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Unicorn Hunting

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With five of the first 105 picks in next week’s draft, the Vikings need to use them to find starters and fill roster gaps.

The Unicorn is Found. Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Hi gang, how’s everyone hanging in there?

With the NFL Draft now less than a week away, the Minnesota Vikings have an opportunity to address multiple needs on both sides of the ball. They have five of the first 105 picks, to include two first round picks, 22 and 25 overall. With their general lack of activity on the free agent market due to salary cap constraints, it looks increasingly like GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer will use this draft and those first five picks to fill most, if not all, of the remaining roster holes, including several starting jobs.

By my count, they need two cornerbacks, with one a day one starter and one that can compete on day one for the nickel job. They need two wide receivers, one who is going to be a day one starter, and one who can compete right away for the WR3 job once Chad Beebe separates his shoulder picking up his bags heading out the door to training camp. They need two interior offensive linemen, with at least one day one starter there. They need to find two defensive ends, and we can argue about whether one of those guys needs to be a day one starter or not. I’m inclined to say no, but at a minimum, they do need to be able to contribute right away.

So, by my count, that’s either five or six guys the Vikings need to find in the draft that can either start from day one, or compete for a starting job and contribute right away.

That’s a lot of needs, and because of all that, Spielman needs to hit on all of those first five picks the Vikings have.

Is that a realistic scenario?

Let’s look back on some Vikings draft classes and see how many quality players came out of each class. I don’t want to go back to 2007, although Spielman has been involved in drafts since then. Let’s face it, it’s too far back and most of you will skip over it. Hell, I would and I’m writing it. I’ll start at 2012, the year Spielman became full time GM, and we’ll go from there through the 2017 draft.

2012

2012 had 10 people in the draft class, including two first round picks. So, how many were ‘hits’, or panned out? As we go through these classes, we’ll probably disagree on a few here and there, but no one will disagree about the Hitman. He’s been a mainstay since 2012 and is still going strong. Is Matt Kalil a hit? No, I don’t think so. He had a good first year, but then got dragged down by injuries. Blair Walsh? Like Kalil in that he had a couple of really good years then just fell off a cliff. I’m going to call Walsh a hit though, because even though he’s only remembered for a missed chip shot field goal in the playoffs, his first four years in Minnesota were some of the most productive seasons a Vikings kicker has ever had. Jarius Wright was productive when his number as called, and when you add in that he was a fourth round guy, I’m going to classify him as a hit.

Draft picks: 10

Hits: 3

Success rate: 30%

2013

2013 was a memorable draft, as the Vikes ended up with three first round picks. They had two entering the draft, with the extra pick courtesy of the Percy Harvin trade with Seattle. I was covering this draft for DN at the Vikings team headquarters, and Spielman had come down to talk about the two first round picks. He unexpectedly cut things short and hustled back upstairs at the old Winter Park facilities, and we all immediately thought something was up. A little while later, the Vikes announced they had swung a trade with the Patriots and ended up with their final first round pick.

But two of those three picks never amounted to anything. Shariff Floyd looked like he was going to be a great player, and then that freak nerve damage occurred when he had what was supposed to be minor knee surgery. Xavier Rhodes turned out to be a massive hit, developing into one of the NFL’s best corners for a 3-4 year run. And Cordarrelle Patterson? He was an exciting kick returner, but never developed as a wide receiver, which is why he was drafted where he was. If he had been a late round guy or an undrafted free agent that became that good on special teams, I’d call him a hit, like Marcus Sherels, for example. First round kick returner is a miss, though.

As to the rest of that class...I’ll call P Jeff Locke a hit, as he stayed with the Vikings through his first contract and was the punter all four years he was here. And when you’re calling a punter one of two hits in a class that had three first round picks...it’s a bad, bad draft class.

Draft picks: 9

Hits: 2

Success rate: 22%

2014

2014 was a nerve wracking draft night for me. Most of us wanted them to take a QB early (I was Team Johnny Football, reason 9,807 as to why you should never trust my handegg knowledge) but the Vikes went with LB Anthony Barr. By the time Seattle came on the clock at 32, Johnny Manziel was flying to Cleveland in a private jet and probably* doing lines off a hooker’s belly, and I was a combination of sledgehammer drunk and immensely pissed off, because I thought the Vikes were done for the night and they weren’t getting a QB. But Spielman pulled a stunning trade with the Seahawks, and nabbed QB Teddy Bridgewater. I rescinded every bad thing I has said about Spielman and as proof of my contrition, purchased a Teddy Bridgewater jersey.

*Probably not...but it can’t 100% be ruled out, can it?

The class ended up being another 10 players, including two third rounders besides the two first rounders of Barr and Teddy. But...it’s not turned out to be an impressive class. It’s not as bad as the 2013 class, but I would argue that when you have two first rounders and two third rounders and come out of it with just one guy you’d call a success, its a failure. Barr has been a hit, and I think Teddy would have been a hit had his knee not been assassinated by an ISIS suicide bomber right before the 2016 season began. But he wasn’t, sadly.

Besides Barr, the only other guys I’d call a hit in this class was Jerick McKinnon, who was a productive running back while he was here, and seventh round pick Shamar Stephen, who has worked his way into a starter.

Draft picks: 10

Hits: 3

Success rate: 30%

2015

If 2013 and 2014 are the two most disappointing draft classes, 2015 is looked at as one of Spielman’s best, if not the best draft class in his tenure. In the first three rounds the Vikings got three starters in Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter. Fifth round pick Stefon Diggs became, arguably, the steal of that entire draft and one of the best WR’s in the NFL, so I think it’s easy to say those four players are hits.

