Fully unrelated to the selection of Justin Jefferson last year, the Minnesota Vikings traded with the San Francisco 49ers to move back six spots in the 2020 NFL Draft. The 49ers leapfrogged the ladder – at a price – and chose wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. For the most part, it was a wise decision according to Pro Football Focus as Aiyuk was the NFL’s second-best rookie wide receiver behind – you guessed it – Justin Jefferson. Now, the 49ers are purportedly fringe trade seekers, in search of a quarterback to potentially replace Jimmy Garoppolo. There is nothing fundamentally bad about Garoppolo, but he does not stay healthy. Aiyuk’s development would probably be aided by a passer that plays 16 games per season. They’re out there.
Minnesota has an uncharacteristically high draft pick this April because the team orchestrated an underwhelming 2020 season. The Vikings finished in third place for a divisional standing with a 7-9 record. And that allots the franchise the 14th pick in the draft next month.
A simple Google search can connect an internet surfer with dozens of mock drafts. To date, the Vikings predominantly select defensive linemen or offensive linemen in most mock drafts. Seldom do mock-draft creators bespatter their drafts with trades because to accurately predict a draft-night trade is a complete crapshoot.
Yet, the Vikings indeed traded back in 2020. A hot topic for discussion is whether general manager Rick Spielman will do it again. Last April, Minnesota moved down six spots for additional picks – a 4th-Round pick and a 5th-Round Pick as compensation. As a history lesson, here is how the spoils shook out last year.
Jeff Gladney (CB)
31st Overall Pick
The 49ers landed Aiyuk, the Vikings chose Jeff Gladney — a cornerback from Texas Christian University. No one will ever know who the Vikings would have selected if they remained at the 25th spot. It reasonably could have been Gladney, even at 25.
Minnesota had a dire need at the cornerback section of their depth chart, so it was seemingly inevitable a defensive back was on the docket. Spielman later plucked Cameron Dantzler from the 3rd Round – and he only finished as the NFL’s top rookie cornerback in 2020 per PFF.
Gladney was decent for a rookie. He was ranked 11th among all eligible rookie corners by PFF (50.1). His fierce persona on the field was promising, and his tackling acumen was cause for excitement. Gladney led the NFL in tackles by a rookie cornerback with 81.
All in all, he was a better run defender than a pass-coverage asset. It is now up to him to blend the worlds and become a more complete defender. The team will await inklings of his progress in years two and three.
D.J. Wonnum (DE)
117th Overall Pick
If one adjudicates Wonnum on his performance relating to draft position alone, he was a homerun. For one year.
Wonnum was the NFL’s seventh-best rookie EDGE rusher in 2020 per PFF (51.1). He outranked an esteemed name like K’Lavon Chaisson, who was chosen by the Jacksonville Jaguars 97 spots before Wonnum.
That 51.1 grade shouldn’t blow your socks off. But when evaluating rookies, one must remember that rookies rarely bring the heat in year one. Development usually takes time – often several years.
Wonnum’s trajectory is auspicious. His three sacks (yes, only three) were the third-most in the business by a rookie player. Wonnum could ascend to a starting defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter, or he could devolve into a career backup. The future is uncertain.
However, his rookie performance suggests he is probably on a path to eventually start rather than flame out.
K.J. Osborn (WR)
176th Overall Pick
This pick, on the other hand, might be a miss. Osborn didn’t play on offense in 2020. He was used in special team situations. The Miami (FL) alumnus returned 21 kicks and punts while fumbling twice – one of which was recovered by the opposition.
But Osborn gets the same treatment as a rookie like Gladney and Wonnum. Rookies need leeway; rookies need time. In theory, Osborn could morph into a phenomenal kick/punt returner and perhaps splash into the passing game at some point. His maiden voyage wasn’t too dazzling, but players take time to grow.
The efficacy of the Vikings 2020 trade-back can be aptly judged by Wonnum’s career path. The Vikings would have taken a cornerback no matter the 25th pick or 31st pick – we think. Gladney’s performance when determining “who won the trade” is largely irrelevant. If Wonnum becomes a starting EDGE rusher, then Minnesota likely gets the better end of the deal. Should Wonnum or Osborn fail to materialize, then the trade was immaterial.
Unless Gladney is a bust – then the 49ers would resemble thieves with the crafty selection of Aiyuk.