The Minnesota Vikings selected 11 players in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was tied with the Bengals and Seahawks for the most in the league.
Four years later, only one of those 11 is still on the roster. The departures of Jaleel Johnson and Ifeadi Odenigbo in free agency this offseason leave Dalvin Cook as the only member of Minnesota's '17 draft class still around.
But how much does that really tell us about the Vikings' draft class that year? Let's look at the context and see how well or poorly Rick Spielman and company actually did four years ago.
After Johnson signed with the Texans on Wednesday, I tweeted this:
Upon reading some of the replies to that tweet and thinking more critically about it, I've realized that I came off as a little harsh there.
First, the context is important. The Vikings didn't have a first-round pick in 2017, as they traded it for Sam Bradford the previous year when Teddy Bridgewater went down with an awful injury right before the season started. Secondly, nine of those 11 picks came on the third day of the draft, including four seventh-rounders.
Here's the entire class:
There's a valid argument to be made that landing a superstar like Cook, especially in the second round, makes it a successful draft, regardless of every other pick that was made. The Vikings traded up from 48 to 41 for a sliding Cook, taking a chance that he could overcome some off-the-field red flags, and it has worked out incredibly well. The Florida State product is one of the best running backs in the NFL and was rewarded with a big second contract last year.
Still, while Cook's success makes it difficult to label the 2017 class as "bad," I would argue that it's disappointing to not have landed any long-term pieces with the ten picks that followed. Trading up for Elflein was a good idea in theory, but he dealt with some injuries prior to his second season and has been a very poor player ever since. He's now with the Panthers after a stint with the Jets last year.
Johnson didn't work out, and Gedeon was merely a decent and somewhat antiquated player before concussions derailed his career. Seventh-rounders Odenigbo and Lee are still in the NFL, with the former signing a one-year deal with the Giants this offseason and the latter playing on special teams for the Browns.
So was my tweet too harsh? Probably. It's not all that rare for teams to only have one player left from a draft class after the four-year rookie contract period is up, and most of those aren't a superstar like Cook.
But in an ideal world, you'd have more. The Saints landed Ryan Ramczyk, Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara from that draft (which is admittedly one of the best team draft classes of the century). The Packers still have Aaron Jones and Kevin King. The Steelers still have T.J. Watt and Juju Smith-Schuster. Those are just a couple examples.
The broader theme is that the Vikings really struggled in the draft from 2016 to 2018 when evaluating those three years as a whole. Last season, nobody from the '16 class was on the roster, although Mackensie Alexander and Stephen Weatherly are now back. That class was headlined by Laquon Treadwell, who is in the running with Christian Ponder as Minnesota's biggest draft bust of the 2010s. The first four picks of 2018 class (Mike Hughes, Brian O'Neill, Jalyn Holmes, Tyler Conklin) are still around, but only O'Neill is a projected starter.
The Vikings had what may have been another shaky effort in 2019, although the jury is still out. Irv Smith Jr. was a strong find in the second round, but Garrett Bradbury has a lot to prove in year three and picking a backup running back (Alexander Mattison) in the third round was a questionable allocation of resources, even though Mattison is a good player.
Even with the recent Jeff Gladney incident, the 2020 class looks like the Vikings' best since their incredible 2015 group, thanks to the promising trajectories of Justin Jefferson, Ezra Cleveland, and Cameron Dantzler.
But their relative draft struggles from 2016 to 2019 are arguably the biggest reason why the Vikings — who were on an upwards trajectory with Mike Zimmer and a strong core group of players from 2015 to 2017 — have only made the playoffs once in the past three seasons and haven't won a division title during that span.
As a result, the Vikings need another strong draft in 2021 to continue replenishing their stable of young talent.
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