I saw a question from MarkSP in one of my last threads that I thought was interesting.
How many defensive players actually do make a difference in their first year?
I think I'll even extend it to how many players at a position of need for the Vikings make a difference in their first year?
I think our main needs can be summed up as CB - LB - DE - OG.
I'll just dive into last year's class as an example. I'm only using PFF, so this mostly tracks players who managed to get any snaps at all. I won't be able to account for every single UDFA, but typically it's unlikely for UDFA's to make a huge impact in year 1.
37 were drafted (9 more UDFA got snaps), for a total of 46. 4 of the draft picks never saw the field, and at least 3 more spent considerable time on IR. Every single CB that played had a higher PFF grade than Alexander. 23 of those guys played over 200 snaps this past year (including 2 UDFA). 16 were drafted in the first 3 rounds, which are generally considered the premium draft rounds, where you would expect them to be able to contribute right away. Of those drafted in the first 3 rounds, 7 of the 16 (44%) graded higher than Peterson. Only one full-time starter graded higher than Dantzler.
Potential impact: A CB drafted in the first 3 rounds has a decent chance at being an improvement over Peterson. Any CB drafted is likely to be better than Alexander was this year in their rookie season. Odds are low that any rookie would be graded higher than Dantzler.
There were 27 linebackers drafted (this includes 4 position swaps to LB). Of those, only 10 played over 200 snaps this season. As far as I can tell, Chazz Surratt was the only LB drafted in the first 3 rounds to not get a single snap. 10 others were drafted in the first 3 rounds, and only Monty Rice played less than 200 snaps, and he was on IR. Only 1 LB drafted in the 4th round or later played over 200 snaps. Of the 10 linebackers (not including Surratt) that were drafted in the first 3 rounds, every single one graded higher than Nick Vigil. 6 finished with a higher grade than Kendricks (and 2 were very close). 5 finished with a grade higher than Anthony Barr.
Potential impact: A LB drafted in the first 3 rounds is almost certainly better than Vigil, most would be on the same level as Kendricks last year, and would have a 50% shot at being the best linebacker on our team.
- DE/ Edge:
34 DEs were drafted, and 27 of those saw playing time. 5 UDFA's saw playing time. 13 of those saw over 200 snaps. 12 were drafted in the first 3 rounds. Of the 32 DEs to get any snaps, 26 graded higher than Wonnum (Jones unfortunately being one of the worse ones). All of the DEs drafted in the first 3 rounds (aside from Jones) were better than Wonnum. 5 of the 12 (42%) in the first 3 rounds were better than Griffen/ Richardson/ Willikes. None were better than Hunter.
Potential impact: Any DE drafted in the first 3 rounds should be able to come in and supplant Wonnum in their rookie season. 42% of rookies drafted in that range could be expected to be a solid DE2 in the realm of Griffen/ Richardson.
There were 18(ish) guards drafted, and 9 of them got over 200 snaps. 1 UDFA got over 200 snaps. 9 were drafted in the first 4 rounds. Of those, only 2 had a worse grade than Udoh (Leatherwood and Mayfield). 3 were roughly equivalent to Cleveland/ Cole. Of note - Trey Smith was a 6th rounder. He was projected as a top 5 guard by most media, but slipped due to injury. Only two drafted in the first 3 rounds never got meaningful snaps (Aaron Banks and the invisible man, Wyatt Davis).
Potential impact: There is a roughly 80% chance that any G drafted in the first 4 rounds should be an improvement over Udoh. There's a 1 in 3 chance of landing a G that is as good as Cleveland.
Summary: All of our weakest positions are ones that a rookie should be able to step in immediately and be better than at least one of our starters, if they are drafted in the first 3-4 rounds. There are very few examples of any of those positions that had improved starters available in later rounds. It appears that LB and G rookies have the greatest chances to be better than a primary starter. Peterson should be either re-signed or replaced with another proven free agent.
Interesting to note: We also had THREE of the most significant negative outliers. Based on their draft position - Jones, Surratt, and Davis all had 80%+ odds to be an improvement over a current starter, and yet all 3 failed to be an improvement or even see significant (or any) snaps. It will be interesting to see if they were Rick busts and over-drafted, or if their development/ playing time was hindered by Zimmer.