No team was as busy on draft Saturday as the Minnesota Vikings. On Saturday alone, the team acquired nine draft picks – a new record for the organization. But prior to their selection of linebacker Elijah Lee of Kansas State, they hadn’t drafted a player who played the same position as departed veteran Chad Greenway.
Lee said he is excited about the opportunity to compete for a spot that has been manned by Greenway for the last decade and said he feels like he has the inside track because he doesn’t view fourth-round pick Ben Gedeon as direct competition for the spot.
“I feel like it’s a great position, just because me and the guy they drafted [Gedeon], we’re two different positions,” Lee said. “He’s an inside guy, he’s a MIKE and I’m a WILL. Just having that ability to add depth to the lineup and also being able to contribute on special teams.”
The frustration for Lee, a two-year starter at Kansas State who posted 190 tackles – leading his team both seasons – with 14 tackles for a loss, 6½ sacks and five interceptions – was that many draft analysts projected him much higher and he was buying into that line of thought.
“Expectations were, I heard from many and multiple people from either third to fifth round,” Lee said. “So, once the third round went past, I was pretty confident or I felt good about the fourth or fifth round. I was kind of waiting on that. Then things started to go by slowly and I just stopped watching it. Eventually, I just turned it off and then probably about an hour or two later, I got a call from the Vikings and I was happy about it. Because the situation I was in, I was talking to a lot of teams, they were talking about what was going to happen if I were to go undrafted and how many teams wanted me. I’m just glad the team did pick me so I didn’t have to go through all of that.”
Lee decided to just chill out and was kept updated by Twitter, which was often 10-15 minutes ahead of when the picks were announced on NFL Network due to the machinations that had everyone from wrestler Bruno Sammartino to an orangutan announcing or showing the selections.
His biggest fear was that his decision late to apply for the draft was going to come back to bite him. He decided in January to opt into the draft and forego his senior season, but it was too late for him to be included on the list of invitees to the Combine, adding to his growing frustration with the process.
“It was one of those situations, I let them know too late,” Lee said. “By the time I declared, it was the beginning of January and they start the process pretty early. So, whenever I received that information, most of the teams I visited or talked to, they said, ‘Yeah, you should’ve been there.’ That probably would’ve helped me, but this something to add on to my story. I just feel like this story is going to go a long way.”
Instead, he had rely on his pro day, where he put on an impressive display that included a 38-inch vertical jump that surely would have had him noticed in Indianapolis. He knew it was a “now or never” performance he needed to put in and it impressed the Vikings enough that they were willing to pull the trigger.
Given the pressure he was under to come up big, it spoke volumes to his character that he was able to be at his best when his draft life was at stake.
“That’s what I was focused on,” Lee said of his pro day workout. “I had that chip on my shoulder, it was all or nothing on pro day and I put it all on the line. “
The one thing that Lee is hoping will give him an edge as he begins the fight for his life to make an NFL roster is that the Kansas State fraternity in the NFL is much smaller than a lot of power conference schools, but they’re tight-knit and stick up for another.
He likely will be facing long odds – all seventh-round picks do – but he’s happy to know he has some guys entrenched in the organization in his corner and he isn’t coming blindly into a new organization that knows nothing about him and has nobody in-house that he knows.
“I’m just proud to be a Viking,” Lee said. “That was one of my favorite teams and one of my top priorities too just because they showed so much love and also there’s K-State alums up there, Ben Leber, Terence Newman, Emmanuel Lamur. It’s always nice to go into a situation where you know people instead of just random people.”