Now that the draft is over, those who made predictions as to the talent levels of the college crop in the NFL assess the big picture of what happened on draft weekend.
There will be a slew of “winners/losers” opinions put forth and letter grades assigned to the selections being made. For the most part, the Vikings will likely be somewhere in the middle of the pack, but, all things considered, the Minnesota Vikings came out of the draft happy with the players they ended up with and made a couple of bold moves to get the players they wanted.
The key to the draft may well be the lack of a first-round pick. On a night when three teams – Chicago, Kansas City and Houston – mortgaged themselves on a threesome of rookie quarterbacks whom venerable draft analysts almost universally said weren’t high-end first-round talents, the Vikings were forced to wait because of a quarterback.
All three of the top-ranked quarterbacks went in the top 12 picks and teams paid a serious price to acquire them. The Vikings’ investment in Sam Bradford, a much more polished and proven commodity, was a critical call made in haste and came with a hefty price – including a fourth-round pick next year – but, which would you rather have? You can bet fans of the Bears would trade Mitch Trubisky for Bradford straight up in a New York minute.
You can’t evaluate the Vikings’ draft without taking that into account. They had to pay a first-round pick to get quarterback stability last year and, at a minimum, enter 2017 with a leg up in having a vested veteran familiar with the offense that his coordinator is running.
When the Vikings actually joined the fray on Day 2, they got aggressive to get to players they had targeted – moving up in the second round to land a home-run hitting running back in Dalvin Cook, viewed as a first-round prospect and the best center in the draft, Patrick Elflein, in the third round, a player viewed as a second- or early third-round prospect.
Both were seen as value picks with upside and long-term potential to be starters in the new-look Vikings offense in the post-Peterson era.
Day 3 was a series of hard-target searches that involved trading down and adding picks, ending the day with a modern-era seven-round record of nine draft picks in one day.
Mixed in were players who consistently had pre-draft grades higher than their selection – defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, linebacker Ben Gedeon, guard Danny Isidora, tight end Bucky Hodges and linebacker Elijah Lee.
Johnson can serve as insurance in the event Sharrif Floyd isn’t able to recover from his year-long sidelining from a meniscus tear and the surgery that went bad to repair it. Gedeon, at a minimum, can replace Audie Cole as backup middle linebacker. Isidora immediately gets into the mix to be a starter at the right guard position vacated by the release of Brandon Fusco. Hodges brings a playmaking tight end who tied the all-time ACC record (with Steelers great Heath Miller) for touchdowns as a mismatch-creating presence downfield – a role the team hoped a couple of years ago that MyCole Pruitt could provide. Lee, despite being a seventh-round pick, is an athletic outside linebacker who could be in the mix to replace retired Chad Greenway.
Also factoring in are wide receivers Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley, both of whom are speed receivers with return ability, something the Vikings are going to need to replace the free agent loss of Cordarrelle Patterson. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo will have a tough road to making the final roster as the Vikings are stocked at defensive end.
For the typical outside observer, the Vikings’ 2017 draft wasn’t one that looked like a slam dunk because of the lack of the first-round pick. But, if you were to consider what quarterbacks were being viewed as players worthy of trading for a first-round pick – Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were both in that discussion – it takes on a different look.
If you include the acquisition of Bradford as the team’s first-round pick, the Vikings may have walked away from draft weekend with one of the best draft classes available.
As is always the case, any draft class isn’t able to be accurately assessed until two or three years after the fact. But, considering what the Vikings needed to accomplish on draft weekend and what needs they wanted to fill, you can look at the early returns as a success because the Vikings went value shopping and came up with a lot of candidates with hopes to be pieces to the future puzzle.