On paper, the Minnesota Vikings seemed to have a decent 2021 draft class. It seemed like they had acquired their franchise left tackle and addressed guard while adding some depth at positions of need. However, one core-muscle surgery later, the Vikings find themselves in a bind, with zero snaps from their rookie class on offense or defense.
With the free-agent acquisitions Minnesota made on one-year deals, it seemed like they were going all-in this season. Even so, the cap-strapped team had many holes on its roster as it entered the beginning of the season, particularly edge rusher and depth across the board. If the Vikings intended to contend this season, having a draft class that has contributed zero snaps so far is unacceptable.
To recap the draft class, first-round pick Christian Darrisaw underwent core-muscle surgery a few weeks before the season began. He has been practicing on a limited basis for the past three weeks. However, the biggest obstacle for him has been getting into football shape. Mike Zimmer stated that “he’s not in terrific football shape because he hasn’t practiced” in early September. Once the Vikings upgrade him to full practices, he might be close to making his NFL debut. For now, they have Rashod Hill.
Minnesota had four picks in the third round, from which they chose Kellen Mond, Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis, and Patrick Jones II. Of all of these players, only Davis is active. He is a part of the Vikings’ backup offensive line. However, the other three were all inactive on gameday against the Arizona Cardinals last week.
Moreover, the Vikings signed Sean Mannion to their active roster this week since his practice squad elevations had run out, displaying that they prefer a veteran backup and that Mond isn’t game-ready. So why would a team in win-now mode draft Mond? Why not trade up into the second round for an immediate contributor or take one in the third? Even if they wanted a “to mold for the future” guy, they’re still around on the second and third day of every draft.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Fifth-round pick Zach Davidson didn’t even make the roster. Once Irv Smith Jr. was announced as out for the season, the Vikings had to dig around the waiver wire until they found Ben Ellefson, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars had recently cut.
Camryn Bynum and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are the only rookies that have gotten snaps at all, and they were on special teams. The other three draft picks (Kene Nwangwu, Janarius Robinson, and Jaylen Twyman) are on injured reserve, but even they wouldn’t have been the contributors the Vikings needed to win this season.
You might think it’s early. And sure, that’s fair. But it’s also fair to be concerned when the guys who were drafted to be depth players can’t even win the backup jobs, save Wyatt Davis. After all, it’s not as if the Vikings have a lot of quality depth.
Sometimes, it seems as if Rick Spielman values quantity a bit more than quality, and sometimes that’s not a good thing.
During their dynasty, the New England Patriots followed a strategy in which they would draft for the future and mold players so that they were ready to step in when the incumbents’ contracts expired. This approach allowed them to save money or prioritize it elsewhere. While this is a sound strategy for teams with few holes on the roster, it seems like one the Vikings unsuccessfully tried to implement.
The Vikings are currently 0-2. They field one of the league’s worst defenses and can’t seem to catch a break. According to ESPN, the Vikings’ defensive line ranks 29th in pass-rush win rate (35%) and 31st in run-stop win rate (25%). Minnesota’s cornerbacks aren’t doing great either. Bashaud Breeland, Patrick Peterson, and Mackensie Alexander have combined to allow 24 passes on 29 targets for 385 yards and five touchdowns. All of this has culminated in Minnesota allowing 61 points through just two games.
Through two weeks, the most significant issues on defense seem to be the edge rusher opposite Danielle Hunter and cornerback. Could a defensive contributor on Day 2 have helped? The Vikings had all the capital in the world to trade up and get their guy if they wanted to, but again, they stood pat.
For comparison’s sake, look at the Carolina Panthers. With their first pick, they chose Jaycee Horn, one of the best rookie cornerbacks, and took their defense to the next level. But even after him, they got Terrace Marshall Jr. to replace Curtis Samuel and have had later-round picks playing. You can do a similar comparison with the Cleveland Browns or even the Los Angeles Chargers. The Vikings didn’t possess a second-round pick, but they had the resources to acquire one.
It’s fair to argue that rookies take time to develop, and it’s okay for later-round picks not to be playing right now. For example, K.J. Osborn broke out after struggling last year, and Justin Jefferson had a slow start to his rookie season. However, COVID prevented the preseason and a regular training camp in both of their cases, so coaches couldn’t see their full potential.
Sure, there might be a random player from this draft class who breaks out a few years down the road, but that player won’t have helped the Vikings win this year. It appears Minnesota’s goals for the season didn’t match the front office’s philosophy on draft night. After finding themselves in an 0-2 hole, the Vikings may look back on what they could’ve done to shore up a roster that needed a quality draft class to supplement it.