Day 3 draft picks, especially for teams that plan on contending, are usually developmental players who ideally won't be thrust into major roles right away. However, things happen during NFL seasons, and guys picked in the fourth through seventh rounds sometimes end up seeing the field a lot as rookies.
Last season, the Vikings got production out of three Day 3 rookies: Camryn Bynum (two starts), Kene Nwangwu (two kickoff return touchdowns), and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (two receiving touchdowns). Other examples of recent Vikings Day 3 picks who made impacts in their first season include D.J. Wonnum, Ben Gedeon, and Stefon Diggs.
Heading into 2022, we know the Vikings are expecting to get big things out of players like Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., Ed Ingram, and Brian Asamoah II right away. That's why they were picked in the top 70 overall in this year's draft.
But of the six players the Vikings selected in the fourth round or later, who has the best chance to make an impact beyond special teams this season? Here are three players to keep an eye on.
Esezi Otomewo, DL, 5th round
Otomewo's production at the University of Minnesota didn't jump off the stat sheet, as he finished his four-year Gophers career with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 total tackles for loss. But he has a chance to be even better in the NFL because he's an explosive, agile athlete. Otomewo is perfectly suited to play the 5-tech position on the Vikings' defensive line, meaning he could have opportunities to play right away as a rookie. After the top three defensive linemen — Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, and Armon Watts — there are plenty of rotational snaps up for grabs. Otomewo will need to beat out players like James Lynch, Jonathan Bullard, Jaylen Twyman, and T.J. Smith, which is very doable.
Akayleb Evans, CB, 4th round
Obviously, fourth-rounders typically have a better chance of playing as rookies than sixth or seventh-rounders do. Evans is a developmental corner with incredible length and athleticism, but it's not hard to imagine a situation where he has a role on defense later in the season. Right now, Evans is the Vikings' No. 4 outside cornerback behind Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, and Booth. All three of those players have some level of injury risk based on age (in Peterson's case) or injury history. If a player or two goes down, Evans could be thrust into action earlier than anticipated.
Jalen Nailor, WR, 6th round
In a deep Vikings receiver room, I'm not expecting Nailor to see the field much on offense. Even beyond Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, the Vikings have K.J. Osborn, Bisi Johnson, Albert Wilson, and Smith-Marsette. Where I do expect to see Nailor make an impact is as the Vikings' punt returner. I think he'll end up with that job to start the regular season. Nailor is fast, bursty, and has some experience as a returner at Michigan State. I doubt the Vikings want Osborn returning punts this season, so Nailor makes a lot of sense.
- Ty Chandler, RB, 5th round — It'll be hard for the fourth-string RB to see the field as a rookie.
- Vederian Lowe, OT, 6th round — Still needs to beat out Blake Brandel just to be the swing tackle.
- Nick Muse, TE, 7th round — Fourth or fifth on the TE depth chart, likely a practice squad candidate.
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