Draft picks: 10

Hits: 4

Success rate: 40%

2016

With only eight players selected in this class, it’s one that is smaller than most typical Spielman draft classes, who very often go into double digits, as we’ve seen. Laquon Treadwell is the headline of this class, but unfortunately, it’s as one of the bigger first round busts in Vikings history. That shouldn’t be the headline though, because this is low key one of the better draft classes for the Vikings under Spielman. It doesn’t have the star power and starters that 2015 does, but it does fill another key requirement of draft classes: find role players in later rounds that can become solid special teams guys and/or backup players.

Of this class, Mackensie Alexander essentially developed into a starting CB, locking down the nickel role for his four years here. I’m going to call Kentrell Brothers a hit as well considering where he was taken. He’s developed into a special teams ace and a decent backup, which is what you look for in guys in the fifth round and beyond, and he’s been a respectable player as a linebacker when filling in for injured players. At the back end of the draft, I’d classify both Stephen Weatherly and Jayron Kearse as hits, too. They were both late round guys that become solid contributors and spot starters, and have played well, for the most part.

Draft picks: 8

Hits: 4

Success rate: 50%

2017

This was the first draft the Vikings didn’t select in the first round since 2010 (traded down), and the first time since 2008 they had no first round selection entering the draft. If you’ll remember, that pick went to Kansas City as part of the Jared Allen trade, which has turned out to be one of the best deals in Vikings history.

Anyway, Spielman and the Vikings made the most of this class, as trades up in the second and third rounds netted two starters, and then trades down, sideways, and at times interdimensionally got the Vikings to 11 picks total. When the smoke cleared, the Vikings ended up with either three or four hits in this class. I think Dalvin Cook is a hit, even with his injuries, and he’s become an exceptional running back. I’m going to call Pat Elflein a hit, even though he’s struggled at times. He’s been a day one starter, and has started 42 of 48 possible games. Even though that’s what he was drafted to do, I’d argue a lot of third round picks need a year or two to become a starter. So yeah, hit.

And if you want to say I can’t call him a hit and Matt Kalil a miss, well it’s my post and I can do whatever the hell I want to do. HOWEVER, my rationale is that Kalil was a top five pick, and was supposed to be the Vikings LT for a long time. He got banged with injuries in his second year and went downhill fast. I would argue that a third rounder who stepped in and became a day one starter, and played well as a rookie, was more impressive than the number four overall pick starting from day one. I would also argue Elflein has played either better or as well as Kalil has, too.

So Go Bucks and suck it haters or something.

I’m calling Ben Gedeon a hit in this class as well. He won a starting LB job as a rookie, and although he’s been overlooked because he plays in the same position group as Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, he’s a solid if not spectacular player.

Last but certainly not least is Ifeadi Odenigbo, a seventh round guy who’s currently a projected starter entering 2020. He really flashed at times last year, and I think he’s going to be a big contributor on defense this coming season. A definite hit.

Jaleel Johnson is a miss for me. He was the first pick in the fourth round, and more was expected out of him. He’s been given more than one opportunity to break through, but he hasn’t even really become a solid rotational guy, and that’s just not the level of play that was expected of him.

Draft picks: 11

Hits: 4

Success rate: 36%

What does this all mean?

I’m not going to run through the two most recent draft classes of 2018 and 2019, because I don’t think they’ve played enough to make a determination on anyone either way yet, and six years worth of draft classes feels like enough information to get where we’re going with this.

Wait, where were we going with this?

Oh yeah, that’s right. Can Rick Spielman hit on the first five picks and come away with a mix of guys that can start or contribute right away?

In a word...no.

This isn’t a dig on Spielman, either. I’ve been one of his bigger defenders on here, and I think if you compare his draft classes to most other teams, I bet the Vikings would have a better success rate than a lot of organizations in terms of draft picks that end up making the team and being ‘hits’, if you will.

Also, look at the number of players that were considered hits in each draft class. By my count, he’s had four players attain that status in three different classes, but some of those players were late round gems the Vikings got lucky on, and a few of THOSE guys became backups and special teamers, like Kentrell Brothers.

If you add up all the draft classes, this is what you get:

Draft picks: 58

Hits: 20

Success rate: 34%

If the Vikings finish this upcoming draft with 11 picks and continue at their overall success rate through 2017, that means they’ll end up with four hits in this class, total. Yet, many of us feel they need to not only hit on the first five picks, but find four or five starters.

Rick Spielman’s best class, hands down, at least in terms of starters, was 2015, when he found starters in round 1, 2, 3, and 5.

That’s the exception, not the rule. It’s more than just the exception...it’s the Unicorn, because it’s happened so rarely.

See the problem facing the Vikings?

The reality is that a typical draft class nets you one or two starters, if you’re lucky, and a player or two that develops into a decent backup or special teams guy.

Yet, the Vikings need to come out of the gates and find four or five starters right away.

When you look at their first five picks in a draft, the results are really hit and miss, even in years with multiple first round draft picks. Some of that is just bad luck, like the injuries to Kalil, Teddy, and Floyd. Some of it is that the players just weren’t that good, like Laquon Treadwell, or the wide receiver part of Cordarrelle Patterson.

No offense to what Jaleel Johnson brings in terms of a rotational guy on the defensive line, but they can’t afford to take a guy who has the ceiling we’ve seen from Jaleel Johnson in these first five out of 105 picks (Johnson was 109 overall) ...much less a Scott Crichton (72 overall), Josh Robinson (66 overall) or T.J. Clemmings (110 overall).

Add in the dynamics of how this year’s draft will be done, and how little of the traditional pre-draft scouting has been accomplished thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, and you get the feeling the Vikings will be going Unicorn hunting come next Thursday.