The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and the Vikings came away with an 11-man haul that addressed several immediate needs while building towards the future with a number of players who possess exciting upside but need time to develop.
Here's their full class:
- Rd. 1, Pick 14: LT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
- Rd. 3, Pick 66: QB Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
- Rd. 3, Pick 78: LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
- Rd. 3, Pick 86: G Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
- Rd. 3, Pick 90: DE Patrick Jones II, Pitt
- Rd. 4, Pick 119: RB Kene Nwangwu, Iowa State
- Rd. 4, Pick 125: S Camryn Bynum, Cal
- Rd. 4, Pick 134: DE Janarius Robinson, Florida State
- Rd. 5, Pick 157: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa
- Rd. 5, Pick 168: TE Zach Davidson, Central Missouri
- Rd. 6, Pick 199: DT Jaylen Tywman, Pitt
Rick Spielman and company opened up the weekend with a masterclass on Thursday night, trading back from 14 and still landing an early first-round talent in Christian Darrisaw. Then they used the two third-rounders acquired in that move to draft Kellen Mond and Wyatt Davis, which were my two favorite picks of a four-player haul in the third round. Essentially, the Vikings traded Alijah Vera-Tucker and a late fourth-rounder for Darrisaw, Mond, and Davis, which would be difficult to argue as anything other than a huge success.
On Day 3, they trusted their analytics and scouting by taking some lesser-known names early and landing prospects with dynamic potential throughout the day.
Here are my six biggest takeaways from Minnesota's draft as a whole.
The offensive line might just be fixed for good
I think the two best picks of the Vikings' entire draft might've been the two offensive linemen they added, and that's not just because of how prominent of a need it was. They got fantastic value with Darrisaw at 23 and Wyatt Davis at 86; both players could've gone much earlier. Most importantly, I believe they made a great call to switch up their approach when it comes to what kind of linemen they brought in.
Last fall, when the Vikings were going through their scouting process, Mike Zimmer told Spielman and the staff that he wanted to get bigger up front. Having ultra-mobile athletes like Brian O'Neill, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland is great for their running scheme, but they needed some bigger guys capable of keeping Kirk Cousins clean. They were able to land two players who provide the best of both worlds. Darrisaw and Davis can anchor in pass protection — something Minnesota has struggled with, particularly on the interior — and are still athletic enough to get out in space and do what the scheme requires.
Neither player should have much difficulty beating out the likes of Rashod Hill and Mason Cole to start from Week 1 as a rookie. Darrisaw has All-Pro upside with his physical tools and all-around game, and Davis has a chance to be the best homegrown guard the Vikings have produced in a long time. Those two will elevate the play of the teammates around them in addition to being immediate upgrades themselves. We could see major, major strides taken by this O-line as a whole in the fall.
Kirk Cousins finally has a backup capable of pushing him
The Vikings taking Kellen Mond 66th overall was a smart decision even if he never turns into anything notable as a NFL quarterback. The best-case scenario, of course, is that Minnesota's coaching staff is able to harness Mond's physical gifts and develop him into a great player. The fact that he shows so many impressive flashes on tape and had easily his best season in 2020 gives me some level of confidence in that being a possibility.
But at the very least, Mond is inarguably the most talented backup the Vikings have had during the Cousins era. Neither Trevor Siemian nor Sean Mannion posed any sort of threat to the expensive veteran signal-caller. Mond does. His presence alone puts pressure on Cousins to deliver more consistent results, especially now that the O-line has been addressed. If Cousins responds to the pressure like Aaron Rodgers did last year, ups his game, and earns an extension, the Vikings can flip Mond for future assets down the line. But if he doesn't, having Mond gives them flexibility if they want to get out of that albatross contract in 2022 or 2023.
I wrote a lot more about the Mond pick and its big-picture implications in my third-round grades piece, so go check that out if you're interested.
The competitive depth on the defensive line has been upgraded
Heading into the draft, the Vikings desperately needed to add more edge rushers to a room that was pretty barren outside of Danielle Hunter (whose contract and post-injury level of play remain question marks). Some thought they might finally cave and draft a defensive end in the first or second round. But they stuck to the script, taking two middle-round swings on big, athletic, high-upside DEs in Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson. With those two competing with 2020 fourth-rounder D.J. Wonnum and veteran Stephen Weatherly, all under the tutelage of Andre Patterson, I'm fairly confident in one or two players from that group emerging as at least starting-caliber. The more dart throws, the better, and Minnesota now has a trio of young, raw players at an important position.
With that said, I wouldn't mind seeing them bring in another veteran DE in free agency in the coming weeks. The more competition, the better.
It's also worth noting that Twyman, the Vikings' 11th and final pick of the weekend, has an outside shot to be a steal. He showed his interior pass-rushing chops during a 10.5-sack season in 2019, but bulked up during an opt-out year and had a brutal pro day workout as a result. Spielman thinks he can get his quickness back by getting back down to a lower weight.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette has a chance to be WR3 right away
My two favorite picks the Vikings made on Day 3 were Robinson in the fourth round and Smith-Marsette in the fifth. I think the latter has a significant amount of untapped potential and could be a dangerous big-play weapon for Minnesota's offense as a rookie. ISM was hurt by poor quarterback play during his Iowa career; he has the athleticism and route-running chops to create separation and make things happen with the ball in his hands. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he surpasses Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson for the No. 3 receiver role and a decent snap share pretty early in the upcoming season.
The Vikings' Day 3 receiver history in recent years is pretty grim, but I believe Smith-Marsette has a chance to end up closer to the Stefon Diggs side of things than the Rodney Adams/K.J. Osborn/Moritz Boehringer side. I'm pretty bullish on his upside playing behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
The special teams competitions should be fun
Going back to the competition idea that I brought up in regards to the defensive end position, I like the focus the Vikings gave to their special teams this year. That's an area in which they were horrendous in 2020. Now they've got a new coordinator (Ryan Ficken) and should have some entertaining preseason battles at key spots.
Last year, the Vikings drafted Osborn to be their return specialist and essentially handed him the job. This time around, they drafted not one but two intriguing players with experience returning kicks. Kene Nwangwu is a lightning-fast running back who was a quality KR for four years at Iowa State, and Smith-Marsette did a great job in that area as well during his college career. A quality return man capable of providing a spark in the field position game should emerge out of that Cyclone-Hawkeye competition.
He wasn't a draft pick, but UDFA kicker Riley Patterson was a good pickup to compete with Greg Joseph for a crucially important job. And hey, Zach Davidson says he's focusing on tight end for now, but maybe the collegiate punter will give Britton Colquitt a run for his money at some point.
No cornerbacks were taken
Interestingly, the Vikings didn't select a single corner in the draft, nor have they signed one as a UDFA at the time of this writing. I thought that after the Jeff Gladney incident went down, with three corners set to hit free agency in 2022, they might want to add some young depth at that position. Camryn Bynum, the one defensive back the Vikings drafted, played corner at Cal but is moving to safety in the NFL (and I think he's got a chance to be a nice find in the fourth round).
When asked about not taking any corners, Spielman mentioned Harrison Hand and Kris Boyd as two recent draft picks who provide some depth after the team's three starters, two of whom were signed in free agency this year. Fair enough.
Lastly, the reason I haven't mentioned Chazz Surratt so far is because that was the one pick that still has me scratching my head a bit. But even then, I can see the appeal with his athleticism and playmaking ability as the former QB continues learning how to play linebacker.
Only time will tell if this draft class pans out. But for now, my overall sentiment is that the Vikings did an admirable job adding to their roster over the course of the last three days, setting themselves up for success in 2021 and beyond.
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