Vikings

Justin Jefferson is a Reminder That Draft Position Isn’t Everything

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

After the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 17 win over the Detroit Lions, I couldn’t help but see that on social media, most of the people who supported this team were upset that the Vikings won. This win slid them out of contention for a top 10 pick in the draft, landing them at 14.

While I believe that a top-10 pick comes with many benefits, pick 14 isn’t an awful place for the Vikings to be in this year’s draft.

Look no further than last season, where the Vikings ended up with the 22nd pick from the Stefon Diggs trade, in addition to No. 25.

Taking Justin Jefferson at 22 is a perfect example of why sometimes standing pat and drafting later than you might have wanted can be a good thing. Jefferson was the best rookie wideout this year and somehow he was the fifth one taken. He was considered to be in the “second-tier” of the draftable wideouts after Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy, and he was drafted immediately after Jalen Reagor, who the Philadelphia Eagles took at 17.

Jefferson went on to break the rookie wide receiver record for yards with 1400 last season. But why was he still on the board when the Vikings picked? Surely someone who totaled 1540 yards on 111 catches in their final season in college would be off the board by the 22nd pick?

Well, most of the draft experts had placed him in the second tier of wideouts because despite his insane production at the college level they viewed him as just a slot due to 98.2% of his catches coming out of the slot. What they didn’t account for is that the offense that LSU ran was contingent on him operating out of the slot to maximize the production of quarterback Joe Burrow and the other wideouts.

This season Jefferson only operated out of the slot on 211 of his 886 snaps, doing a majority of the damage working on the outside where most people didn’t think he could play.

The other concern teams had about Jefferson was his inability to beat press coverage. Though Jefferson was incredibly hard to stop in his final year in Baton Rouge, scouts noticed that opposing defensive backs were much more successful when they knocked him off his route early.

Jefferson proved that he again was better than most scouts credit him for as he often beat press coverage, connecting with Kirk Cousins on difficult catches.

Want another example? Look no further than Justin Herbert this season. The Los Angeles Chargers stayed at 6th overall and allowed Herbert to fall to them. The Cincinnati Bengals took Burrow, and the Miami Dolphins took Tua Tagovailoa, and at the moment it appears the Chargers came away with the best quarterback.

With the 25th pick in the draft, the Vikings traded back to the 31st overall pick, allowing teams that were more desperate to land their players to pay them a haul of picks while they were able to move back and get their guy.

Despite how bad the Vikings looked this season, they aren’t your typical 7-9 team. Injuries and opt-outs from important players of the defensive unit greatly hampered them. I am sure a team that overachieved or that was even further back in the draft would give Minnesota some ammunition to land their guy.

The Vikings sliding out of the top 10 may have jeopardized their chance to land one of the top-4 quarterbacks in this class, but even with Kirk Cousins locked in for the next two years, if they wanted one of the quarterbacks, they probably could get him. While Trevor Lawrence is definitely out of play, the Vikings can always trade up if they think that one of the quarterbacks available could be “the guy” for the future.

Just look at the Chiefs in 2017. They knew that Patrick Mahomes was their guy and, they knew at pick 27 they probably didn’t have a great chance to get him. So, they traded the 27th and the 91st pick, plus a future first to Buffalo to move up to 10 to take their guy.

Trading up is always an option for the Vikings, and if they have to mortgage a future first or second to land a player they believe could be a fixture in the team for years to come, that’s a relatively small price to pay.

The first round isn’t the only round of importance either. Minnesota has made a name for itself by turning mid-round picks into solid contributors. Look no further than Danielle Hunter, who was drafted in the 3rd round, or Stefon Diggs, a 5th round pick. Even last season Cameron Dantzler, a 3rd round pick, was the second-highest graded corner in the NFL for December.

I think that fans of this team need to show more faith in Rick Spielman and the scouts’ ability to see talent at every level of the draft. In the last 10 years, no franchise has selected more future Pro Bowlers than the Vikings have with 13.

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