Unpopular Opinion Alert: The 2020 Draft may have been another missed opportunity [Pt. 1]
Note: This article is broken into pieces as when there’s something that I believe that I know is completely out of step with what other writers/fans believe, I do want to fully explain why as I believe I owe that to our readers (in general but also to avoid any thought that this is just contrarian nonsense for clicks) and to also address every angle of what is a complex issue (despite some people attempting to make it a binary one, as you’ll see).
Click Here for the second part of this piece on our sister-site, purplePTSD.com!
Or Here for the Final Piece (It’ll be live Monday at 9 a.m. Central)!
The Vikings are a few hours removed from a 15 pick draft, the first this organization has had since 1985. Because of that, there’s a lot of excitement floating around Vikings(internet)land, because apparently in 2020 quantity and quality are interchangeable. I mean that may be true in terms of toilet paper right now, but it certainly isn’t when it comes to THIS draft in particular.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is and is going to be a VERY unpopular opinion. I asked some of our followers what they graded the draft and the results were overwhelmingly positive:
— Vikings Territory (@vikingterritory) April 25, 2020
There are also people who I respect greatly who clearly disagree with me, I’d post some of the Tweets but I don’t want to seem… As snarky as I am on Twitter right now.
So, instead, I’ll just breakdown why I think that the 2020 Draft was an abject failure for this Vikings organization. I’m not really surprised that I have to do this, because I get there are 15 shiny new objects for us Vikings fans to bat around the internet like love-starved kittens locked in a trunk. But, I do really want to clear something up before we begin.
First. I take NO pleasure in being “negative”. I know that is my brand, of sorts, and that one of my websites has a sarcastic name (I’ll let you guess which one). My typical response to that is some variation of the fact that being anything but an optimist in the near six-decades that this team has existed means that people like me are batting 1.00. I could use the same “logic” and just say people are being positive for the sake of being positive. It doesn’t prove anything about the draft itself. So, let’s focus on that, as I’m going to publish this and then go into hiding for a while as to not completely walk face-first into the onslaught of ire this article will bring.
But that’s not a complete argument as it leaves the ability for those you’re using it against to say that being negative for the sake of negativity means that people who cover 31 out of 32 teams each year are “right”. But, when you see a team that has had promising season after promising season dashed for the same reasons, it’s hard not to start to look at the reason behind those dashed dreams in general, but especially when the team has a draft with 15 players.
I also do want to make it clear that I don’t necessarily think Jeff Gladney or Ezra Cleveland (or Cameron Dantzler, etc.) are bad picks. Quite the contrary, they seem to be good or even great picks. Unless Cleveland’s so-called “Guard flexibility” pans out (which seems unlikely considering the fact that he started all 40 games at Boise State at left tackle), because from all reports it seems like the best-case scenario is that he either starts at left or right tackle, right tackle Brian O’Neill either swaps sides or stays at right tackle and left tackle Riley Reiff moves to one of the guard spots (a position he hasn’t played since early in college).
We’ve already seen what happens when the Vikings have promise at the tackle position but then risk that talent by moving one of the tackles to guard. The Vikings signed Reiff the same off-season they signed Mike Remmers to play right tackle. After injuries in the playoffs and the 2018 draft pick that was current right tacklee Brian O’Neill (who many have compared to Cleveland), the Vikings moved Remmers to right guard (despite the fact that he had never played the position). The results? Well, see below (or ask your therapist to unlock those long buried memories for you).
It was clear well before the draft that going into the final contracted year for both head coach Mike Zimmer and general Rick Spielman, that this was going to be a draft that we looked back upon for years to come as one that either created another young core of talent to build around for this Vikings team or as an opportunity missed. It’s safe to say from the response to the above linked Twitter poll (as well as people’s responses to my consternation on Twitter) that the vast majority of you believe that this was a home run draft for the Vikings.
My question is, why?
