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2017 NFL Draft: More deals, more depth, and more questions for the Vikings in Day 3

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The Vikings had an incredibly busy final day of the draft. We go through all nine of Saturday’s picks with scouting reports, quotes, and reactions.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice
The Vikings added Jaleel Johnson with their first pick on Saturday.
Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

We knew it was going to be busy.

The Vikings had a whopping seven selections remaining heading into the final day of the 2017 NFL Draft. However, when you’re dealing with Rick Spielman, no pick is safe. No deal is too minor.

The Vikings General Manager traded...and traded...and traded...and traded...

...and then picked...and picked...and picked some more...until the team had made nine selections in Day 3 alone and eleven overall. When the smoke finally cleared after the 245th pick, the Vikings ended up with:

11 draftees
7 trades
6 offensive players
5 defensive players
5 players from the ACC
4 players from the Big Ten
2 linebackers
2 offensive linemen
2 potential kick returners
2 Miami Hurricanes
and 1 Partridge in a pear tree.

Whew. We have a lot to cover, so let’s just dive into it.

Saturday started out normally enough: the Vikings stood pat in their draft slot and took a player that could make an immediate impact.

Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was a wrestler in high school. He had a 21-3 record in his junior year, which was his final year of high school wrestling. His new teammate Pat Elflein was also a wrestler in high school, so physicality on both sides of the line seems to be a big point of emphasis for the Vikings in this draft.

Johnson’s tape shows someone with great power and technique. He’s an incredibly talented interior pass rusher and racked up 7.5 sacks his senior year at Iowa.

Johnson has the strength to create separation with one arm in order to create leverage. He also has the technique to take advantage of the space he creates.

However, Johnson still has features of his game that could use improvement. He isn’t incredibly “twitchy” and can get beat to the initial point of attack if an offensive lineman acts quickly off the snap. He got into trouble against the run at times with his initial leverage and had trouble fighting through gaps against double teams. But Johnson could be a real game changer right away for the Vikings, especially on passing downs. A lot of fans and analysts had Johnson on their list of targets heading into Saturday; the Vikings may have hit a bulls eye right out of the gate.

Their second shot in the fourth round might have gone a little wayward depending on who you ask. Ben Gedeon was considered by many as a reach at 120 overall. He wasn’t a “sexy” pick because he wasn’t on the radar of most Vikings fans. But the Vikings needed linebacker depth and Gedeon put up some serious stats at Michigan. He led the nation’s #1 total defense with 106 tackles last year, including 15.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

Gedeon certainly had a lot of help racking up those numbers though—there were already five of his defensive battery mates selected by the time Gedeon went in the fourth round. There were questions about his athleticism going into the Combine, but he acquitted himself quite nicely in most areas except speed. Here is his Mockdraftable spider chart:

From the film I watched on Gedeon, he reminded me a little of Chad Greenway. If the play was anywhere near him, he usually made the tackle. But if the play bounced outside of his area, Gedeon sometimes had trouble keeping up around the edge. Luckily, Gedeon had players like Jabrill Peppers, Taco Charlton, Jourdan Lewis, Chris Wormley, and Delano Hill to set the edge so Gedeon could do what he does best.

While Gedeon has his limits, his football IQ is excellent. He’s always in the right position and rarely makes mental mistakes. Given his extensive special teams experience at Michigan, that will probably be how he makes his initial impact with the Vikings. That might not sit well for Vikings fans with a fourth round pick, but it isn’t an uncommon path for a linebacker to take in the NFL.

In most scouting reports about both Johnson and Gedeon, one of the first things you’ll see is some mention about their desire and high motors. Both players live and breathe football and their effort shouldn’t ever be called into question. Johnson and Gedeon are very different players but that common thread is likely what landed them both on the Vikings.

