Vikings

Ranking the Vikings' Last 10 First Round Picks

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings are heading into their eighth season of the Rick Spielman-Mike Zimmer era, and there has never been more pressure on them. There has been a lot of turnover recently, and only Anthony Barr remains from Zimmer’s first draft class.

Given the current cap situation, barring any major roster moves, there isn’t too much room to sign big-name free agents. The Vikings are going to have to nail their picks this year.

Looking back at recent first-round picks offers some perspective on the front office’s aptitude for building through the draft, especially since they don’t have a second-round pick this year. That puts even more pressure on the success of their first-round selection.

How have they done recently? Here is my ranking of the last 10 first-round draft picks:

1. JUSTIN JEFFERSON (22ND OVERALL, 2020)

I love the feeling of drafting a wide receiver in the first round and having them put their head down and get to work. I was hyped to see the team invest in one of the flashiest positions in the NFL.

It was just as exciting when the Vikings picked Laquon Treadwell. Wow, what a flop that was. It’s no surprise fans were gun shy after spending another first-rounder on Justin Jefferson.

Then he did this:

Even before his first NFL touchdown, I knew he was gonna be good — but I didn’t think he would be this good.

He ended his first start with 175 yards and a touchdown.

When PFF graded him as the second-best receiver in the NFL, you know Jefferson had a heck of a rookie season. On top of that, he beat records held only by Randy Moss.

2. XAVIER RHODES (25TH OVERALL, 2013)

Xavier Rhodes was the cornerstone of the defense for years. Mike Zimmer inherited him from the previous regime, and they were a great pairing until Rhodes’ departure in 2019. Once Rhodes lost a step and couldn’t keep up with the opponents’ primary like he used to, he no longer could play a high-leverage role in Zimmer’s defense.

Rhodes had a breakout season in 2016 and was later made one of the 10 highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL the following year.

Rhodes lived up to his contract until his poor 2019 season, when it seemed his athleticism was declining with age. He had somewhat of a bounceback season last year with the Indianapolis Colts, posting the best coverage grades of his career in a new role with Indy.

In his time with Minnesota, Rhodes consistently covered the best wide receivers in the league one-on-one and locked them down. It’s the most challenging position on Zimmer’s defense, and in his prime Rhodes was the best one since Zimmer took over in 2014.

3. ANTHONY BARR (9TH OVERALL, 2014)

Anthony Barr might be the most versatile linebacker in the NFL. He grades out above-average in nearly every PFF defensive category, almost every year. Barr is the perfect fit for Zimmer’s defense, and that’s why he’s been here his whole career. He doesn’t always put up the numbers fans want to see, but he has a lot of responsibility on this defense.

He didn’t leave the Vikings in free agency to join the New York Jets even though they offered him more money in the 2019 offseason. It was a close call, but after verbally agreeing to sign a contract with the Jets, he reneged and returned to Minnesota.

Now, he’s restructured his contract to give the team some cap relief. It will essentially make the contract a one-year deal before he enters free agency in 2022. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s leaving Minnesota anytime soon.

And that’s good because the Vikings’ missed him last season. Their defense ranked 27th last season, per PFF. That’s the lowest Zimmer’s defense has ever been in Minnesota and only the second time outside of the top 10.

Hopefully, he bounces back after a season-ending injury and continues to be the versatile player the team relies on.

4. TRAE WAYNES (11TH OVERALL, 2015)

Trae Waynes was a reliable starter during his time in Minnesota. He is a sure tackler and did well enough in coverage to warrant a three-year, $42 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals last year.

He was an excellent complement to Rhodes in their time short together. The best thing about Waynes was his availability. It seemed like Waynes was always ready to take his place, covering the best receiver every time Rhodes got dinged up and headed for the sideline.

Waynes had a 4.31 40-yard dash at the combine and was usually the fastest player on the field. He was constantly chasing down receivers and keeping big plays from happening.

He was also disciplined in coverage. He wasn’t perfect, but he averaged under four penalties per season in Minnesota; Rhodes averaged over nine.

