Who's a Day 1 Starter and Who's a Project?

Photo Credit: Vasha Hunt (USA TODAY Sports)

Following a big second day in the NFL draft for the Minnesota Vikings, Rick Spielman sat down in the early hours of May 1st to debrief Minnesota’s proceedings. Everyone was curious about recently-drafted quarterback Kellen Mond. What did the Vikings see in him? When could he start? Did you warn Kirk beforehand?

Spielman chuckled, answering, “Kirk’s our starting quarterback. There’s no competition there.”

That puts to rest any potential QB headlines, and in turn, sensationalist headlines. Like many assumed, Mond was taken as a backup with high upside. This means Vikings fans aren’t likely to see him on the field much next season.

But what about the other players they selected? Minnesota came out of the draft with another double-digit class. Eleven, to be exact, with all of them having different likelihoods of playing a role on the team this year. So, I have taken the liberty of tiering the draft picks based on the likelihood of them playing a big role next season.

Tier 1: Job is Theirs to Lose

Christian Darrisaw (OT) – Virginia Tech

This one should have been obvious and come to no shock to anybody. The Vikings had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last season, and they let their best tackle, Riley Reiff, walk in the offseason. Spielman had to pick up something in the draft, and bringing Darrisaw along was undoubtedly his best move of the weekend.

Not only did Minnesota pick up the Virginia Tech product at a good value, but he instantly slots in as the team’s left tackle. Spielman talked about how coveted Darrisaw is as a traditional blindside blocker and should bring some much-needed pass-blocking skills to the otherwise decrepit offensive line.

As long as he comes into training camp in shape and ready to learn, Darrisaw unseats Rashod Hill as the Vikings starting left tackle.

Tier 2: Show Me a Little and You’re In

Wyatt Davis (IOL) – Ohio State

I know many people have already locked in Davis as a starter next to Darrisaw, and that could absolutely happen. In fact, I like Davis to start at the right guard position, where he starred at Ohio State and bumping Ezra Cleveland over to the left guard position where he spent some time in training camp last season.

With that being said, I don’t think Davis is as much of a lock as Darrisaw is at this point. Beating out Dakota Dozier and Mason Cole shouldn’t be too difficult if he’s any good, but he still has to do it. At pick 86, I think Davis was the best overall value pick of the draft for Minnesota, but he’s still coming off a season in which he battled lingering knee issues the entire year.

I think he has to come into camp and earn the spot more than Darrisaw does, but I think he has the best shot to do it out of any of the guards. After all, Davis has been linked to the Vikings for over a year now, so it’s time to actually see him don the purple and gold.

Tier 3: Potential to Earn Starting Spot in Training Camp

Chazz Surratt (LB) – North Carolina

Surratt is one of the many high-upside picks the Vikings had sprinkled throughout the draft. In just two seasons of playing linebacker in Chapel Hill, Surratt racked up 206 tackles. Surratt came into college as a quarterback, but UNC moved him to linebacker to make way for Sam Howell, a potential first-rounder next year.

At one point, he was regarded as a potential first-round pick, but his tape leaves much to be desired. While he’s learned his new position quickly, Surratt still has many strides to make in his technique, but he’s a fantastic athlete who has already proven he’s a quick learner.

Nick Vigil still seems like a lock to join Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks as the third linebacker, but don’t rule out Surratt. He may be a longshot, but he’s an extremely hard worker who has been proving people wrong his entire career. Even if he doesn’t start, he seems like a likely candidate for kickoff and punt coverage duties.

Patrick Jones II (DE) – Pitt

It’s no secret that the Vikings need some help from the defensive end position. Yes, Danielle Hunter is back this season, but Spielman was looking for somebody to pair with him on the opposite side. A lot of people thought this is where the team might go with pick 14. Instead, they waited until pick 90 to grab Jones.

Although he was buried in this extremely deep edge class, Jones was a stud at Pitt. In two seasons as a starter, he racked up 17.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss. Not to mention he did it in Pat Narduzzi’s defense that is notorious for producing NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball.

