Rating the Vikings 2023 Rookie Class

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With the 2023 season ending for the Minnesota Vikings, it’s time to rate the 2023 rookie class. It was the second draft of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s tenure as the Vikings general manager. His first draft has come under heavy criticism, but how did he do the second time around? 

Rating the Vikings 2023 Rookie Class

Minnesota drafted six players in the 2023 draft, five of whom have had playing time this season. The Vikings also signed three impressive undrafted rookies who have seen playing time. This examination will rate the Vikings’ 2023 rookie class individually for their performance against where they were (or weren’t) drafted.

Jordan Addison | WR | R1 | Pick 23

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The Vikings went to the well again in the first round for a wide receiver. Finding another Justin Jefferson was very unlikely. The plan was to find him a running buddy who could terrorize defenses for a long time.

The Vikings hit with this pick, and Addison excelled as the foil to Jefferson, exploding onto the scene with seven touchdown catches in his first eight games. Jefferson is the master at moving the chains, and with Addison’s nose for the end zone, they form an excellent pairing.

The highlight of his season came on Monday Night Football. The primetime cameras saw him step into the injured Jefferson’s shoes as the Vikings WR1 and produce 123 yards and two touchdowns from seven catches in a huge Vikings win against the best team in the NFC. Addison’s production has been hampered by the injury to Kirk Cousins and the inconsistent (at best) quarterback play that has followed. 

He did showcase his talents without Cousins against Cincinnati, catching all six targets for 111 yards and two touchdowns, but Addison has often been fighting an uphill battle during the second half of the season. With consistent quarterback play, he would have had a better stat line than the 70 completions on 108 targets for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns he ended the season with. Still, that is an impressive rookie season promising an extremely bright future.

Grade = A

Mekhi Blackmon | CB | R3 | Pick 102

It has been a rookie season of promise for Mekhi Blackmon.

He got onto the field on defense in Week 1 and has been involved in every game except the two in which he was inactive. Blackmon finished his rookie campaign playing in 15 games, including three starts, amassing 41 tackles, including 3 tackles for loss, as well as 8 pass deflections, 1 interception, and a fumble recovery. His overall grade from Pro Football Focus of 71.1 indicates that Blackmon is a good player. His tackling grade of 90.3 was first among all rookies. 

The rookie burst onto the scene with a huge performance in Week 8 at Lambeau Field against Green Bay. That started a real purple patch for Blackmon that lasted until Week 14 as the rookie was on his way to thrusting his name into the mix as the Vikings’ long-term solution at CB. A rough game in Cincinnati and an even worse one in the return fixture against Green Bay has slowed that momentum. Overall, it has been a rookie season that Blackmon should be happy with. The question is, how much further can he build on this promising start?

Grade = B-

Jay Ward | S | R4 | Pick 134

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Jay Ward was active for every game this season as a regular on special teams and occasional contributor on defense.

He had eight tackles and a fumble recovery to show for his rookie campaign. Any chance to move up the depth chart may depend on the future of Harrison Smith. The Vikings legend commands a hefty $19.2 million cap hit next season, which only gets more significant in 2025. That’s a lot of money for a 35-year-old, and something probably has to give, with plenty of speculation on his future not only with the Vikings but within the game.

I don’t foresee the Vikings wanting to commit significant resources to the safety position next season — with or without the Hitman on the roster. The hope will be for Ward and 2022 first-round pick Lewis Cine to show development. Josh Metellus has a specific hybrid role on the defense that I don’t think will change much and could leave the door open for Ward or Cine if Smith’s time in Minnesota is up.

Grade = D+

Jaquelin Roy | IDL | R5 | Pick 141

Vikings Rookie Getting
Tigers Jaquelin Roy during the NFL Pro Day at LSU. Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Roy was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in Round of the 2023 NFL Draft by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. © SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Jaquelin Roy was a player I was excited to see develop as the Vikings desperately needed help on the interior defensive line. We didn’t see much from Roy this year, as he only played on 96 defensive snaps. He did have a run of games between Week 4 and 9, which showed some promise with eight tackles, including a tackle for loss and a QB hit. He then played in the next six games without registering anything on the stat sheet before being a healthy inactive on game day for the last two games.

