Vikings

Identifying Minnesota Vikings Draft Tendencies

Photo Credit: Harrison Barden (USA Today Sports)

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE ZONE COVERAGE DRAFT GUIDE:

TOP 100 PLAYER PROFILES
RANKING THE VIKINGS NEEDS
A HISTORY OF RICK SPIELMAN’S DRAFT TRADES
VIKINGS TARGETS
LUKE INMAN’S MOCK DRAFTS
SENIOR BOWL CENTRAL
FEATURES FROM OUR STAFF

Before reading, it’s important to note that evaluating a team’s drafting habits is an inexact science. There are myriad variables that come into play: assistant coaches’ opinions, team needs and analytics.

But after six years of drafts with Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer calling the shots, certain tendencies have begun to develop, which can give us an idea of how the Vikings’ higher-ups might be thinking on draft night.

Here are the notable trends from the most recent Vikings drafts. Any player in green has a draft profile on the website.


THE TREND

Of the seven wide receivers drafted in the Zimmer/Spielman era, six have been taken in Round 5 or later. Laquon Treadwell is the one exception, coming in the first round. Of the six late-rounders, Stefon Diggs (Round 5) was the most obvious hit. Rodney Adams (5), Moritz Bohringer (6) and Stacy Coley (7) didn’t pan out, while Dillon Mitchell (7) is still working to escape the practice squad. Seventh-rounder Bisi Johnson appears to have been a good find, however, in Round 7.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

It’s unlikely that the Vikings are going to hold off until the third day to address receiver, but it could mean that they add a couple more with their Day 3 picks. Minnesota has seven picks in the fourth round or later, including five in Rounds 6-7. That could mean prospects like Antonio Gandy-Golden, K.J. Hill and Jauan Jennings.


THE TREND

Minnesota has only drafted two safeties over the past six seasons – three if you include Jack Tocho, who converted from corner to safety. Tocho and Kearse were taken in the seventh round; Marcus Epps in the sixth round. The Vikings have scarcely needed to think about safety with Harrison Smith manning one spot for eight years, Andrew Sendejo holding down the other for four years and Anthony Harris organically stepping in for Sendejo after being discovered as a UDFA. But with Harris on the trade block, and Sendejo and Kearse departed in free agency, the Vikings have only one safety that’s guaranteed to be on the roster next year.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

Zimmer was on record at the NFL Combine saying that safety is of lesser importance relative to other defensive positions. Considering the Vikings have needs at corner, defensive end and defensive tackle, it seems unlikely they’d address safety immediately. If they wait until the mid-rounds, options include K’Von Wallace and Alohi Gilman.


THE TREND

The Vikings have not drafted a quarterback since Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the 2014 draft. Minnesota has routinely preferred finding developmental prospects in undrafted free agency to supplement their starter and veteran backup. Experiments include Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Sloter and a collection of Big Ten camp arms like Wes Lunt, Joel Stave, Mike Kafka and Mitch Leidner that didn’t sniff the roster.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

It seems clear the Vikings are only interested in splashing for a quarterback when they want a franchise starter. Aside from that, they are mostly averse to quarterback controversy, instead preferring savvy — if physically limited — veterans to raw rookies that may rock the boat. With Kirk Cousins locked up through 2022, the Vikings may opt for the same method. UDFA candidates would include Mason Fine from North Texas and Brian Lewerke from Michigan State.


THE TREND

Since 2009, the Vikings have drafted a linebacker on Day 3. Prior to 2019, they had drafted one in the seventh round seven consecutive years — often someone who possessed an above-average athletic profile (this includes Stephen Weatherly, who was converted to defensive end after being drafted). Not all of those picks have stuck, though. Elijah Lee (7), Devante Downs (7) and Brandon Watts (7) made little to no impact. Edmond Robinson (7) and Kentrell Brothers (5) were nice special teamers for a spell. Last year’s fifth-rounder Cameron Smith is still looking to make his mark.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

Considering the Vikings return their top five linebackers from last year’s roster, they are likely to go about filling in the cracks in Day 3 once again. Ben Gedeon and Eric Wilson are both in contract years, so finding viable depth is still important. Wyoming’s Logan Wilson, Cal’s Evan Weaver and Minnesota product Kamal Martin could fit the bill.


THE TREND

The Vikings had selected a tight end in the fifth or sixth rounds four years in a row until 2019. Last year the Vikings went after Irv Smith Jr., in the second round to get a true playmaker at the position. But with 2016 draft pick David Morgan II no longer on the roster, the Vikings could again look to the late rounds for a complementary tight end. They’ve swung and missed in the past with Bucky Hodges (6) and MyCole Pruitt (5), while Tyler Conklin (5) remains on the roster as a third-string option.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

Hey, Kyle Rudolph won’t be on the team forever, so building tight end depth is paramount, even if it happens in Day 3. In a weak tight end class, Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant would be fun to take a flier on after a big 2019 season. The PAC 12 also offers some nice options with Devin Asiasi (UCLA) and Jacob Breeland (Oregon).


