The Vikings Used Rookies Less Than Any Other Team in Week 1 — What Does That Mean?

Only one Vikings rookie — a fifth-round pick — saw a non special-teams snap in Cincinnati.
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The Minnesota Vikings were one of three teams to make a league-high 11 selections in this year's NFL draft. And yet, no team used rookies less in Week 1 than the Vikings. Only one of those 11 picks saw an offensive or defensive snap: fifth-round receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who played four snaps and wasn't targeted.

The two teams with the next-fewest number of snaps played by rookies were the Seahawks — who made all of three picks in this year's draft — and the defending Super Bowl champions.

Smith-Marsette was the ninth player selected by the Vikings in April, meaning none of their top eight picks saw a non-special teams snap in Week 1. Each of the other 31 teams played at least one of their top six picks, with all but three teams playing at least two of those players.

This is a sweet graphic from Anthony Reinhard on Twitter that shows the playing time percentage for each of a team's top six picks (if they had that many). Over to the right, you'll see the Vikings and their six empty bars.

Screen Shot 2021-09-16 at 12.58.38 PM

In order to assess what that means for the Vikings, let's break down the situations for each of their draft picks five months after they joined the team.

First round LT Christian Darrisaw: Injured

Darrisaw would be the Vikings' starter at left tackle if he was healthy. But he has really struggled to recover from a core/groin injury that has been affecting him since last fall when he was still at Virginia Tech. He originally had surgery in January, but wasn't progressing as expected and needed another procedure in mid-August. Darrisaw has returned to practice in a very limited capacity, but it's anyone's guess as to when he might be deemed ready to play. Even if he does start feeling close to 100 percent, he needs to get in game shape and do plenty of practicing before he'd be out there at left tackle. My gut feeling is that won't happen until after the Vikings' Week 7 bye week, and while it's very early, it's fair to wonder if Darrisaw will play at all this year.

This quote from Mike Zimmer in a Star Tribune season preview interview stood out to me.

"You got Gladney, [Mike] Hughes [being waived] because we didn't think he would make it back from his injury. You got [2016 first-round pick Laquon] Treadwell, Darrisaw … you lose a bunch of those first-round picks and that's not good."

Third round QB Kellen Mond: Not ready

Mond is a developmental prospect at quarterback, and everyone knew that when he was drafted. He's the Vikings' No. 3 option at QB right now, behind starter Kirk Cousins and backup Sean Mannion. Mond showed some flashes in the preseason, but he also finished with a three-game stat line that shows how far away he is from being a potential starting option: 28 for 51 (55 percent), 310 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, and 13 carries for 73 rushing yards.

Third-round LB Chazz Surratt: Not ready

Surratt was the team's most surprising pick at the time, and he's another developmental guy with a lot of athletic upside. The converted QB never climbed the depth chart at linebacker during training camp. Even with Anthony Barr's concerning injury situation, Surratt is behind Eric Kendricks, Nick Vigil, Blake Lynch, Troy Dye, and maybe Ryan Connelly. He played 13 special teams snaps in Week 1.

Third-round RG Wyatt Davis: Backup

I'm bullish on Davis's future, but he was never really in the mix for the starting job at right guard during camp. Oli Udoh beat out Dakota Dozier for that job while Davis worked with the second and third-team offense. Davis has a chance to see time this season if Udoh gets hurt or struggles. It's unclear if the Vikings would consider using Davis at center or left guard if Garrett Bradbury or Ezra Cleveland were to get hurt or benched; my sense is Mason Cole would be the replacement at either of those spots. Davis played four special teams snaps in Week 1.

Third-round DE Patrick Jones II: Buried on loaded D-line

Jones was inactive in Week 1 along with Darrisaw and Mond. The main reason for that is simply that the Vikings have a deep, talented defensive line. They're set at DE for now with Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, Everson Griffen, and Stephen Weatherly. If this were last season, Jones would be out there. But he would've needed a huge camp and preseason to climb up the depth chart, and that didn't happen. Jones missed four tackles and didn't record any pressures in 57 preseason snaps.

Fourth-round RB Kene Nwangwu: Short-term injured reserve

Nwangwu would've had a legit chance to contribute right away at kick returner and/or running back, but he unfortunately suffered a hyperextended knee on the opening kickoff of the preseason. The electrifying RB will be eligible to return in Week 4 and could definitely see the field this season.

Fourth-round S Camryn Bynum: Backup

Bynum, who moved from corner to safety after being drafted by the Vikings, is one of the team's backup safeties, along with Josh Metellus. He's still learning the position and developing, which was evident in the preseason. Good news: he was excellent on special teams in Week 1, playing 23 snaps and making two tackles.

Fourth-round DE Janarius Robinson: Long-term injured reserve

Robinson, another of the Vikings' raw, athletic pass rushing prospects, is out for the season with an undisclosed lower-body injury.

Fifth-round WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette: No. 5 receiver

The only Vikings rookie to see a non-special teams snap, Smith-Marsette is just a depth receiver at this point. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn are cemented as the top three, and Dede Westbrook would be the first candidate for an expansion of playing time if one of those three missed time. Smith-Marsette is the Vikings' starting kick returner, but only got one chance at a return against the Bengals and was taken down inside his own 20.

Fifth-round TE Zach Davidson: Practice squad

Davidson had a rough August, failing to crack the Vikings' 53-man roster. Having only played one full season of tight end at a Division II, that probably shouldn't have been surprising. He still has plenty of upside given his size and athleticism, but he won't be a factor this season.

Sixth-round DT Jaylen Twyman: Non-football injury (NFI) list

Twyman was shot four times this summer in Washington D.C. and thankfully wasn't seriously wounded. He'll spend this season on the NFI list, learning and preparing for what would be a great comeback story in 2022.

None of the Vikings' rookie UDFAs made the 53-man roster. Four are on the practice squad and two are on long-term IR.

Conclusions

The Vikings' lack of playing time for rookies is interesting, but it's too early to say that it really means anything. Ultimately, this draft will be judged on how Darrisaw turns out and whether or not a couple of the other ten picks pan out to some extent, especially the four third-rounders. The Vikings didn't foresee Darrisaw's injury turning into such a difficult, nagging mess. Hopefully this won't be a lost season for the first-round pick.

Outside of Smith-Marsette, the two rookies who might be closest to seeing the field soon are Davis and Nwangwu. Jones or Surratt have a chance, but the Vikings' defense has enough veteran talent that those two likely won't be needed this year.

Is this somewhat concerning? Sure. It would've been nice for the Vikings if Darrisaw and Nwangwu were healthy, Davis stepped up and earned the RG job, and Jones forced his way onto the field with his play. But again, it's too early to overreact. The Vikings knew patience would be needed when they took developmental guys like Mond, Surratt, Robinson, Bynum, and Davidson.

You'd like to see some of these rookies — Darrisaw in particular — make an impact this season, but we won't be able to properly judge this 2021 draft class until next fall at the earliest.

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all season long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.