The best way for me to explain that is to go to a Tweet from another member of Vikings media, who essentially dismissed my “far off the reservation” critique as fallacy mainly because I wasn’t evaluating the players the Vikings DID take (but rather, was upset about the ones that they didn’t). But that’s not how draft evaluations work, unless you believe 100% in taking the best player available per position.
Perhaps that’s what this Vikings team has done under Zimmer/Spielman, which means as luck would have it, the best player available since 2014 has been more often than not, a corner or safety. Since 2015, the Vikings have used four first or second-round picks on corners. That means that out 12 possible picks, the Vikings have taken a corner a third of the time. That thinking was reflected over the weekend, where the Vikings selected a DB five times out of 15 possible selections, also a one-third ratio.
That means that the Vikings have taken corners both when needed and when there have been must bigger positions of need, and what do they have to show for it? What have they missed out on? Case in point for that is the 2018 draft, a draft in which the Vikings took corner Mike Hughes despite having Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, and Mackenzie Alexander on their roster (two first-rounders and a second-rounder). That was also the draft in which the Vikings had a need for both guard position on the offensive line (with Joe Berger retiring and the team knowing a lot more about Nick Easton’s health than we did at the time).
This is a side issue, sort of… But people that compared Kirk Cousins’ time in purple in general, but especially his 2018, vs. the magical season that Case Keenum had in 2017, seemed to ignore the differences in the offensive lines between those two seasons. Keenum had a line comprised, from LT-to-RT, Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, and Mike Remmers. At least in the regular season. That unit, while not perfect, had a great year compared to the unit that Cousins has played behind.
Going into the 2018 draft, the first draft after the Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a then record-shattering deal, it was presumed by many that the Vikings would invest in the interior of the offensive line after the losses of Berger and the up-in-the-air status of Nick Easton (who was placed on IR for the 2018 season before camp). Spoiler alert, they did not, and instead decided to keep former right tackle Mike Remmers at the guard position he first played at in the playoffs, flipping him from the left side to the right. When I say first I mean FIRST, as in this was the first time he had played the position.
Despite the awful results of that move (see: The 2017 NFCCG), the Vikings decided that they’d rather draft another corner late in the first than actually invest in the interior of their line. And before people use the “YEAH BUT WHAT WOULD YOU DO” defense, the reality is that there were a handful of plug and play guards available in the early second round of that draft (See Below), after the Vikings picked Mike Hughes and before they took Brian O’Neill.
That’s not to say that Mike Hughes is a bad player. We don’t really know, but he could very well end up being the shutdown corner we all hope he will be. But, you also have to look at things outside of the binary choice of whether or not the played picked ends up being good, at least when analyzing the success of a team and whether or not to continue on the same path. Let’s say he ended up being defensive rookie of the year, that doesn’t change the fact that the team arguably didn’t need a corner at the time or that trading down and taking someone like Will Hernandez may have been a much better pick for the Vikings.
Sure, they may seem like they really needed one based on the lack of depth at the position right now, but you could also argue that they may have approached things differently with Waynes/Alexander/Rhodes if they hadn’t drafted Hughes. Point being, all of these things are interconnected, and to simply, again, look at a pick that way is short-sighted and ignores how football works.
But back to the 2018 offensive line, whose results were so terrible that some labeled the guard unit that he and right guard Mike Remmers rounded out as historically bad, and at one point in the 2018 season the entire unit was on pace for “record ineptitude“.
For the record, that’s the first year of Cousins’ record deal wasted and another year of the Viking’s core of young players also left to rot on the vine. If that sounds familiar, it should. 2016 felt the same way, and was so awful that some of us thought that it taught Zimmer/Spielman a lesson. Which is why they brought in Reiff and Remmers, only to essentially ruin Remmers by falling back to old behaviors.
How did the Vikings rebound in the 2019 draft?
Check Out Part II of this Article over on our Sister-Site, purplePTSD.com (CLICK HERE)! Or, you know don’t and just be a negative person… See? Doesnt’ feel great, does it?