He could use some refinement of his hand technique and is prone to jumping the snap (hello Everson Griffen 2.0), but otherwise doesn’t have a ton of holes in his game. Although Stephen Weatherly is technically the starter, it seems like Minnesota will have a pretty open competition for that second spot on the edge. Jones produced in college, so there’s no reason he couldn’t earn that spot in Patterson’s defense.

Tier 4: Special Teamers and Rotational Players

Kene Nwangwu (RB) – Iowa State

This is where it starts to become considerably more unlikely that any of these guys start. Rather they could get on the field by playing a smaller role. Starting with Nwangwu, it seems as though he’ll pencil in as the team’s new feature return man. It’s been a rotating door since the days of Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels, but Nwangwu could finally provide a spark.

In four years as a Cyclone, “Little Dougie” averaged 26.8 yards per return while scoring off a kick once. After running a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, Nwangwu became a highly coveted return prospect. He may have running back next to his name, but it might as well say “return man.” He only had 143 carries at Iowa State, and he doesn’t figure to bolster those numbers in the NFL. The Vikings picked him up to return kicks, and he’ll do just that.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette (WR) – Iowa

Smith-Marsette is another well-renowned kick returner the Vikings will have at their disposal. But, unlike Nwangwu, he also showed promise at his actual position during his collegiate career.

A jack-of-all-trades player at Iowa, Smith-Marsette was responsible for over 1600 yards at 14 touchdowns as a receiver and had 274 yards on the ground with four touchdowns. He’s a good route runner, and at 6’1″, he’s not afraid to go up and get the football. It’s no secret Minnesota has been looking for an additional receiving threat, and Smith-Marsette could potentially fill Minnesota’s void at WR3.

Janarius Robinson (DE) – Florida State

Robinson was the second edge rusher added in the draft, but unlike Jones, he’s a bit more of a project. While he has immense athleticism and flashes of pass-rushing greatness, inconsistency from game to game held him back immensely.

This has been the case for many Florida State defenders lately, as the coaching staff has struggled to realize the potential of former 4-stars such as Robinson. There’s no doubt he has plus size and speed from the edge; it’s all about putting it together to become a complete defender.

Camryn Bynum (CB) – Cal

Bynum was the only player added to the retooled secondary via the draft, as Minnesota opted to rely on their various free agent acquisitions. At Cal, Bynum was an all-around solid corner, but his lack of speed will limit his potential a bit in the NFL.

It feels like Bynum will likely backup for Mackensie Alexander and try and fit into that slot corner role. He doesn’t have the athletic ability to go outside, but his good off and on press coverage skills could translate well on the inside.

Jaylen Twyman (DL) – Pitt

Minnesota’s second draftee out of the Pitt defense comes in the form of Twyman, who had much higher NFL draft prospects until he completely bombed his pro day. That, coupled with the fact that he only has one full year on tape as a starter, led to his slide into Day 3.

But he was dominant in 2019, accumulating 10.5 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss as a lineman. Had he come into the draft off a season like that, you’re looking at a potential Day 1 pick. If the Vikings can get him back into shape and he returns to his 2019 form, Twyman could be one of the steals of the draft.

Zach Davidson (TE) – Central Missouri

Davidson stands 6’7″, 245 pounds, and ran a 4.6 second 40. That’s about all you need to know about the Division II tight end. He doesn’t have refined route-running ability, and this was a complete flier pick by Spielman.

It doesn’t appear that he’ll see the field much, if at all, next season. But Minnesota has been known to actually utilize a third tight end, so if Davidson can develop as a receiver in camp, we may see him on the field next year.

Tier 5: If Everything Goes Right, Won’t See the Field

Kellen Mond (QB) – Texas A&M

I won’t belabor the point too much because ideally, we won’t see Mond play meaningful snaps at all this season. Personally, the pick makes a world of sense to me, considering the Vikings needed a competent backup and Mond as the physical tools to develop into a starter.

Heck, maybe he’ll even light a little fire under Cousins. As Spielman said, though, Cousins is still the guy and will be for the foreseeable future. Minnesota is just giving itself an option a couple of years down the line with this pick when it may need a new quarterback. Will Mond be that guy? There’s really no way to say. The only thing that is set into stone is that barring a Cousins injury, Mond will be doing a lot of standing on the sidelines this season.

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