His run defense was okay, but there was little evidence of the pass rush the Vikings need from him, which was disappointing for a player touted as an explosive athlete coming into the draft. There’s work to do this year, which shouldn’t be unexpected from a fifth-round pick, but with IDL a position the Vikings are expected to look to strengthen, he will need to fight to maintain his place on the roster.

Grade = D

Jaren Hall | QB | R5 | Pick 164

Nobody expects their fifth-round pick to turn into their franchise quarterback. There’s more chance the QB never sees the field, but Jaren Hall did get opportunities this season. Unfortunately, they were all short-lived after he came in and saw the Vikings over the line for a win in Green Bay after Kirk Cousins was injured late in the game. After putting together a promising drive when starting the following game in Atlanta, he was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Joshua Dobbs and Nick Mullens started the next six games, and Hall looked like the forgotten man. Then, with the season on the line against the Packers, Hall got another chance to start — it went badly. Hall completed just 5 of 10 pass attempts for 67 yards and an interception as the Packers built a lead they’d never relinquish. Hall was promptly benched for Mullens as Kevin O’Connell desperately tried to find a spark for his offense. In hindsight, it would have been better for Hall if his season ended with his promising drive in Atlanta. 

Grade = C-

DeWayne McBride | RB | R7 |Pick 222

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The final pick of the draft was running back DeWayne McBride out of UAB. McBride lived on the Vikings’ practice squad all season despite the Vikings’ run game woes and injuries to Cam Akers, Kene Nwangwu, and, more recently, Alexander Mattison. The Vikings have never called upon McBride to step in; instead, they have brought Myles Gaskin on and off the practice squad and into a couple of gameday squads.

Ty Chandler has shown some promise this season, and the Vikings may be happy to ride with him as RB1 next season. However, RB feels like a position the Vikings need to address in the offseason. For McBride to stick around in Minnesota next year, he will need a very good training camp, but more time on the practice squad feels like the best-case scenario.

Grade = F

Ivan Pace Jr. | LB | UDFA

Along with Addison, Ivan Pace has been the star of this rookie class. Considering the former is a first-round pick and Pace went undrafted, it’s been an incredible season for the linebacker. Not only impressing with his high-intensity play on the field but was also entrusted with the green dot (the defensive player that communicates the play call) when Jordan Hicks was out injured.

Pace had 102 tackles, including 2.5 sacks,  2 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and recovery, and 9 QB hits. The rookie was impressive in coverage, an important part of the modern linebacker role, with 1 interception and 2 pass deflections, and an impressive coverage grade from Pro Football Focus of 77.7. His overall grade of 77.2 was 17th best among all linebackers. Hicks is a pending free agent who turns 32 before next season. It could be time for Pace to permanently step into the veteran’s shoes.

Grade = A+

Andre Carter | OLB | UDFA

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During the 2023 draft process, Andre Carter was projected as high as a second-round pick. The hype cooled, and in the end, the concerns of a player from Army who needed a lot of development meant nobody called his name. The Vikings pounced to snag him as an undrafted free agent. The excitement around Carter pertained to his size (6’6, 256 lbs) and athleticism.

The fact Carter made the 53-man roster was a promising sign. After only making the gameday squad in two of the first seven games, Carter was active on gameday for all of the last 10 games. He mainly played on special teams but did have 68 defensive snaps across the season, making two tackles and four pressures. Carter is one to watch with interest to see if the Vikings coaching staff can mold his raw tools into a good pro footballer.

Grade = B-

Najee Thompson | CB | Undrafted Free Agent

He only played one defensive snap all season, but Najee has stood out on special teams as the Vikings punt gunner. Thompson has seven tackles and made his most impressive play of the season in the home loss against Green Bay. He sprinted downfield and pressured the Packers’ return man Samori Toure into muffing a punt, hit him, and then got up and recovered the fumble that led to the Vikings’ only touchdown.

Three undrafted rookies making the initial 53-man roster and staying there all season is impressive. As one of the few bright spots on a special teams unit that didn’t have a good season, he stands an excellent chance of returning next season. It doesn’t get much better than that for undrafted rookies not named Ivan Pace.

Grade = B+