The Vikings have near “perfect” draft grades… Again
When I wrote my ‘DRAFT SOME LINEMAN’ 3-part manifesto, I knew it was a HIGHLY unpopular opinion… Which is why I titled it ‘Unpopular Opinion Alert’. Now, I don’t want to harp on this subject, but everywhere I turn I see nothing but glee around the Viking’s internets.
Case in point:
Updated top-10 consensus graded #NFLDraft classes:
10. Dolphins pic.twitter.com/9koV8rgRFz
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) April 28, 2020
I get it. I really do.
I’ve said multiple times over the years in writing and as part of my podcast(s) that this is my favorite time of year and that wide receiver prospects, especially, are my favorite thing in ALL of football. Before becoming the Ebenezer Scrooge of Vikings media I actually was sort of known as the guy who loved receivers… Big Ten receivers, especially.
The period right before free agency and ending with the draft are what I call ‘The Pretendies’, a time of year where nearly anything is possible for Vikings fans, a group that hasn’t had much end of the season glee to discuss over the decades the team has been in existence.
So, again. I get it. I get that this was a HUGE draft and that it one way or another will shape the future of the organization for the next half-decade. I get why people feel bullish as well. Because all the grades surrounding this draft are spectacular.
The Vikings’ haul is being called the best in the entire NFL (save for the Cowboys’ draft), and whether or not any of these picks actually end up panning out isn’t really the point because the optimistic among us also have popular opinion on their side.
That means that it doesn’t really matter whether or not these players pan out, because as we’ve already seen (in 2017… And 2018… And 2019) that even with one of the best rosters in franchise history, a weak line is the great equalizer. In fact, I’d even say we’ve seen this KIND of draft before.
I will say, though, that I understand the next thing I’m going to say also applies to my sub-A+ grade of the draft (sort of). That grading drafts this close to said draft is a fool’s errand.
Now, I do think my take on the draft does avoid this nullification argument a bit more than those amongst us that are beside themselves with joy over who the Vikings drafted (as, again, the weak point of the Vikings roster, the weak point that time-and-time again has slammed shut very real windows of opportunity, is weaker now than it was during the seasons it essentially ruined).
Meaning that we can say that, at least after the draft, there are no picks to either boom or bust to help the interior of the line, because they simply weren’t drafted. By which I mean, I can say with certainty that this draft did not improve the interior of the offensive line, which was BY FAR the biggest issue that his Vikings team has had since the Joe Berger/Nick Easton team(s).
Again, I get it. 15 picks is just insane in the 7-round era, and the Vikings seemed to get a lot of value from each pick. The argument, again, is that they are still no better off at the line than they were last Wednesday. That doesn’t mean that the players they DID take were busts, but that’s something we simply don’t know right now.
Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT one of those people who think that grading a draft, immediately after said draft, is folly. While I understand the argument (why not wait a couple years to see who actually pans out?), I do think that you can grade picks and draft classes, I just believe in adding more variables than my peers apparently do.
I know that it might seem odd that some of these variables aren’t taken into account, but I’ve literally had others in Vikings media tell me that you can only grade a draft by players taken and not by players NOT taken.
Which, I think raises the question as to what or how people are grading these drafts. Are they simply grading each player in a vacuum? Or are they also assessing what the team needs, how the drafted players fit and what it actually means in 2020?
I call it the Fantasy Football effect. So, yes, player by player… By player… By player, this was on paper a good draft. BUT, we also have to look at what the team didn’t do and that’s something I covered ad nauseum in my above-plugged manifesto. That having been said, as we’ve seen in recent years, the FF draft grading system has, for the Vikings, been astoundingly wrong.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s take a DEEPER look at some of the draft grades for the Vikings!
Bart Hubboch of the New York Post:
“Both of the first two picks look like home runs in stud … wideout … and promising man-coverage corner… ”
Draft Grade: A
USA Today’s Lindsay H. Jones: “It’s hard to find fault with any of the early draft picks.”
Draft Grade: A
Here is the list of overall grades:
USA Today’s Lindsay H. Jones: A. “It’s hard to find fault with any of the early draft picks.”
The Washington Post’s Mark Maske: B+
Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News: A-
SI.com’s Chris Burke and Doug Farrar: B
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com: B-
Rob Rang of the Sports Xchange: A-
ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.: B-
Evan Silva of Rotoworld.com: B
SB Nation’s Dan Kadar: A-.
Bart Hubboch of the New York Post: A.
As for the first pick, the Vikings took a receiver from the SEC in the early 20’s.
For The Win’s Steven Ruiz gave that pick an A grade. Saying:
“This pick made too much sense for the Vikings to pass up. [He] isn’t a burner but he has the frame and ball skills to develop into a dominant receiver No. 1 receiver. That’s exactly what Minnesota … need to push the passing game to the next level.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay on the receiver that was the Vikings’ first pick and how he…
“… isn’t a burner by any stretch, but he doesn’t need to be in the Vikings’ offense. [The Viking’s] Offensive coordinator will work [with him] on short-to-intermediate routes, playing to his strengths. [He] has a big catch radius and great ball skills, consistently plucking the ball away from his frame. He gives QB Teddy Bridgewater a legitimate No. 1 outside receiver, with the ability to navigate the sideline effortlessly and make plays in the red zone.”
Oh. I forgot to mention. The above grades and pick descriptions?
