Anyone following the later rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft had a feeling of deja vu when it came to the Minnesota Vikings. Although they would leave the draft with 15 players (an NFL record for the modern, seven-round draft era), it felt like business as usual as general manager Rick Spielman valued quantity over quality in the final rounds of the draft.
As our own Drew Mahowald pointed out, the Vikings have never made fewer than eight picks in a single draft since Spielman was appointed GM in 2012. The Vikings have also had 10 or more picks six times in a draft under Spielman including last weekend’s trading spree.
For some people, this is bothersome. As good as the Vikings have been at finding talent in the later rounds of the draft, many feel like Spielman should be focusing more on the earlier rounds and trading up for what is perceived to be higher-end talent. Instead, Spielman has been searching for gems in the later rounds.
Spielman’s quest for late-round contributors has been fruitful since being the key decision-maker on the Vikings, but it’s tough to quantify how well those players did. For instance, T.J. Clemmings was a starter at right tackle for the Vikings, but his play wasn’t at a level that helped the team.
For this draft class, however, the Vikings are looking for players that can contribute. The Vikings lost several key players over the offseason and while some of them were not starters (think Stephen Weatherly), they played a significant role on the team.
There are three positions where Spielman has excelled at finding regular contributors on the team, and Spielman seemingly has different criteria for each. In fact, all three positions are represented by Minnesota’s 2020 draft class.
In the trenches of Mike Zimmer’s defense, there seems to be a protocol for the type of defensive lineman the Vikings look to find in the later rounds. While many point to Danielle Hunter as the poster child, he was actually a Day 2 pick, but the same principles remain when looking at recent drafts.
Ifeadi Odenigbo is a projected starter on next year’s defense, and his testing numbers show why that is the case. Coming out of Northwestern, Odenigbo put on a show despite being a smaller lineman. With strong numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.72 seconds), broad jump (128 inches), three-cone (7.26 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.4 seconds) the Vikings saw a piece of clay and Andre Patterson molded that into seven sacks last season.
With Odenigbo projected to move into the starting lineup, the Vikings had to find someone to replace him. That someone could be fourth-round pick D.J. Wonnum.
Wonnum’s slender frame could have had him drop to the fourth round, but his testing numbers were eerily similar to Odenigbo’s with a 4.73-second 40-yard dash, a 123-inch broad jump, a 7.25-second three-cone and a 4.44-second 20-yard shuttle. In other words, the Vikings basically cloned Odenigbo to replace him.
The rest of the group, which includes Weatherly and Shamar Stephen don’t really match up athletically. Even 2020 seventh-round pick Kenny Willekes is a little off Odenigbo’s marks with a 4.87-second 40-yard dash, 119-inch broad jump and 7.39-second three-cone drill.
But the next candidate to be a Day 3 hit on the defensive line should be Wonnum, who should get a chance to fill the same flex role that Odenigbo served last season.
When it comes to wide receivers, Spielman loves his speed. While that got thrown out the window with the first-round selection of Laquon Treadwell in 2016 (4.63-second 40-yard dash), the Vikings like to hover around the 4.4-second range in the drill. Their 2020 first-round pick Justin Jefferson was one example, but it’s continued as Spielman takes fliers into the later rounds.
The two biggest examples of Spielman hitting late at wideout are Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright. Both former Viking receivers posted 4.4-second times in the 40 with Diggs clocking in at 4.46 seconds in 2015 and Wright at 4.42 seconds in 2012. This list also doesn’t include Adam Thielen, who came aboard as a UDFA with a 4.49-second time in 2013.
This is good news for fifth-round pick K.J. Osborn, who clocked in at 4.48 seconds at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. Like the previous names on this list, that speed helps receivers get open deep, and Osborn did just that in college, averaging 16.8 yards per reception during his junior season at Buffalo.
Sub-4.5 speed doesn’t equal guaranteed success in the NFL (see Moritz Boehringer and Stacy Coley), but it’s something the Vikings have looked for, which has made their hit rate at the position better than most late in the draft.
The last of Spielman’s big hits in the later rounds is the linebacker position. Here, it isn’t as much about athleticism as it is production at the collegiate level.
Spielman’s first big hit on a late-round linebacker was Gerald Hodges, who was dominant at Penn State. In his senior season with the Nittany Lions, Hodges racked up 109 tackles with 8.5 for loss and threw in a sack for good measure.
Ben Gedeon was the same production monster in college after three nondescript seasons with the Wolverines. In his senior season in Ann Arbor, Gedeon led the Wolverines in tackles with 94 but also lived in the opponents’ backfield with 15 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
This should be good news for fourth-round pick Troy Dye, who was the first player in Oregon history to lead the Ducks in tackles in four straight seasons. Dye’s senior year was his worst in terms of production, but he still racked up 391 tackles, 41.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks during his career.
Production is probably the worst bet to automatically produce on the field in the NFL as Audie Cole racked up 108 tackles, 13.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in his senior season at NC State before becoming a sixth-round pick by the Vikings in 2012. But it seems like it’s a strong trait that Spielman looks for when taking a late-gamble.