gladney finds himself in a strange position of being one of the Vikings most experienced corners while Mike Hughes and Holton Hill nurse injuries. That’s a lot to put on a rookie, but Gladney has been branded as “country tough,” which has been exemplified in his first eight games.

#1: WR Justin Jefferson (1st Round)

No contest, the Vikings’ top rookie is Justin Jefferson. Turns out the only thing that could slow Jefferson down is a highly successful rushing attack. Cook’s 478 all-purpose yards in the last two weeks have rendered the passing game needless and slowed Jefferson’s production. He is now on pace for only 1,254 yards — a Moss-like rookie campaign if it comes to fruition. Jefferson is the second-rated wide receiver in football, per PFF. He is tied for the lead in deep receptions and second in yards per route run out of the slot. There aren’t many nitpicks for the 21-year-old. We may have a star on our hands.

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