Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, in a 32-part series, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: Minnesota Vikings
Head Coach: Mike Zimmer
General Manager: Rick Spielman
Players selected in 2020:
Round 1, Pick 22 overall: WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
Round 1, Pick 31 overall: CB Jeff Gladney, TCU
Round 2, Pick 58 overall: OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State
Round 3, Pick 89 overall: CB Cameron Dantzler, Clemson
Round 4, Pick 117 overall: DE D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina
Round 4, Pick 130 overall: DL James Lynch, Baylor
Round 4, Pick 132 overall: LB Troy Dye, Oregon
Round 5, Pick 169 overall: CB Harrison Hand, Temple
Round 5, Pick 176 overall: WR K.J. Osborn, Miami
Round 6, Pick 203 overall: OT Blake Brandel, Oregon State
Round 6, Pick 205 overall: S Josh Metellus, Michigan
Round 7, Pick 225 overall: DE Kenny Willekes, Michigan State
Round 7, Pick 244 overall: QB Nate Stanley, Iowa
Round 7, Pick 249 overall: S Brian Cole II, Mississippi State
Round 7, Pick 253 overall: OL Kyle Hinton, Washburn
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
WR Quartney Davis, Texas A&M
OL Brady Aiello, Oregon
S Myles Dorn, North Carolina
DT David Moa, Boise State
CB Nevelle Clark, Central Florida
Overview of the Vikings’ 2020 draft:
One day after reviewing New Orleans’ four-man 2020 draft class (the smallest in the NFL), we journey north to Minnesota, where the Vikings were looting, thanks to a league-high 15 selections, including two in the first round. While every general manager in the NFL likely would have gladly swapped spots with Vikings’ top scout Rick Spielman to have that kind of draft-day firepower, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Minnesota’s needs were many. The Vikings traded away speedy wideout Stefon Diggs (to Buffalo), allowed their top three cornerbacks from a year ago to walk in free agency and, at least at this point, appear likely to be moving on from longtime star pass rusher Everson Griffen, as well. Projecting rookies to perform at the same level (much less an improvement) over those veterans is probably unrealistic, especially given the lack of rookie minicamps this year. In terms of both quantity and quality, however, the raw talent Spielman is providing Mike Zimmer and his coaches through this rookie class is better than any other team in the league. Top pick, Justin Jefferson, should be able to step in right away and produce against the single-coverage he’s likely to see with opponents likely shifting their attention to Kirk Cousins’ favorite remaining veteran target, Adam Thielen. With such a need for help at cornerback for the defensive-minded Zimmer, Spielman’s shotgun approach to the position throughout the 2020 draft was wise. Interestingly enough, the smallest of the FIVE defensive backs Spielman drafted this year was the first one, TCU’s Jeff Gladney. While less-than-imposing, Gladney is a fantastic athlete who plays much bigger and more physical than his 5-10, 191 pound frame suggests, drawing some comparisons to former Vikings’ All-Pro Antoine Winfield by scouts this fall. The much longer and leaner Cameron Dantzler is a former receiver still working out the kinks in his game but the flashes were first round-worthy and I’m quite high on Harrison Hand, one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects in this draft, regardless of position. Speaking of projected first round picks, the Vikings got one of their best values late in the second round when an early run on offensive tackles pushed Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland down the board. Cleveland’s lack of ideal arm length had some questioning whether he could remain at left tackle in the NFL. The Vikings’ incumbent left tackle, Riley Reiff, possesses almost an identical frame, however, including even shorter than arms (33 ¼”) than Cleveland (33 3/8), so clearly this is not viewed as an issue by the Vikings. Cleveland projects as a future starter, as does fourth round linebacker Troy Dye, one of Minnesota’s many Day Three gems. Of them, it will be fascinating to see what Zimmer and his coaches can coax out of the three defensive linemen with try-hard technicians James Lynch and Kenny Willekes’ production speaking for themselves but South Carolina’s D.J. Wonnum offering the more intriguing tools. It was wise to invest the picks in defensive linemen – it is worth remembering that Raiders’ fourth rounder Maxx Crosby was the most disruptive rookie rusher last year – but Minnesota is stacked at this position, making it possible that fellow Day Three picks Josh Metellus and Brian Cole II, as they and undrafted rookie Myles Dorn are currently the only safeties on the roster behind steady starters Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris.