After the fourth round picks were made, the natives started to get restless. The Vikings traded out of their final fourth round pick and had to wait for 50 excruciating selections before they finally chose again. During those picks, lots of Day 3 “wishlist” names disappeared. Jake Butt, Desmond King, Corn Elder, Isaac Asiata, Nico Siragusa, and Will Holden were all taken, and lots of fans were none too pleased. I got countless tweets with some variation of “Oh great we’re trading down again. Can’t wait to see us draft all these guys that won’t even make the team!” Of course this is an exaggeration since a fair number of current important Vikings contributors were taken in the fifth round or later, but the concern was legitimate. After trading up for quality early in the draft, Spielman once again seemed to be depending on quantity later on.

The first pick the Vikings finally took in the fifth round did little to quell those concerns. Rodney Adams was quickly panned as a kick return specialist and not much else. That isn’t to say that Adams doesn’t have important qualities—he has speed, and lots of it. As in 4.4 40 speed. But after that, not much jumps out about him physically. He has a very slight build on his 6’1” frame and put up very poor strength and agility numbers at the Combine. Case in point: his spider chart.

Yeesh. Adams is dynamic with the ball in his hands, but his route running still needs a lot of work at the next level. Even Daily Stampede, the SB Nation South Florida site, talked about the possibility of him playing in the CFL if he didn’t get picked in the draft. If Adams doesn’t win the kick returner job, it might be difficult to see him making the roster. That isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement for someone taken in the 5th round. But hey, he’s really fast and good with the ball in his hands. At least that’s something, right?

The next pick in the fifth round at 180 overall seemed to be a little more practical. The Vikings looked to add depth at a need position by selecting Miami guard Danny Isidora. He was a three-year starter at Miami and a lauded leader on the Hurricanes’ line. Like Gedeon, the scouting report on him is that he’s solid if not outstanding. He might not be ready to compete for a starting gig right away, but at the very least Isidora should be able to add depth to a unit that was desperately devoid of it in 2016. After the perceived stretches of the Gedeon and Adams picks, Isidora seems to offer more value for where he was selected.

If Isidora was a start back toward the coveted “value pick,” the selection of Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges was an even bigger step in that direction. Hodges, the 201st overall pick, was 78th on the Consensus Big Board. The guy is an absolute athletic specimen at 6’7”, 245 lbs, and with this chart:

Hodges was a touchdown machine at Virginia Tech, racking up 20 touchdowns on 133 catches over three seasons. His size makes him an offensive coordinator’s dream in the red zone.

So why did Hodges go so low? That can be summed up in a single word: raw. He has only played tight end for three years. His route running needs a lot of work and he needs to improve upon how he catches the ball in a way that maximizes his insane catch radius. But if he can polish his game, the sky’s the limit for Hodges. (A sky that Hodges might be able to touch with that size and vertical.)

After talking to Hodges for about ten minutes via conference call, one thing’s for certain: he is going to be a blast to cover. “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder,” he exclaimed in his introductory statement. Hodges is definitely out to prove he should have been drafted much earlier. He’s an athletic freak, even if he is a bit of a project.

The theme of “athletic projects” was common throughout the seventh round picks. Stacy Coley, the Vikings’ first of four 7th round picks on Saturday, is a slightly undersized speedster out of Miami that—stop me if you’ve heard this before—needs to polish his route running. (New Wide Receivers Coach Darrell Hazell is going to be a very busy man at minicamp.) But when Coley gets separation, he has the speed to outrun just about anyone.

Coley was another player that thought he would go earlier in the draft, and that has given him some built-in motivation heading into his rookie year. It’s fair to criticize the Vikings for drafting so many players that will be fighting for roster spots in Mankato; but as the old Zimmer t-shirts say, “iron sharpens iron.” Hopefully all the new bodies will bring the best out of everyone. Coley should be able to push for a spot in the wide receiver and special teams rotations.

After talking with the lively Hodges, I thought we had an early leader in the clubhouse for Mr. Mankato. His extreme confidence and no-nonsense honesty seemed to make him a shoe-in for the best interview of the rookie class. But the next pick, Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, might have lapped the field.

