Over the years, the Minnesota Vikings have consistently received high grades from draft analysts immediately after the fact, but the number of players from drafts not that long ago are thinning out quickly and the numbers are becoming a bit alarming.
The team is built around a core of solid franchise-type players, but the herd is thinning quickly, as the Vikings have yet to develop many mid- to late-round picks that end up having long careers with the team. Going back a few years produces some startling “last man standing” type qualities.
The Class of 2010 has just one remaining member, fourth-rounder Everson Griffen, and that’s been the case for more than two years.
The Class of 2011, which was headlined by Christian Ponder, now has just one alumnus remaining, second-round Kyle Rudolph.
The Class of 2013 has dropped to just two players in less than four years – first-rounders Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd – and there are legitimate concerns that Floyd’s career may be over due to complications from meniscus surgery last September.
The Class of 2014 should be loaded with players making an impact on the roster. But Teddy Bridgewater’s career is in jeopardy and the only full-time starter from the group is Anthony Barr, the ninth overall pick of the draft.
The Class of 2015 can already be viewed as a success and may already be one of the best in recent Vikings history, having produced Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, T.J. Clemmings and Stefon Diggs – all key players to the Vikings’ present and future.
However, the Class of 2016 didn’t produce a single starter. Laquon Treadwell caught one pass. Mackensie Alexander was mired behind Captain Munnerlyn for playing time and, when he did play, he would get benched after he got burned. Nobody else made a contribution outside of special teams.
If you look around the league, many teams have those “career guys,” a core of a dozen or so players who were drafted by the franchise and end up playing there for a decade. For organizations like Baltimore, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, players grow old together in groups and the draft is needed to replace them.
In Minnesota, they don’t have that sort of Old Boys Club. From 2010-14, only eight impact full-time starters remain from those five years and two of those – Floyd and Bridgewater – are dealing with career-threatening injuries.
When you look at a 53-man roster, much less the 90 guys they bring into Mankato, in terms of creating in-house veteran leaders, the Vikings are whittling their group down to a precious few and it would seem clear that the young players drafted this season are going to get every chance to make the team because there aren’t as many veteran guys standing in their way and protecting their spots.
In the new-look NFL, young teams can make noise, but it seems like those that win championships are dotted with homegrown veteran leadership and the Vikings have less of that now than perhaps since Denny Green cleaned house 25 years ago and started over.