Are NOT from 2020, my friends, but the grades for the 2016 draft. A draft in which they also went receiver (at 23 not 22), corner, and offensive line (guard not tackle) with their first three picks. Oh, and I was alone in my concern about that draft as well.
The aforementioned receiver? Laquon Treadwell. He’s pro ready! He dominated in college! He isn’t one dimensional despite only doing one thing in college! They have a plan for the line! Stop being so negative! best player available! You can only grade players taken not players they didn’t take!
I heard that then.
Meanwhile, I’m also hearing people say things about Jefferson like:
Let’s look at the WalterFootball.com dating profile for each, namely, where they struggle:
-Will struggle to separate from NFL cornerbacks
-Not a deep threat
-Not fast in and out of breaks
-May not be a big separation receiver
-Not a burner
-May lack deep speed for the NFL
-Could be better off as a No. 2 receivers
Not to say that Jefferson is Treadwell 2.0. They are very different receivers, but they do share similar issues that clearly Treadwell couldn’t overcome as a pro and that made both of our draft experts (in Kirby O’Connor and Deshawn Vaughn) very unhappy with the fact that the Vikings used their 22nd pick for a one dimensional second-tier receiver (when there were a lot of other options that were more pro ready and also available on day 2 of the draft).
Reports are that the Vikings attempted to trade up to pick 14 for a receiver, and like when they took Treadwell with pick 23 in 2016 may have grabbed their best player/receiver available after a run on the position before their pick.
They then used their next pick on a corner. Third pick? Willie Beavers, a guard from Western Michigan with tackle flexibility (he just needed to add strength). Fourth pick? SEC front 7 players in DJ Wonnum and Kentrell Brothers.
Yes, this is a gross oversimplification as you can’t compare these players, individually, to other players who have come and gone. Jefferson, Gladney, Cleveland and Wonnum could all end up being gigantic studs for the Vikings. The point I’m making is that the Vikings have been making the same picks, by position, over and over again while ignoring the weak point of this offense that has ruined seasons that had players at the positions the Vikings just drafted for that were pretty damn good.
WR? Diggs and Thielen.
CB? Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackenzie Alexander.
DE? Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.
DT? Linval Joseph.
Those teams were all amazing on paper.
Where did that lead?
To where we are now. Or rather, where we were.
On the precipice of a 12 (then 15) player draft that could’ve shown that the powers that be in Eagan have learned from the wasted opportunities that were the teams with the above mentioned STUDS.
They did almost exactly the same thing they always do, and like in 2016 I’m one of the only people in Vikings media that isn’t enamored by the picks. That realizes you have to grade drafts based both on players taken and players that weren’t taken/positions of need. That has seen the season where we moved a player who had only played tackle in the pros (or period) to guard (Remmers) for a young offensive lineman who many have said is a year or two project (Cleveland/O’Neill).
I’ve also seen others in Vikings/sports media throw out mostly ‘A’ grades for these kinds of drafts. Who love one dimensional wideouts because of their dominance against lesser opponents in college. Who love yet another top pick being used on a corner despite this team’s ability to develop later round/UDFA defensive backs (at least when compared to their ability to do the same with offensive line talent), although that sample size isn’t very large because of all of the 1st/2nd rounders they’ve drafted (Rhodes (pre-Zim), Waynes, Alexander, Hughes, and now Gladney and a 3rd on Dantzler).
We could look at the three-year grades for that A/B+ 2016 draft (Spoiler alert: It went D, A, F… BEFORE Alexander’s 2019 and leaving for a single season prove it deal as a middle finger to the “CB Whisperer” in Zimmer).
Or, we could’ve used this draft to finally shore up the Achilles heel that is the interior of the line in a draft with 15 picks, 5 of which were used on DBs, and a reach at 22 for a slot guy on a team that has one of the best slot producers in not only the NFL today, but in the history of the NFL. Keep in mind that this team still has no deep threat or outside receiver outside of Thielen. That arguably hurt their remaining ability to stretch the field by drafting not just that one slot receiver, but a SECOND slot guy in KJ Osborn.
We can look at that and say that doing the same thing and expecting different results is, despite the sheer magnitude of amazing quantity that Spielman was able to put together, not going to create different results. I mean, at least in 2016 they tried to bring in a guard before the 253rd pick.
Yes. It’s amazing they had 15 picks and yes these guys could all end up as starters who contribute heavily. But, if this approach to team building DIDNT work last time, even in drafts where all we needed was a guard or two to get over the hump. I ask how will that change this time?
Let us hope to all that is whatever is holy to whomever is reading this (unless you consider Aaron Rodgers holy… Too soon) that they bring recently released guard Josh Kline back (although for the savings they received by cutting him, that seems kinda unlikely), as he was GREATLY missed when he was out in 2019.
Let’s also hope that they also sign another guard, as well. By forgoing the Trent Williams trade they at least have the cap space for it. Even so, they could’ve saved a lot of cap space by using the draft as opposed to free agency. It’s not as if they didn’t have the sheer amount of picks to do so.
That’s the main difference between 2016 and 2020. They had half the picks in ‘16 that they had in 2020, which is what makes this past weekend such a brazen doubling down on that hasn’t worked for them thus far. But, they do deserve credit for the sheer magnitude of picks, a lot of which seem great on paper.
But, we’ve seen what a great on paper roster can and can’t do when the line has two giant holes on the interior of the offensive line. That makes the response to this draft a bit surprising.
But then again, it’s not as if we haven’t seen this before.