As we wrap up the draft festivities in Cleveland, it feels like a good time to assess the state of the Minnesota Vikings following their 11 picks. Even though this draft was in some ways a return to normalcy given that it took place in person after the one-year virtual hiatus due to the pandemic, in some ways it felt stranger than ever.
After the first day where general manager Rick Spielman traded back to pick 23, acquiring two third-rounders for the price of nine spots on Day 1 and pick 146, it felt like Trader Rick was primed for more moves during mid-rounds. In his interview with KFAN’s Paul Allen, both he and head coach Mike Zimmer stated their desire to potentially sacrifice some of their picks for maneuverability in the middle rounds.
Despite all of the anticipation, the Vikings stood pat on Days 2 and 3, not making a single trade for the rest of the draft. After bringing in 11 players, let’s look at winners and losers from the draft.
Despite a Day 2 pick that I will touch on later, I felt like Cousins came out as one of the biggest winners in the short term from this class. After yet another season of below-average offensive line play stifling what the Vikings were able to do on offense, the team decided enough was enough and placed a major emphasis on improving the unit through the draft.
They started on Day 1. After trading pick 14 to the New York Jets, the Vikings were still able to land Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw to fill in for Riley Reiff and serve as Cousins’ blind-side protector. According to PFF, Darrisaw has an impressive record in his time in Blacksburg, as he finished with the highest pass-blocking grade (94.5) of any Power 5 tackle.
On Day 2, the Vikings decided that Darrisaw alone wasn’t enough and selected Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis with the 86th pick. Last season Minnesota’s guards were unable to pass protect. By landing Davis, an exceptional pass blocker in college, they look to shore up last season’s issues.
Cousins can look forward to more time in the pocket with this newly revamped offensive line.
After last season’s horrific pass-rushing performance that saw the Vikings go from a top-five team in sacks to the 26th-ranked team, it was clear that the defensive line needed major improvement through both the draft and free agency.
After already adding both Stephen Weatherly and Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency, the Vikings went on to add Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson, and Jaylen Twyman to an already improved defensive line unit that has Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce set to make their returns. While the Vikings might not have added any of the so-called premier pass rushers in this class, they certainly added capable ones.
Jones and Robinson are both set to compete against D.J. Wonnum, Stephen Weatherly, and Jalyn Holmes for a starting position across from Hunter next year. Twyman looks to carve out a role for himself as a pass rusher.
This season Patterson looks to have a full stable of healthy pass rushers who can all make an impact through a rotational system and return to their former glory.
Ficken faced an uphill battle taking over as the special teams coordinator for the 31st-ranked unit last year by DVOA. Given the team’s struggles in both punt and kick returns, it seemed likely that they would look for a player with potential upside in both these positions.
They did just that on Day 3 by selecting Kene Nwangwu in the fourth round, an Iowa State running back who has explosive speed with a 4.32 40-yard dash time. Nuwangu also has experience as a kick returner and has stated that he is “open to the idea of returning punts” despite having never done it before.
In the fifth round, the Vikings added Iowa wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette to their current wide receiver corps. Smith-Marsette also possesses great top-end speed and sees himself as the best returner in the class. He averaged 29.6 yards per kickoff return in Iowa City and says that he would like to compete in all areas of the return game, including punts.
These two will likely square up against K.J. Osborn and Ameer Abdullah for the responsibilities of returner, making Ficken’s job a bit easier as he looks to avoid the special teams disasters in the return game that plagued the Viking last year.
While Kirk might have won in the short run, it looks like the writing might be on the wall in the long run. With the 66th pick in the draft, the Vikings selected Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond to serve as Cousins’ understudy and Minnesota’s quarterback of the future.
This pick was the highest the Vikings had selected a quarterback since Teddy Bridgewater back in 2014. While Mond likely isn’t ready to see any significant playing time next year, if all goes to plan, the chances of Cousins staying with the Vikings for another contract after this deal is up in 2023 look slimmer than ever.
“I can tell you right now, No. 8 in Minnesota is probably not real happy right now,” Cousins’ former teammate, Robert Griffin III, said. “Kellen Mond represents exactly what [Cousins] doesn’t do well.” While that may be a problem for down the road, if Mond develops how the Vikings would like him to, Cousins’ job could be in trouble in a year or two.
Beebe also should be on high alert. He was underwhelming last year in his role as the third wideout on a passing attack that featured Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. He only racked up 201 yards, 44 of which came in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Detroit Lions.
My biggest gripe with Beebe in the past has been his lack of big-play ability and the fact that he can only operate out of the slot, limiting what both Jefferson and Thielen can do. By drafting Smith-Marsette in the fifth round, they add a player who can benefit them in the vertical passing game with his ability to get in behind defenses and take the top off them with his speed.
Smith-Marsette can also operate from the outside, allowing the Vikings to move Jefferson or Thielen inside to the slot and take advantage of certain matchups. Beebe is also likely to lose his job as a punt returner too, with Nwangwu and Smith-Marsette expressing interest in that job.
Osborn and Abdullah could also be in trouble. If they are beaten out in the return game, they could be cut given the marginal amount of offensive presence they have.
While the Chazz Surratt pick was a surprise to most, it offers the Vikings another linebacker with great upside. Dye, who was taken in the fourth round last year, was probably a little surprised about Minnesota’s highest linebacker selection since Eric Kendricks.
After being selected last season, the expectation was that Dye would take over for Eric Wilson, who was set to be a free agent at the end of the season. While expectations for Dye were high, he had an extremely bumpy rookie campaign which saw him finish with an abysmal 28.8 grade, according to PFF. Dye struggled in every element of the game, as he missed 13.3% of his attempted tackles and gave up a 119.5 passer rating.
While the players around him might not have done him any favors, the Vikings still thought it best to add an absolute physical freak in Surratt. He might be a little raw at the position, but he has unlimited potential. Dye will likely compete with Surratt and free-agent addition Nick Vigil for the third linebacker spot, making this season somewhat of a make or break year for him as he looks to be a member of this team for years to come.