The Hometown Heroes Minnesota Could Add In the Draft Process

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman (USA TODAY Sports)

We’re are a provincial bunch here in Minnesota. We love athletes and other celebrities who are “One of Us.” We are also very welcoming and consider just about anyone with any connection to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to be “One of Us.”

The NFL is no different, and this year’s draft has a bumper crop of players connected to Minnesota. Everyone loves the Adam Thielen story, a homegrown star that ends up playing for the hometown team.

Here are some hometown heroes who could make a big impact on the Vikings roster in 2021:

Trey Lance, QB, NDSU

I had the opportunity to watch Lance play in high school because his hometown Marshall is a section rival of my hometown Hutchinson Tigers. It was apparent from the first time I saw him that he was on another level athletically.

Lance was never offered a scholarship to play quarterback by a Power 5 conference team. Not even P.J. Fleck’s Gophers offered him a quarterback spot. While his dream to play quarterback for the Gophers didn’t happen, he landed at North Dakota State, a premier FCS team.

He was redshirted as a freshman and only played one full season in college. Last year he played just one game due to COVID restrictions and declared for the draft as a junior. Lance’s potential is undeniable, but with so little experience playing quarterback and not much film for scouts to dissect, his draft stock is the most volatile of any of the top quarterback prospects.

According to Mock Draft Database, Lance is most commonly mocked to the Carolina Panthers at pick eight. However, the range for his draft position in mock drafts is as high as No. 3 to the San Francisco 49ers and falling as far as Washington at 19.

It is unlikely that Lance falls to No. 14, but teams may be wary of taking a player that high with such little film, which could result in him falling to the Vikings. If they are looking to go another direction at QB and with their offensive scheme, they’ve gotta find a way to get Lance.

Dillon Radunz, OT, NDSU

Radunz calls Becker home and is another player I had the opportunity to watch during his high school career. Like Lance, his play stood out on the field, but it was the 6’6”, 275-pound frame that immediately caught my attention. After I saw him play a few times, it was pretty clear that he had exceptional quickness and athletic ability to complement his size.

Upon arriving in Fargo in 2017, Radunz had to redshirt as a freshman after tearing his ACL in the first game of the season, but he bounced back and earned All-Missouri Valley Conference and All-FCS honors two years later. While he stood out athletically at the high school level, scouts project him to be just an average athlete in the NFL. However, his Relative Athletic Score (RAS) indicates that he has elite explosiveness and agility. His RAS score of 9.28 would put him in the top five of offensive tackles in most drafts.

The Vikings will likely draft an offensive lineman; it’s just a question of when. According to some scouting reports, Radunz projects as a guard and has positional flexibility. Minnesota doesn’t have a second-round pick but may be able to get him in the third or fourth round.

With three fourth-round picks, the Vikings have the ability to easily move up to get the best remaining offensive lineman in the third round. He could end up being a steal and an upgrade at guard for a team that desperately needs one.

Elerson Smith, Edge, Northern Iowa

Smith played his high school football at Minneapolis South before landing at Northern Iowa. He’s a lengthy edge player, standing 6’6” and 252 pounds. He had more sacks than any other player in the state as a senior in high school but received little attention from Power 5 conference schools, including the University of Minnesota.

The lack of interest wasn’t totally unwarranted. At 190 pounds, Smith was extremely underweight for his potion coming out of Minneapolis South. However, since his senior season of high school, he’s packed on 70 pounds of muscle, filling out his frame. While he’s still not an ideal weight for an edge rusher in the NFL, he’s about the same size as Jason Taylor. Now, I’m not saying he will be anywhere near as good as Taylor was, but he does have some of the same traits: length, quickness, and overall athleticism.

Smith will likely get picked between the third and fifth round and get a shot in the NFL. But because he is a smaller player who played for an FCS team and struggled against larger players at times, he will likely make him a mid to late-round pick. However, he has a lot of upside, and the Vikings will be looking for a defensive end in the draft. Smith could be a real gem after Vikings Coach Andre Patterson has time to work with him.

Possible undrafted free agents

There are also a few other players that could end up in training camp with the Vikings as free agents:

  • St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann (Rosemount) took part in the Gophers pro day.
  • Minnesota State wide receiver Shane Zylstra (Spicer) is the brother of former Viking Brandon Zylstra and also attended the Gophers pro day.
  • University of St. Thomas tight end Nick Guggemos (Eden Prairie) and North Dakota wide receiver Travis Toivonen (Red Wing) also took part in the pro day.
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