Best Player of the Vikings’ 2020 Draft: WR Justin Jefferson
Full disclosure, I was lower on Jefferson than most throughout much of the build-up to the 2020 NFL draft, ranking him sixth among the receivers. I believe that he and several members of LSU’s national title team were part of a perfect storm and may struggle to duplicate their individual statistical success at the pro level. That certainly applies to Jefferson, whose 18 touchdowns in 15 games last year – including four over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl playoff – were inflated by a sophisticated passing attack that college defenses simply were not ready to defend. While I appreciated the easy fluidity and savvy that Jefferson showed as a route-runner, scouts traveling through Baton Rouge last fall passed on to me that he would not measure in as big as his listed 6-3, 192 pounds. They were right – Jefferson checked in at “just” 6-1 at the Combine, but he did so at a rock-solid 202 pounds and then silenced critics (like me) by clocking in at 4.42 seconds at that weight. To give that time some perspective, that is four-tenths of a second faster than Diggs ran back in 2015 at 190 pounds. Regardless of his eye-popping speed and statistics (165 catches for 2,415 yards and 24 TDs the past two seasons), Jefferson is not currently in Diggs’ class as a pure vertical threat. He is already a similarly effective route-runner, however, and has excellent hands and body control to make tough grabs look easy. While I was down on Jefferson before, I’ve since changed my tune due to how he’s performed in the build-up to the draft, as well as his placement into a high-powered and diverse offense with a smart, accurate triggerman – eerily similar to the one he excelled in at LSU.
Best Value of the Vikings’ 2020 Draft: LB Troy Dye
Like Jefferson, Dye put up remarkable numbers for a conference champion against elite competition last season, capping his four years at Oregon in fine fashion with a PAC-12 and Rose Bowl title to go along with his 391 career tackles, third in the league’s storied history. Also like Jefferson, questions about Dye’s frame followed him throughout the draft process, with some wondering if the 6-3, 230 pounder’s relatively long, lanky build might be better suited outside than at the inside linebacker role he starred for the Ducks. Like a lot of college linebackers, Dye prefers to avoid blockers when possible, anticipating where the ball is headed and showing terrific agility and closing speed to beat opponents to the action. This fact led some to characterize him as less-than-physical. That wasn’t entirely fair, however, as Dye played through a broken thumb (and torn meniscus) last season, limiting his ability to take on and shed blockers as efficiently as in the past. When healthy, he’s shown that he can be a do-it-all weakside linebacker with impressive production rushing (13 career sacks) and in coverage (five interceptions among his 10 career PBUs), lasting as long as he did in the draft because his injuries kept him from working out at the Combine. Dye’s versatile skill-set should complement Minnesota’s current star linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks nicely.
Best Project of the Vikings’ 2020 Draft: DE D.J. Wonnum
Given that he was a three-year starter and captain at South Carolina, Wonnum is not your typical project. He recorded just 12.5 sacks during that time, however, despite possessing a prototypical 6-5, 258 pound frame (including 34 1/8” arms) and speed off the edge. Wonnum’s 4.73-second 40-yard dash was among the best of the defensive linemen tested this year. Only three edge rushers, in fact, proved faster than Wonnum with similar size (Jabari Zuniga, Alton Robinson, James Smith-Williams). Zimmer and his staff have done a fine job of developing edge rushers before. Helping a young Danielle Hunter (who entered the NFL at just 20-years old) into the fastest player in league history to get to 50 career sacks is the best illustration of this but so too is Griffen, who wasn’t a starter until Zimmer was hired and has 56 sacks since that time (2014). With only another former project in Ifeadi Odenigbo likely ahead of him on Minnesota’s depth chart, Wonnum and the rest of Minnesota’s rookie defensive linemen will get their opportunities to play meaningful minutes in 2020. With a little polish, Wonnum could prove the Vikings’ next menacing edge rusher.
Overall Grade for the Vikings’ 2020 Draft: A
Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs