38 Special: Revisiting A Record Number Of Draft Picks
After signing QB Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract in 2018 and a two-year, $66 million extension in 2020, the Minnesota Vikings knew that they would need a large influx of young (and cheap) players into the organization in order to stay under the cap situation. They solved this with an NFL record 38 draft picks over three seasons from 2019-2021, including 15 selections in 2020. 30 of the 38 players drafted are still with the Vikings organization while 22 are currently on the active roster. We’ll look back at every pick, the biggest hits and misses of each draft class, and look at how these 38 picks impact both the present and future of Minnesota Vikings football.
The Picks; C Garrett Bradbury, TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison, G Dru Samia, LB Cameron Smith, DT Armon Watts, S Marcus Epps, OT Olisaemaka Udoh, CB Kris Boyd, WR Dillon Mitchell, WR Olabisi Johnson, and LS Austin Cutting
Biggest Hit: OT Oli Udoh
Drafted 193rd overall out of Elon University, Udoh sat behind IOL Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia before taking over the starting right guard position this season. Udoh received high praise earlier this year from offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak for his ability to play at multiple positions along the offensive line. Finding any starting lineman this late in the draft should be considered a huge win for general manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the organization.
Biggest Miss: C Garrett Bradbury
Despite being the most logical pick at the time and a three-year starter, Bradbury has not yet played up to his first round potential. In 2,154 snaps Bradbury has allowed 10 sacks and gotten 14 penalties in 32 career games. Bradbury posted PFF grades of 58.1 and 61.4 in 2019 and 2020, which is considered to be between a backup and replaceable. In his defense, Bradbury has played with well-below average guards for his entire career. He’ll have this season and next to turn things around before his contract expires after 2022.
Although their first-round pick was a miss, the Vikings found plenty of value later in the draft and had a 50% hit rate on their 12 total picks. Other contributing players include TE Irv Smith Jr., who was preparing for his breakout this year before undergoing knee surgery to repair his meniscus just before the season started, and CB Kris Boyd, who is currently fourth on the depth chart at his position. RB Alexander Mattison has also shown flashes in his limited work as a backup behind Dalvin Cook.
The Picks; WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, OT Ezra Cleveland, CB Cameron Dantzler, DE D.J. Wonnum, DT James Lynch, LB Troy Dye, CB Harrison Hand, WR K.J. Osborn, OT Blake Brandel, S Josh Metellus, DE Kenny Willekes, QB Nate Stanley, S Brian Cole II, G Kyle Hinton
Biggest Hit: WR Justin Jefferson
Not much has to be said about how good Justin Jefferson has been through his first 17 career games. Drafted at 22nd overall, Jefferson outclassed the four wideouts taken before him en route to setting the rookie record for receiving yards in a season (1400). Jefferson finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting last season and is already one of the most exciting players in the NFL.
Biggest Miss: CB Jeff Gladney
The second first-round draft pick taken in 2020, Jeff Gladney was decent in his rookie season (50.1 PFF grade) and was expected to take a big jump in year two. However, Gladney was indicted for felony assault of a woman he was previously in a relationship with and was released by the Vikings over the offseason. With other defensive backs on the board, including safety Antoine Winfield Jr., the Vikings could’ve/should’ve/would’ve liked a redo on this 31st overall pick.
With 15 total draft picks, Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer were probably just hoping for a handful of players to have an impact on the team. 17 months later and six players (Jefferson, Cleveland, Dantzler, Wonnum, Dye, and Osborn) have started for the Vikings at some point while four others (Lynch, Hand, Brandel, and Hinton) are solid depth/project players.
The Picks; OT Christian Darrisaw, QB Kellen Mond, LB Chazz Surratt, G Wyatt Davis, DE Patrick Jones II, RB Kene Nwangwu, CB Camryn Bynum, DE Janarius Robinson, WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, TE Zach Davidson, DT Jaylen Twyman
Biggest Hit: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
With only one game played in the 2021 season so far, it was hard to judge the best pick from this draft class at this point. I’ll choose fifth-round pick Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who looked great in training camp this summer and is currently the Vikings kick returner. Minnesota needs a WR3 behind Jefferson and Adam Thielen, and Smith-Marsette has so far shown that he may be the one to fill that role.
Biggest Miss: OT Christian Darrisaw
After trading back from 14th to 23rd overall, the Vikings drafted Christian Darrisaw with the expectation that he would be the starting left tackle to open the season. Instead, Darrisaw has been dealing with a core injury and had a minor surgery to try and repair it late in the offseason. Minnesota fans are expecting Darrisaw to be great, but we’re still waiting for him to get on the field.
It may seem like a low grade, but it’s too tough and early to tell just how this year’s draft class will turn out. There are some intriguing prospects to keep an eye on, including the expected successor to Cousins in quarterback Kellen Mond.
Despite a subpar season last year, the Vikings are already seeing the effects of their young draft picks on both sides of the ball. Minnesota currently has the sixth-youngest roster (25.72 years) and youngest offense (24.87 years) in the NFL. The Vikings have seven draft picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Should they continue their strategy of stockpiling picks, or is now the time to trade for higher-end talent?