5. TEDDY BRIDGEWATER (32ND OVERALL, 2014)

I could write a whole book on Teddy Bridgewater, but I’ll try my best to keep it concise.

Zimmer drafted Bridgewater to be his quarterback the year he was hired as head coach. And I wanted him to be the franchise quarterback so badly. He is a natural leader, an accurate passer, and he could scramble. He was fun to watch until he had to throw it deep.

Teddy’s story will always be a what-if because he was always second to Adrian Peterson on the offense. When he got his shot in 2017 after Peterson was released and signed with the New Orleans Saints, Bridgewater nearly lost his leg due to a non-contact injury. Bridgewater lost his job when the team signed Case Keenum and made a desperation trade for Sam Bradford.

And after all of that, who ends up being the Vikings’ quarterback? Kirk Cousins. Who would’ve guessed that? Since then, Bridgewater has filled in for Drew Brees and started for the Carolina Panthers. A successful return for a young quarterback who had to rehab for a whole season.

I don’t think anyone knows what Bridgewater could have done with the Vikings if he didn’t suffer a that injury at practice before the 2017 season started. He was poised to become the franchise quarterback we had hoped for.

6. JEFF GLADNEY (2020, 31ST OVERALL)

Jeff Gladney had his ups and downs as a rookie, but from what I saw he was good enough.

His tackling ability was impressive last year. He always wrapped up ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. He wasn’t as good in coverage as the other rookie corner, Cameron Dantzler, but he improved meaningfully towards the end of the season.

It’s too early to tell if he will end up being an All-Pro, but he is a promising rookie who filled a significant hole the team was facing after losing three corners in one offseason.

7. CORDARRELLE PATTERSON (29TH OVERALL, 2013)

Another pre-Zimmer pick, Cordarrelle Patterson is still tearing up the league as one of the best kick returners in NFL history. He may have never lived up to his draft position because he never became a legit receiving threat on offense, but he has carved out a spot in the league because of his return ability.

It’s hard to evaluate Patterson’s career because he’s been nothing short of amazing on special teams. And while that’s an important aspect, it isn’t the most critical part of most NFL games.

He has been the X-factor in a handful of games but never grew into the receiver the Vikings had hoped he’d become.

8. GARRETT BRADBURY (18TH OVERALL, 2019)

It may be too early to tell, but this pick hasn’t exactly been a home run after two seasons with the Vikings.

The Vikings already had Pat Elflein when they drafted Garrett Bradbury, and Elflein was in good standing with the team at the time. He had a great rookie season followed by an injury-riddled sophomore outing. It was then that the team already decided to move on to Bradbury. This pick made some scratch their heads, but Bradbury’s potential was intriguing for a team that struggled with drafting offensive linemen for years.

While Bradbury isn’t terrible, he has not lived up to his draft position. He is a dreadful pass-blocker but a solid run-blocker. That has been the story of the offensive line for the past couple of seasons in Minnesota, and they need to build in a different direction if they want to succeed with Kirk Cousins.

9. MIKE HUGHES (30TH OVERALL, 2018)

Mike Hughes still has a chance to be good, but he hasn’t been healthy. He hasn’t played more than 50% of the total defensive snaps in a season in the three years he’s been in the league. And it’s not because the Vikings haven’t needed him.

Hughes is still recovering from a neck injury and was only able to play in four games last season. He might be the most polished cornerback on the team right now, but he hasn’t been healthy enough to make a meaningful impact on the defense.

10. LAQUON TREADWELL (23RD OVERALL, 2016)

Meant to be a weapon for Bridgwater’s breakout year, Laquon Treadwell was a massive bust. He finished his rookie season with only one catch.

The league doesn’t see rookie wide receivers sit on the bench these days. Some people thought it was a classic case of Zimmer not trusting a rookie, but the fact is Treadwell couldn’t outperform Jarius Wright, Charles Johnson, or Patterson.

However, Treadwell is still in the league and put up a career-high two-touchdown season on six catches with the Atlanta Falcons last year.

Will Treadwell ever earn a starting spot on an NFL roster? Probably not. But he is still in the league, and that’s more than can be said about some other teams’ biggest first-round busts.

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