Before we get into Odenigbo’s conference call, let’s talk about his play. He only started one year at Northwestern, but he managed to get 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss en route to being named First Team All-Big Ten. His first step, quickness, and burst made him a terror for opposing tackles. Here he is getting a strip-sack on third round(!) pick C.J. Beathard:

Despite his athletic talents and motor, Odenigbo went late in the draft because his technique and instincts could use more polish. (I told you there was a theme with these late picks.) Regardless of how Odenigbo pans out in the NFL, he had a first round conference call with the writers at Winter Park.

Odenigbo, born in the United States from Nigerian parents, explained how he had to convince his mother and father about his NFL dreams. They insisted that he went to an academics-heavy school like Northwestern despite offers from bigger football schools. Odenigbo jokingly explained his choice to play for the Wildcats was because he “wanted to be in Vikings purple,” showing that he already knows how to pander to his audience.

But while he watched the NFL draft continue without his name being called, Odenigbo decided halfway through the sixth round that he had seen enough. He left to head to a friend’s place in Chicago, but he finally got the call from Minnesota while he was in the car. He stopped to eat at a restaurant while he talked to the Twin Cities media. “A bunch of random people are watching me talk to you right now,” he exclaimed on the conference call. When one reporter asked what he was going to eat as his celebratory post-draft meal, Odenigbo kept with his crowd-pleasing rhetoric by explaining, “I thought, ‘What would a Viking order?’ Probably a BIG STEAK.” The rookie DE has already found a niche with the media; let’s hope he can find one on the roster as well.

Odenigbo’s ebullience was probably enough to tide us over for the day, but two picks remained for the Vikings in the seventh round. The first pick was classic Spielman through and through—a late-round athletic linebacker with potential for impact down the road.

At 6’2” and 229 pounds, Elijah Lee is undersized and wasn’t invited to the Combine, which aren’t great signs for someone that entered the draft after his junior year. But his results on the field said otherwise. Kansas State used him in a variety of ways during his two years as a starter and he excelled no matter what his assignment was. Lee is a solid downhill tackler and rarely gets out of position against the run or pass.

Lee had a lot of contact with the Vikings leading up to the draft as he was on of the team’s Top 30 visits. Spielman raved about how coachable Lee is and explained that the lack of depth the Vikings perceived at linebacker among the undrafted free agents made Lee a player the team wanted to secure in the draft.

Finally, we made it all the way to pick #245, which would prove to be the final pick of an incredibly busy Vikings draft. Minnesota selected CB Jack Tocho from North Carolina State. Throughout the third day of the draft, the Vikings seemed to select players in two general molds:

  • Incredible athletes that still need some polish in the finer points; or
  • Players with great motors and high football IQs that may have some physical limitations.

Tocho definitely falls into the first category here. At 6’0” and 202 pounds with a 35-inch vertical jump, he has the attributes to be one of the physical corners at the line of scrimmage that Mike Zimmer likes so much. But there are lots of questions about his ball skills and lateral movement, which were the main causes of his slide to the end of the draft.

Tocho already recognizes that he’s in a great situation for a cornerback that could use some polishing. He mentioned that he watched a lot of film in college of current Vikings corners Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander. “We were able to watch a lot of film from the Vikings to see what kind of scheme they ran and what kind of techniques I was able to use at the time going into my senior year to help me become a better player,” Tocho explained. A young cornerback with good physical attributes that shows an eagerness to learn? Sounds like a great late-round pick for the Vikings.

So there you have it. What a ride the final day of the 2017 NFL Draft was for the purple and gold. There’s a good chance that some of the players chosen today never see the field in a meaningful game for the Vikings, but there’s no denying that there is a lot of potential for some diamonds in the rough. Stockpiling late-rounders hasn’t panned out well for the Vikings over the past couple years, so the pressure is on both the Spielman and the players to perform sooner rather than later.

I said it before the draft and I’ll said it again after: we’re all in this together. You don’t have to like every pick; I know I certainly raised an eyebrow on a few of the selections. But now that these eleven new draftees (and their fellow undrafted free agent signees) are members of the Vikings, it’s in our best interest to root for their success regardless of how you felt when they were drafted. Hopefully Spielman found enough quality in his quantity to help make the Vikings better in 2017.