If you’ve been a reader of this site for any length of time, you know that I hate the idea of grading a draft class before any of the players involved have even stepped onto an NFL field, and especially less than 24 hours after the NFL Draft has concluded. I’m not going to be grading the Minnesota Vikings’ class of 2018 here, but I know that people are curious about what the “draft experts” think about these things, so that’s what we’re doing here.
There have already been numerous pundits that have weighed in with their opinions on how all 32 teams fared in this year’s NFL Draft, and we’re going to round up their thoughts on the Vikings for discussion purposes here. Contrary to a lot of what I saw on the Twitters over the course of the past few days, most places seem to have pretty decent regard for what Rick Spielman and company did over the course of the past three days, but there are a couple of dissenters.
The Vikings added strength to a strength in the first round of the draft by taking Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes. Hughes is capable of coming up and playing man and dropping back in zone coverage. He’s willing to be aggressive, and doesn’t hesitate to mix it up at the line of scrimmage.
With a versatile player like Mike Remmers on the roster, the Vikings were able to take whomever they considered the best offensive lineman with the 62nd overall pick. That was Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill. He’s an athletic tackle who can get to the edge in a hurry. O’Neill started a lot of games at right tackle for Pittsburgh, so moving back there from the left shouldn’t be a problem.
The Vikings have several players up front who are free agents after the season, including Danielle Hunter. Snagging Ohio State end Jalyn Holmes gives them a nice insurance policy. Late in the draft the Vikings also picked up Tulane’s Ade Aruna, who is a 6’5 freaky athlete who can be developed the same way as Hunter. Don’t sleep on the pick of guard Colby Gossett in the sixth round. He started 46 games at Appalachian State and should stick on the roster.
Mel Kiper, ESPN: B (Commentary from behind the great E$PN paywall)
The Minnesota offseason is obviously all about Kirk Cousins and making a Super Bowl run in 2018. This team is built to win now, and it has one of the NFL’s best rosters from top to bottom. Don’t forget about the addition of Sheldon Richardson to the defensive line. He’s a game-wrecker when he’s right. So GM Rick Spielman went with needs for the Vikings’ first three picks, and all three could fill a role as rookies.
We know Mike Zimmer loves defensive backs, and he believes in drafting and developing them to be his guys. Spielman got his coach another talented corner to mold in Mike Hughes (pick 30), who is only 5-10 but was a ball hawk in his lone season at UCF. He had four interceptions and three touchdowns in the return game. The end of Round 1 was right where I expected him to go. Brian O’Neill (62) is a great athlete who is built like a tight end. He could play right tackle with Mike Remmers moving inside to guard. Jalyn Holmes (102) was a rotational player on one of the best defensive lines in the country at Ohio State. I would have liked to have seen better production.
Tight end Tyler Conklin (157), a former basketball player, could contribute. Defensive end Ade Aruna had a down season, but if he gets back to his 2016 form, he could be a steal.
This is a solid, if unspectacular, haul for Minnesota, and it gets better if Hughes can be special as a kick and punt returner.
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A- (A for Day 1, B+ for Day 2, A for Day 3)
Terence Newman is no longer with the team, and Mackensie Alexander needed competition in the slot, so the Vikings ignored the offensive line need to pick Hughes. He’s a great athlete with some off-field concerns and only average size. He should excel inside for the Vikings. O’Neill needs to get stronger in the lower body to prevent losing leverage, but could end up a good investment in time. GM Rick Spielman moved out of the third round, but only down eight spots, and gained a sixth-round pick in the process. Holmes will bring strength, quickness, and versatility to the Vikings’ defense. Conklin’s an underrated prospect who is fluid and sure-handed. Minnesota also needed competition at guard, and grabbing Gossett in the sixth round was absolutely a steal. Aruna is raw, but long and athletic, and has huge upside as a pass rusher.
Pro Football Focus: Below average
Day 1: The Minnesota Vikings added to their secondary with UCF cornerback Mike Hughes. There were few more talented corners in this draft than Hughes, who allowed a passer rating of just 40.7 over his college career when targeted. He surrendered just one touchdown an wasn’t beaten for a pass longer than 21 yards in his entire 2017 season. Hughes also adds value as a return man, though that becomes less and less relevant as the league edges ever closer to eliminating the kick off entirely. Hughes does have some off-field character concerns, but his play on the field is well worth a first-round pick and attacks a clear area of need for the Vikings who are trying to find players to complement Harrison Smith at safety and Xavier Rhodes at corner.
Day 2: The Vikings traded out of the third round late in the day, so their only Day 2 pick was spent on Brian O’Neill, an offensive tackle out of Pittsburgh. The team will be hoping that they fare better with this Pitt tackle than they did with T.J. Clemmings, and O’Neill allowed just nine total pressures in 2017 for the eighth-best pass blocking efficiency score in the draft class. The Vikings offensive line is still a work in progress and could definitely use an upgrade at tackle, allowing them to move Mike Remmers inside to guard on a permanent basis. O’Neill will likely have every opportunity to prove he can continue his pass blocking at the next level.
Day 3: The Vikings went back to the offensive line in Round 6 with G Colby Gossett, a player who had four-straight years of impressive PFF grading. He played 3,162 career snaps in college and allowed just 36 total pressures over four years. They traded up in the fifth round to grab a kicker in Auburn’s Daniel Carlson, who was the second-highest graded kicker in the nation last season at PFF.
Minnesota only had one immediate need entering this draft, and it wasn’t glaring: right guard, where Joe Berger’s retirement left a hole. Because right tackle Mike Remmers can slide inside permanently, the Vikings had the option of going tackle to fill this spot. Brian O’Neill played tackle in college, though many believe his athleticism and technique (which needs polishing), will apply better inside. O’Neill doesn’t have to play right away, and neither does first-round corner Mike Hughes—Mike Zimmer, a former secondary coach, has a history of developing talented corners from the bench. With Hughes here, the Vikings don’t have to sign Trae Waynes to an expensive long-term contract after he plays out the fifth year of his rookie deal in 2019. If the Vikings like what they see from Jalyn Holmes, they may hesitate on giving Danielle Hunter the deal he’s due to receive after this season. More likely, though, Holmes is here to replace Brian Robison, who is 35 and in the final year of his contract.
Rick Spielman already made his team better when he got Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson in free agency. The Vikings pretty much went down the line addressing their positional needs, none of which were immediate. Hughes will have an impact in slot coverage.
Coach Mike Zimmer is surely happy to add a third first-found corner (Mike Hughes) to his secondary. Hughes will help in nickel packages and as a returner right away. Beyond that, hard to see many rookies here who will play immediately — unless second-round T Brian O’Neill proves he’s ahead of schedule from a strength standpoint.
The Vikings addressed needs with first-round CB Mike Hughes and second-round T Brian O’Neill. But after spending all that money on QB Kirk Cousins in free agency, perhaps Minnesota should have given Cousins another playmaker or two on offense.
We can add more grades as they come in for around the internet, but that’s a solid start for now.
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