THE TREND

The Spielman-Zimmer tandem has never selected a defensive lineman above the third round. In 2014 and 2015 the Vikings took Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter in the third round back-to-back years, the earliest they’ve addressed the D-line since first-rounder Sharrif Floyd in the 2013 draft. Recently they’ve taken a lot of mid-to-late-round swings at defensive tackles with Jaleel Johnson in 2017 (4), Jalyn Holmes in 2018 (4) and Armon Watts in 2019 (6). Minnesota has serious needs, however, at defensive end and defensive tackle heading into the 2020 draft.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

Granted, the Vikings haven’t had as pressing a need on the defensive line in recent years with mainstays Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph comprising three of the starting spots, but if they hold off once again until the middle rounds they could still land some quality talent like Jonathan Greenard (EDGE), Bradlee Anae (EDGE), Neville Gallimore (DT) and Jason Strowbridge (DT). Still, if a gifted prospect falls into the Vikings lap in the first round it would still be surprising if they didn’t take them.


THE TREND

The Vikings have flipped the narrative with regard to their offensive line selections. Spielman selected five offensive linemen from 2014-16, all on Day 3, and none lasted long with the team. The general manager then referenced a study his staff performed that essentially confirmed, in his words, that higher-drafted offensive linemen have a better chance of performing. Since the breakthrough discovery, Minnesota has taken a lineman on Day 1 or Day 2 each of the last three years, and all three were starting in the playoffs for the team last year. Pat Elflein was taken in the third round and has started at center and left guard, second-round pick Brian O’Neill quickly acclimated to the right tackle spot, and first-round pick Garrett Bradbury is the Vikings’ center of the future.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

With another opening at guard and Riley Reiff likely not around for too much longer, the Vikings could reasonably make a high pick at tackle or guard. It’s a weak guard class, but Jonah Jackson and Cesar Ruiz could be options. Tackle is much deeper, and the Vikings could have a bevy of first-round options at Picks 22 and 25 between Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton and Josh Jones.


THE TREND

It’s a well-known fact by now. The Vikings don’t mess around at cornerback. In three of Zimmer and Spielman’s six drafts, they have drafted a corner in the first or second round, and since 2015, they have never taken one in the third through sixth rounds. Trae Waynes (first round), Mackensie Alexander (second round) panned out nicely after multiple years of development, while Mike Hughes (first round) is on a positive trajectory. Clearly the Vikings’ analytics indicate a steep dropoff in a corners’ potential ceiling after the early rounds.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

Get ready for another first-round corner, perhaps. In a deep corner draft with two first-round picks, it might be hard for the Vikings to resist the likes of C.J. Henderson, Jeff Gladney or Kristian Fulton.


THE TREND

Rick Spielman loves amassing third-day picks. As Luke Inman details in an in-depth history of Spielman’s draft trades since 2014, the GM has traded back 19 times. He’s gotten multiple seventh-round picks five of the last six years; same goes for sixth-round picks. Over the last six years he’s selected 43 players on Day 3 of the draft. Out of 24 possible rounds, that means he’s almost a two-player-per-round average. Spielman goes into the 2020 draft with seven Day 3 picks already on the schedule and 12 picks overall.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

The Vikings have a plethora of Day 1 and Day 2 capital with five total picks, two in the first round and two in the third. Any trade-back in the early rounds could yield multiple Day 3 picks. Conversely, the Vikings could package some of their Day 3 currency to make a big move upward. Taking into the account the team’s current salary cap predicament, the need for cheap team building through the draft is more vital than ever. If Spielman wants to cast a wide net to find some late-round stars, it could become a trade-back fest. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings bring in 15 players or more by the end.


THE TREND

Over the last six years, the Vikings have drafted 15 ACC players – far more than their next closest preferred conference (SEC). On the other end of the spectrum, they’ve only drafted three AAC players and four Big XII players in that time frame. Last year, the Vikings took four players from the Mountain West, their first time drafting from that conference in the Zimmer Era.

CONFERENCE NUMBER OF DRAFT PICKS
ACC 15
SEC 8
BIG 10 7
PAC 12 7
BIG 12 4
AAC 3
Non-Power 15
WHAT IT COULD MEAN

If the Vikings keep with the ACC trend, candidates would include Clemson WR Tee Higgins, Louisville OT Mekhi Becton and Virginia CB Bryce Hall. But there are also several Big XII names that could stand out to the Vikings, even though it’s not their preferred conference. Baylor WR Denzel Mims, TCU WR Jalen Reagor, TCU CB Jeff Gladney and TCU OT Lucas Niang could all address areas of need. Big year for the Horned Frogs.


THE TREND

Don’t sleep on undrafted free agency. The Vikings currently have 15 players on their roster that they acquired through undrafted free agency or the rookie tryout process. Of those 15, 10 played over 50 snaps for the team last year. Players like Anthony Harris, Holton Hill and Eric Wilson were signed as priority UDFAs, while Adam Thielen, C.J. Ham and Chad Beebe were discovered through the rookie camp tryout process.

WHAT IT COULD MEAN

Sometimes the Vikings wait to address perceived needs until the UDFA class, where they can take fliers on two or three players at a certain position. Minnesota may wait to add pieces at safety until after the draft, as well as running back and tight end.

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE ZONE COVERAGE DRAFT GUIDE:

TOP 100 PLAYER PROFILES
RANKING THE VIKINGS NEEDS
A HISTORY OF RICK SPIELMAN’S DRAFT TRADES
VIKINGS TARGETS
LUKE INMAN’S MOCK DRAFTS
SENIOR BOWL CENTRAL
FEATURES FROM OUR STAFF

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