There wasn’t much buzz for the Minnesota Vikings going into the first round of the NFL Draft.
That’s because they traded their No. 1 pick to get Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles after Teddy Bridgewater got hurt. The price was too high for Rick Spielman to use draft picks to get back into the first round.
So the Vikings waited until the second round to make their move. It was just the start of what most experts determined to be a successful NFL Draft for Minnesota. They got better at several positions, and added depth where it was badly needed.
Just how good was it? We won’t really know for a couple years. That’s the beauty of the draft, nobody knows which team will come out the strongest or the best. That said, here are four reasons this year’s draft is considered a success for the Vikings despite not having a first-round pick.
Addressed Offensive Needs
The Vikings had the worst rushing offense in the NFL last season, and it wasn’t all that close. Adrian Peterson missed most of last season with a knee injury, and has since departed for New Orleans in free agency. The offensive line didn’t help matters with a limited run game, and they had trouble keeping Bradford on his feet at times.
That’s why the Vikings first two picks were essential to improving the offense this season. They moved up in the second round to take Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with their first pick. Cook has the potential to be a star in the NFL. He was considered by several experts one of the top running backs in this year’s draft. He fell to the second round due to potential character issues that are now long in his past. In three seasons with the Seminoles, he ran for 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns. He’s also a receiving threat with 79 catches for 935 yards in his college career. Having Cook paired with Latavius Murray in the backfield should have fans excited about the potential of Minnesota’s rushing attack.
The Vikings also got Pat Elflein, a center out of Ohio State, in the third round. He’ll give the Vikings offensive line some depth and versatility as he can play both center and guard. It doesn’t hurt matters that he was also part of a championship caliber program with the Buckeyes, so you know he knows what it takes to win at a high level.
Will Jaleel Johnson Replace Sharrif Floyd?
When the Vikings drafted Jaleel Johnson out of Iowa in the fourth round, it gave them depth on their defensive line. It also potentially signaled the end of Sharrif Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd missed most of last season due to knee surgery, and he’s been hurt a lot in his career. To quote Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on Floyd, “You can’t make the club from the tub.”
Johnson is a force at 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 316 pounds. He was named First Team All-Big Ten last season after leading the Hawkeyes with 10 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks, which is hard to do for a defensive tackle on the interior of the line. As a junior starting on the defensive line, he had 45 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. The talent is there. With development and coaching, Johnson could be a standout on the line.
Linebacker Need Filled With Ben Gedeon
Chad Greenway retired, and Audie Cole left the Vikings in free agency. That leaves at least one hole to fill among Vikings linebackers. Enter Ben Gedeon of Michigan. He was selected Second Team All-Big Ten last year after leading Michigan with 106 tackles, including 15.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks. When you lead a defense like Michigan in tackling, you can play in the NFL. Keep in mind, that’s a defense that also had second-round pick Jabril Peppers.
The good news for Gedeon? He can be an impact player early without having to take over a major role. The Vikings linebackers are led by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. They also have Kentrell Brothers, who appeared in 10 games last year and made nine tackles. Zimmer is a great defensive mind and will find ways for Gedeon to make plays without putting too much pressure on the rookie.
Passing Game Addressed With 2 WR, Tight End?
The Vikings enter the 2017 season without a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver. The closest thing they have is Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Cordarrelle Patterson left in free agency. The Vikings filled a need last week and took a chance, signing local star Michael Floyd. He’s had trouble with the law in the past, but the Vikings feel Floyd coming home and getting the right people around him could straighten things out.
The Vikings also added depth in the draft, getting two wide receivers and a tight end. They picked receiver Rodney Adams in the fifth round, Stacy Coley out of Miami in the seventh round and tight end Bucky Hodges out of Virginia Tech in the sixth round. Adams and Hodges probably have the best chance to contribute early, but Bradford appears to have more options in the pass game. The challenge for the Vikings is that there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver.
So while Spielman was wheeling and dealing with draft picks throughout the weekend, when they were on the clock they made meaningful choices that can impact their team. Led by Cook and Elflein, they addressed areas of concern. Cook and Latavius Murray have the potential to be a top 1-2 punch in the NFL, and Elflein can stabilize an offensive line that was mostly inconsistent last year.