Vikings drafts trend toward raw athleticism

The Vikings continued to draft versatile athletes over refined position players. GM Rick Spielman explained the reasoning.

Over the past couple seasons the Minnesota Vikings have taken it upon themselves to draft athletic players who were considered “raw.” They all have huge upside to them, but the problem is that it can take a couple years to develop them. This does not always bode well for the team because the NFL has turned into a “win now” type of league.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman believes drafting these players is a risk worth taking, especially since he has a lot of faith in his coaching staff to develop the players properly.

“I think when you get down, especially into the third day (of the draft), that if they have the tools that these coaches can work with they don’t have to come in and be immediate impact players right away,” Spielman said. “Some of these guys may not make our roster but be great practice squad guys. Guys that we have time to develop, as long as they have the traits and the athletic skill set to play at this level, may not be totally polished yet to where they’re going to be and have upside. I’ll take those guys every day of the week and let our coaches – that’s how much belief I have in this coaching staff in developing guys.”

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is one example. The Vikings traded back up into the first round of the 2013 draft to take him when it was known that he was still very raw as a receiver. The Vikings had him sit on the bench for the first part of his rookie year.

Even while he was sitting, though, people were able to see the talent he possessed in the return game. It excited people who watched the Vikings, and once Patterson got a chance to play on offense later in the season he was able to make big plays there, too while lined up as a receiver or while in the backfield as a running back.

There were big expectations put on him for his second year in the NFL and many analysts around the NFL predicted he would have a breakout season. That didn’t happen, however, as he seemed to take a step backwards in his development.

2015 will be Patterson’s third year in the NFL, and if he is not able to turn things around he could get lost in the Vikings depth chart. If that does happen, it would be a big disappointment to many people because he has the skill set and athleticism to be a great player.

The following year, in the 2014 draft, the Vikings spent their first-round pick on outside linebacker Anthony Barr. He was another player coming out of college who was very athletic but also inexperienced and raw. While at UCLA, he started off on the offensive side of the ball and did not move to linebacker until his junior season.

Even when he was on defense he was not responsible for as many things as a regular linebacker would be. His primary responsibility was to rush the passer.

When the Vikings drafted him, he was responsible for filling up running lanes and dropping back into coverage, along with rushing the passer. It was quite the change, but Barr played very well in his rookie season and was having a great rookie season before it was cut short due to an injury.

Barr was not the only athletic player with question marks surrounding him that the Vikings drafted in 2014. They also drafted running back Jerick McKinnon. In college, McKinnon played quarterback in a triple-option offense, so there were a lot of questions about how he would translate into the NFL.

Not only that, but he is also a smaller player so there were some people wondering if he would even play in the NFL. The Vikings took McKinnon in the third round of the draft and have to be happy with the results, as he was the most productive back on the team last year as a rookie.

However, like Barr, McKinnon had his rookie season cut short because of an injury. Now both of these players are entering into their second season in the NFL and will have to build off the success they had in their rookie seasons.

The trend of drafting these inexperienced but athletically gifted players expanded into 2015 when the Vikings drafted LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter. He is 6-foot-5, 252 pounds and had an official 40-yard dash time of 4.57 seconds. It is not very often you get a player that big who is able to run that fast, and his potential seemed like too good of a deal for the Vikings to pass up.

Potential is used here because although Hunter is big and athletic he was not able to produce very much during his time in college. In his three years on the team he recorded 4.5 sacks. You would expect that number to be higher than it is for a defensive end, especially when he started every game for LSU two seasons in a row.

Hunter will likely have to sit for a couple seasons in order to learn the defense, but if the Vikings coaching staff is able to teach him well he has a chance to be an impact player for their defense.

The coaching staff will have a lot of say in whether or not the Vikings draft these players or not. That speaks to the level of confidence that the GM has in the coaching staff.

“Our coaches have a lot of say in that, too,” Spielman said. “As we go back and fourth in the meetings, ‘Hey I would love to work with this kid, he may not be ready this year but this guy has tremendous upside and we are going to work like heck to get him to be the best player we can.’”

Drafting these raw but talented players can often be a big risk for a team because it means passing on a more refined player who could help the team immediately to draft a player who that could take time to fully implement.

However, if the player is able to develop the way the coaching staff hopes he does, then their athletic abilities could be a difference-maker in helping the team win more games.

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