There have been countless names thrown around in the speculation about who the Minnesota Vikings are eyeing come April 19. After a 7-9 season, it’s safe to say GM Rick Spielman could go several different directions with the 14th overall pick. Logically, Minnesota would attack one of its glaring weak spots on either side of the line or the secondary. That’s the obvious choice, right?
Apparently, some people have other thoughts, and the idea of the Vikings taking one of the Alabama wideouts in the first round has been gaining momentum. This is something both Preet Shah and Chris Schad have covered, and it seems as though many people are buying in.
I am not one of those people.
Both of the ‘Bama products are excellent prospects who will make an impact in the NFL. That said, drafting a pass-catcher in the first round for the second consecutive year would be an asinine decision, and more importantly, not make the team any more competitive than they were in 2020.
Let’s start out from a pure scheme-fit standpoint. Klint Kubiak is taking over the offensive play-calling in 2021, and you have to imagine that means the zone run is coming back. More broadly, that means the Vikings will remain a run-first team.
Of course, Kirk Cousins and Co. will hopefully have a formidable passing game, but there won’t be enough targets to go around to three high-end wide receivers. Last season both Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson topped 100 targets, while the third most-targeted receiver was Irv Smith Jr. with 43.
Drafting someone like DeVonta Smith would be the sexy choice, especially after his stellar Heisman campaign, but the pick doesn’t make sense. If he did get drafted by the Vikings, he’d either get stuffed in that WR3 spot and not get a ton of targets, or he would get targets and take away from the two No. 1 threats already on the roster.
Also, remember when Jefferson was the WR3 for the first two games in 2020? It killed his production because the team doesn’t utilize a third receiver. Had Jefferson stayed in that role the whole season, it’s hard to say whether or not he develops the way he did.
Stefon Diggs left because he felt he was being under-utilized in the offense. Throwing Smith into the mix could not only hurt him but also put Jefferson in the same position that Diggs was in.
Instead of making the pick that has the chance to blow up in his face and make somebody angry, maybe it’s time for Spielman to make the safe selection.
As showcased in Super Bowl LV, a fierce pass rush can turn even the best quarterback in the league into a near non-factor. Drafting someone on the defensive line such as Christian Barmore or Gregory Rousseau, or an offensive such as Rashawn Slater, would give Minnesota someone who can make an impact immediately.
History helps this argument further if we look back to the 2020 NFL Draft. The Dallas Cowboys were in a similar predicament at No. 17 when CeeDee Lamb fell to them. Instead of addressing the countless needs on defense, Jerry Jones took a WR3 when the team already had both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on its roster.
Lamb had a solid rookie campaign with 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns, but that didn’t equate to a winning recipe for Dallas. In the first five weeks, before the Dak Prescott injury, the Cowboys went 2-3 and allowed 36 points per game. Hindsight is 20/20; many praised the Lamb pick when it was made, but the Cowboys’ defense definitely could have benefitted from some first-round talent on the defensive side of the ball.
The 2021 Vikings aren’t in exactly the same situation as the 2020 Cowboys, but it is eerily similar. Much like Dallas wanted to, Minnesota figures to use the draft as a way to fill holes on what is otherwise a promising roster with star skill-position players. One of Minnesota’s holes is the absence of a WR3, but that is far from the first thing that should be on Mike Zimmer’s mind at 14. Let’s hope that he can look back at recent history and learn from the Cowboys’ mistake.
Sexy moves don’t win championships, smart ones do.