There can be no doubt that the Minnesota Vikings are in a “win-now” situation. They handed Kirk Cousins the keys to the city with a $66 million contract extension back in March. The 2020 NFL Draft presented Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer the opportunity to surround Cousins with the pieces to enable the Vikings to go further than last season’s NFC Divisional Round.
The problem for Minnesota was the sheer number of holes that they needed to fill. Departures during the off-season have depleted the once revered Vikings defense. They needed to completely overhaul the secondary and add a proven pass rusher. Most importantly for Cousins, the Vikings had to find a reliable and consistent playmaker at the wide receiver position whilst providing depth on the offensive line.
It may be premature to determine the success of an NFL Draft class. However, in ticking all the pre-draft boxes the Vikings were one of the big winners from the 2020 NFL Draft.
As Diggs departs, Vikings jump for Jefferson
The Stefon Diggs debacle in Minnesota finally came to an end during the NFL off-season. The want-away wide receiver has demonstrated diva like tendencies, with his antics creating an unwelcome distraction to the Vikings. In the weeks prior to the 2020 NFL Draft, the Vikings found a trade partner and Diggs departed for the Buffalo Bills.
With the first-round pick that they received from the Bills for Diggs, the 22nd overall selection in the NFL Draft, the Vikings selected Justin Jefferson from LSU.
With the receiver needy Philadelphia Eagles sitting one spot ahead, the Vikings will have been both thrilled and surprised to find Jefferson fall into their lap. After a standout performance at the NFL Combine where he answered some questions about his speed, Jefferson had seen his draft stock soar.
He was the most productive of all the wide receivers available in this year’s class, snagging 1540 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns as he helped LSU to a College Football National Championship.
Jefferson provides a reliable target for Cousins who can dominate from the slot position but can also make use of his catch radius and ability to high point the ball to figure as an outside threat. Throw in the winning mentality from a successful college career and he makes the perfect stable mate for Adam Theilen in the Vikings wide receiver room.
Minnesota makes moves to secure the secondary
The largest need to fill during the 2020 NFL Draft was in the secondary. The unit would require a complete overhaul after a mass exodus from Minnesota over the off-season. The team parted ways with a whole laundry list of defensive backs with Xavier Rhodes (Indianapolis Colts), Trae Waynes (Cincinnati Bengals), Mackensie Alexander (Cincinnati Bengals), Andrew Sendejo (Cleveland Browns), and Jayron Kearse (Detroit Lions) all leaving the building.
The Vikings struck early and struck gold in their defensive overhaul. After striking a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, they dropped back to the 31st pick, picking up more capital but still be able to secure one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the class in TCU’s Jeff Gladney.
Gladney has great instincts for the ball and brings an extremely competitive nature to the Vikings secondary. He plays a hard-nosed brand of football which perfectly fits Zimmer’s style.
That competitive style of cornerback play runs through the veins of this Vikings draft class. They will pair Gladney up with third round selection Cameron Dantzler, who also thrives off going into battle one on one with wide receivers. After a disappointing showing at the NFL Combine, Dantzler slid down draft boards. He was a steal in the third round, and the duo will form a little and large pairing that could lockdown offenses in the NFC North for years to come.
Later in the draft, they added further competitive toughness with Harrison Hand, Josh Metellus, and Dantzler’s Mississippi State teammate Brian Cole II. The latter two are developmental prospects at the safety position. Anthony Harris received the franchise tag for 2020 and he could be another piece that is no longer in the building this time next year.
With their 2020 NFL Draft class, they have made sure that there are plenty of defensive back pieces that will be.
With Griffen gone, Vikings add pass rushers
After a difficult 2018, Everson Griffen had a bounce back 2019 season for the Vikings, contributing eight sacks during a successful campaign. At the end of the season, however, he decided to void his contract and became a free agent. Although Griffen has not ruled out a return to Minnesota, the Vikings decided to use their 2020 NFL Draft haul to address the position.
They trebled up at the position, adding South Carolina’s D.J. Wonnum, Baylor’s James Lynch, and Kenny Willekes from Michigan State.
Wonnum has a high motor type of player, who may be best suited to play outside linebacker. Lynch had a highly productive season at Baylor as the Bears surprised many with a run to the BIG 12 Championship Game.
Willekes is the most intriguing of the three selections and represents an absolute bargain in the seventh round. The former walk on has had a standout career at Michigan State and was the Defensive Lineman of the year in 2018. There has been question marks about his strength and athleticism throughout his career and Willekes attempted to answer those at the NFL Combine and during a series of workout videos in the run up to the draft.
His ability to translate his college production to the NFL has always been questioned, hence his availability in the seventh round, and that will fuel his desire to succeed.
Vikings successful raid on the 2020 NFL Draft
Although the Draft is the ultimate lottery, with prospects that appear certain to succeed often failing to live up to their potential, and others who were overlooked and underrated rising to prominence and All-Pro careers, the Vikings can lay claim to having made a success of the 2020 NFL Draft.
They addressed multiple needs across the board as discussed above. In addition, they provided depth on the offensive line as they look to protect Cousins next season and beyond. Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland had received first round buzz so to pick him up late in the second round was good value. They added depth at guard with Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton. There was also a look to life beyond Cousins with the selection of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.
The NFL Draft has helped the Minnesota Vikings completely overhaul their roster. The true test of the success of their class will come when they hit the field for the 2020 NFL season.