During the month of April, we are periodically looking back at Minnesota Vikings drafts with the benefit of hindsight, pointing out those drafts that helped make or break the franchise for a window of time in their history.
ESPN is doing the same – and taken it to the extreme. The network ranked the all-time worst draft classes for each of the 32 teams – and the news wasn’t good for the Vikings.
Using the “approximate value” metric employed by Pro Football Reference that provides a composite measure of a player’s value to a team based on factors including games played, starts, awards like All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections and “meaningful stats” like 1,000-yard rushing/receiving seasons, 3,000 yard-passing seasons, high touchdown totals and team success while they were members of the team, one draft stood out in a bad way for the Vikings.
Three teams tied with the 1989 Vikings for the worst draft class of the modern era of the game from 1967 to present – tying with the 1975 Chiefs, 1976 Redskins and 1989 Raiders – each finishing with an AV score of 0, as low as you can possibly get.
For those who remember their Vikings history, they will be tested to remember most of these guys.
On the eve of the draft, the Vikings traded their first-round pick to the Steelers for linebacker Mike Merriweather. In six years in Pittsburgh, he started 76 of 85 games, recording 31 sacks. In four seasons with the Vikings, he recorded 10 sacks in 63 games.
Merriweather didn’t live up to expectations, but he was the silk on this “who dat?” collection of draft picks.
David Braxton, LB, 2nd round – Braxton ended up playing six years in the NFL, but 58 of those were with the Cardinals. He played just four games as a Viking and had one career tackle to show for his efforts.
John Hunter, OT, BYU, 3rd round – Hunter got cut by the Vikings after the preseason and never played a game for the team. He would play four seasons in the NFL – 21 games with Atlanta and five with Seattle – but never played a second for the Vikings, making him one of the rare third-round picks who didn’t make the team that had so much confidence in him four months earlier.
Darryl Ingram, TE, Cal, 4th round – Ingram played four NFL seasons, but only his rookie year was with Minnesota. He played in all 16 games, but caught just five passes. In one year with Cleveland and two with Green Bay, he played 18 games, but didn’t catch a single pass before his career ended in 1993.
Jeff Mickel, OT, Eastern Washington, 6th round – Mickel didn’t make the final roster and only played in one career NFL game – with the Rams in 1990.
Benji Roland, DT, Auburn, 7th round – Roland didn’t make the team and was released. He would play three games in his career, including one start for the Buccaneers in 1990 before moving on with the rest of his life.
Alex Stewart, DE, Fullerton State, 8th round – Never played a regular-season game.
Brad Baxter, RB, Alabama State, 11th round – A late-round gem, Baxter played in 94 games in seven NFL seasons, rushing for 2,928 yards and 35 touchdowns and catching 80 passes for 587 more yards. Unfortunately, those numbers all came with the Jets after being released before the start of the 1989 regular season.
Shawn Woodson, LB, James Madison, 12th round – Never played a regular-season game.
Everett Ross, WR, Ohio State, 12th round – Never played a regular-season game.
If longtime fans are perplexed that they don’t remember any of the scrubs, they can take solace in the fact that the 1989 season would be remembered for things far worse.
On Oct. 12 of 1989, it didn’t matter how brutal the Vikings draft was. The Vikings, with a veteran-laden roster, felt they were one player away from making it back to the Super Bowl. They believed that player was Herschel Walker and, four games into the ’89 season, they made a deal with Dallas that has since been referred to as the Great Trade Robbery – a transaction that helped build the Dallas dynasty that would dominate the early 1990s and crippled the Vikings for the better part of a decade as they tried to restock their shelves with young talent in the middle rounds because all of their first- and second-round picks were gone.
In hindsight, all of 1989 was a nightmare scenario for the Vikings. The Walker deal became a running joke that still makes Texans laugh and recall the dynasty that trade helped create, while Vikings fans tell bartenders to leave the bottle to save time. It started with a horrible draft and just got worse from there.