The Minnesota Vikings roster needs for the 2021 season uniquely align with the team’s least-drafted positions amid the last decade.
The most commonly drafted position for Minnesota among the last 10 drafts is [some sort] of defensive back. Indeed, the Vikings have drafted Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, and Jeff Gladney in the last decade. That’s 36% of all 1st-Round selections as defensive backs. Call it the Mike Zimmer Effect.
With the subtraction of Riley Reiff from the 2021 depth chart, general manager Rick Spielman either needs two starting guards (with a move of Ezra Cleveland to left tackle) or a left tackle and a left guard. That’s probably why guard Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC is one of the most frequently mock-drafted players to Minnesota in this entire draft cycle.
But Spielman and Zimmer also need a defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter in the trenches. Stephen Weatherly could possibly encounter a career renaissance at the age of 27, but that strategy leaves a lot to chance — especially as Hunter arrives 2021 fresh off a nasty neck injury. For this reason, Kwity Paye of Michigan is the most common player forecasted to the Vikings at #14. Evidently, pundits believe that Spielman can more reasonably solve the offensive line in the draft’s later rounds or with the free-agent acquisitions of men like Trai Turner, Eric Fisher, or Russell Okung.
So, if the Vikings do not choose an EDGE or OL, then Spielman will end some droughts.
What are the droughts? Defensive ends and offensive guards in the 1st Round, to be exact. And only those two spots if special teams are rightfully excluded.
If you’re a teenage Vikings fan, the franchise has never drafted men filling these positions in the 1st Round during your lifetime. Other NFL teams draft EDGE rushers and guards in the 1st Round, at times, but not Minnesota. It’s like a no-no of northern culture.
The last time that the Vikings chose a defensive end in the 1st Round was 2005. It was the same night that Troy Williamson became a member of the purple and gold, and the post-Randy Moss era was underway. Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, and Thomas Davis also began careers as pros on that April date.
The Vikings chose Erasmus James with the 18th overall pick — 16 years ago. It was the last time to date that Minnesota went with a defensive end in the 1st Round. James’ career was tiny and underwhelming. He tallied five career sacks in 28 career games, lasting four seasons in the NFL. Not much has been heard from him since. And, he was a back-to-back EDGE selection. In 2004, Minnesota chose Kenechi Udeze from USC with the 20th overall pick. Udeze stuck around for — you guessed it — four years in the NFL, just like Erasmus James.
The guard drought is drier. The last time that the Vikings chose an offensive guard in the 1st Round was in 1988. That was Randall McDaniel. He is a Hall of Famer. The choice was wildly worth it. But no guards have arrived the Vikings via the 1st Round since 1988 — 33 years ago.
What’s more, Minnesota also doesn’t select guards in the 2nd Round either. The only man drafted in the 2nd Round after McDaniel in the last 33 years was Marcus Johnson — from Mississippi in 2005. He started 18 games for the Vikings in five seasons.
Since the selection by the Vikings of the aforementioned James in 2005, NFL teams have drafted 62 true-blue defensive ends in 16 years during the 1st Round. Other linebackers used as EDGE rushers make this number even higher. It is a uniquely “Vikings thing” to avoid defensive ends in Round 1.
From Randall McDaniel on (or 33 years), 33 bonafide guards have been drafted in the 1st Round. Therefore, it more forgivable that Minnesota avoids 1st-Round guards. Most franchises find such men in the draft’s later rounds.
But if the pick is Kwity Paye, Jaelan Phillips, Gregory Rousseau, Azeez Ojulari, or Alijah Vera-Tucker for the Vikings on Thursday night, a mini-version of history will be made. Should Zimmer “get his cornerback,” or if Trey Lance slides to the Vikings, the dearth continues.