Draft Flashback: Vikings Draft Derrick Alexander over Warren Sapp

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The NFL Draft starts this Thursday.

Yes, it is almost time. Soon fans will find out what their teams will do and who they will draft. Front office members and coaches will finally see how many of the players they like will be joining the team. One of the most significant moments in the Minnesota Vikings draft history came in 1995. Unfortunately for them, it is not a positive one.

Why? Well, they drafted defensive end Derrick Alexander over Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

Draft Flashback: Vikings Draft Derrick Alexander over Warren Sapp

The draft is always so unpredictable. You just never know what will happen. Ryan Leaf was drafted second overall in 1998 and is one of the biggest draft busts ever. You can actually argue that he is the biggest one ever. Tom Brady was taken in the sixth round and is considered by many the greatest quarterback ever.

Sapp was considered a very good prospect, but the rumors about him failing multiple drug tests was enough to scare some teams away, including the Vikings.

Vikings Draft Derrick
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Alexander played for Minnesota from 1995-98. In 57 games (51 starts) with them, he totaled 17.5 sacks. He played for the Cleveland Browns in 1999 before his career ended. Alexander was not a bad player for them but certainly did not become a star. Sapp, on the other hand, played 13 seasons in the league (nine with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), totaling 96.5 sacks. While in Tampa Bay, he had 77, including 16.5 in 2000.

Getting that many sacks is very impressive for a defensive end. It is that much more impressive for a defensive tackle. The former Miami Hurricane played a huge role in Tampa Bay becoming a relevant franchise, including a Super Bowl championship in 2002.

They also drafted fellow Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks in the first round in 1995. Talk about a grand slam first round. Those Tampa Bay defenses were among the best during Sapp’s time there. Those defenses included him, Brooks, John Lynch, Hardy Nickerson, Ronde Barber, and Donnie Abraham. It was very difficult for opposing offenses to score on.

Imagine if Minnesota took him over Alexander. They already had a defensive tackle in John Randle, so it is not a shock that they took a defensive end and did not take a player with off-the-field or rumored issues. Randle and Sapp pairing together would have been absolutely terrifying for opposing offenses.

Brett Favre, Scott Mitchell, and all other quarterbacks in the division already had to face both twice a season. Facing both at the same time twice a year would have been a nightmare for them.

Three years later, they took Randy Moss in the first round. Twenty teams passed over Moss due to off-the-field issues. Minnesota took a chance on him. Had they drafted Sapp, maybe they would have had a better record and would not have been able to draft him. Or perhaps they still would have. Moss may have dropped further either way. We will never know, of course.

There are many what-ifs in Vikings history. What if Drew Pearson did not push off? What if they drafted Marcus Allen over Darrin Nelson? What if they did not trade for Herschel Walker? What if they won the 1987, 1998, and 2009 NFC Championship Games? Or even one or two of those games.

Choosing Sapp over Alexander should also be high on the list. This franchise is still stuck at zero Super Bowl wins. Had they drafted him in 1995, they might have won a ring. Sapp in 1995 and perhaps still getting Moss three years later would have been really something. That 1998 team would have been that much stronger with both if it happened.

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Very easy to fault the franchise for that draft decision in hindsight, but at the time, it was understandable why they did it. Teams often get scared when players have off-the-field issues or are rumored to.

We have seen talented players miss games due to off-the-field issues (Lawrence Phillips and Josh Gordon being perfect examples). It is also very embarrassing from a public relations standpoint.

They also needed a defensive end more than a tackle, but it is still hard, even after 28 years, not to wonder if they took him. Having him on the team would have been enormous. Especially when a team still has not won a Super Bowl, you think about what-ifs that much more.

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Yes, they did draft Moss when 20 other teams did not. They also signed Robert Griffith, Randle, and Adam Thielen as undrafted free agents and took Adrian Peterson in the first round despite not needing a running back. They signed Cris Carter as a free agent after his off-the-field issues with the Philadelphia Eagles. All five players became good players for the franchise.

They certainly deserve plenty of praise for those decisions. In the end, though, they still have zero Super Bowl wins. Therefore, those other decisions will haunt them more than if they had won at least one by now.