It is all or nothing in 2021 for the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Zimmer may not be publicly on the hot-seat, but in private, many have to be wondering about his ability to coach this team going forward. After fielding a championship-caliber roster in 2017, Minnesota has done a lot to add talent without doing much winning to support those decisions. Marred by an actual regression in QB play, despite paying 10x the amount to go from Keenum to Cousins, the Minnesota Miracle against the Saints seems to be the highlight of the Mike Zimmer-era.
But wait, there’s actually hope on the horizon for the purple and gold! They boast one of the top offensive trios in the league between Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen. Kirk Cousins had arguably his best statistical year throwing the football (including 24 TDs, 3 INTs, 2,800 yards, and a 6-4 record over the last 10 games). Dalvin Cook, well, he looks a lot like Adrian Peterson did in his heyday. So, offensively, the Vikings are primed for big things, especially with the front office doing everything they can to beef up the other side.
Minnesota was aggressive in free agency, plucking Dalvin Tomlinson from the Giants and coercing Sheldon Richardson to return after a couple seasons away in Cleveland. Those are two big names to add to any defensive line, never-mind the fact that they are returning prized 2020 free agent Michael Pierce (who opted out in 2020) and pass-rusher extraordinaire Danielle Hunter (who registered 30 sacks from 2018-2019). Overnight, the Vikings front-four, which is a staple of Mike Zimmer defenses, went from a major liability to a major strength.
The Vikings didn’t stop there, they added in former All-Pro corner Patrick Peterson, centerfielder Xavier Woods, and Bashaud Breeland to secondary that struggled in 2020. At the height of Minnesota’s success under Zimmer, the defense was the catalyst, they didn’t give up much on the ground, forced turnovers, and they hit the QB a lot. These additions solidified that side of the football, especially given the fact that Minnesota has some talented players elsewhere. Such as linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, 2020 1st round corner Jeff Gladney, and all-world safety Harrison Smith.
So, entering the 2021 draft the Vikings had only one spot to really address, left tackle and the timing couldn’t have been better because there was a plethora of top-end talent to choose from. Let’s see how they did in our Vikings draft grade analysis.
Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw (Round 1, Pick 23)Embed from Getty Images
My only concern with this pick is why the Vikings felt like they had the ability to trade down and still select him. Many thought Darrisaw was going to be a top-13 pick and if he did slide, there was no way he was getting past the Vikings at 14 who had a need there. Meaning that Minnesota couldn’t have been in love with the guy, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded with a team who needed offensive line help and let Darrisaw run the gauntlet of Las Vegas, Washington, Miami, the Giants, and Indianapolis, all of whom could use a franchise left tackle.
To me, it was clear that they wanted either Sewell or Slater, and were willing to wait to see if either of them dropped to them. So, as much as I like this pick because it addresses a major need with a player who was project to go higher, part of me is reserved because Minnesota clearly in love with the player. Which is weird because he’s your prototypical left tackle (6’5, 315), allowed 0 sacks/pressures in 2020, and posted an absurd 96 PFF score too. Am I overthinking it? Should we just trust what the numbers are telling us and believe that Mike Zimmer read the board well? Or is there something that we just are seeing?
When you watch his tape, he’s powerful at the point of attack, when he gets his hands on a defender, they’re done, completely out of the play. He excelled at run blocking, which fits seamlessly into the style of physical play Mike Zimmer demands out of his football teams. So, why am I so “wellllllll” about this pick? I just can’t put my thumb on it, so I guess I’ll just ride the fence and reserve judgement for the time being. Solid pick for our Vikings draft grade, but not a huge win.
Texas A&M Kellen Mond (Round 3, Pick 66)
This is one of those picks where I understand it, but I don’t. Sure, Cousins hasn’t taken you to the next level like everyone, including me, thought he would. However, it’s not like he’s been a bust. He’s done exactly what he did in Washington, throw for 4000 yards, 30 TDs, and go 8-8. It’s not like he’s on a team-friendly deal either that makes him expendable, he’s tied to the Vikings through the end of his contract in 2022 ($121M dead cap hit over two years if cut). Plus, if things continue to trend upwards for Minnesota with their improved roster, Green Bay on the verge of implosion, Detroit turning over the keys of the franchise to a frat boy, and the Bears doing their best impression of Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. Well, why would they get rid of Cousins in the midst of a run that could last a few seasons?
I get having a solid backup QB, but if Cousins goes down this year, I’m sorry Kellen Mond isn’t going to resurrect their season like Keenum did back in 2017. So, what’s the upside here? That two or three years down the road he can take the starter job? If that’s the case it means that Cousins sucked and the Vikings regressed, which also means that Zimmer is probably gone and so are the vested veterans that have been in his program the last 6-7 years.
I would have much preferred the Vikings target some depth on their edge. If they wanted to stand pat, Joseph Ossai from Texas would have presented a lot of value in their system. He was a game-wrecker for the long-horns, 39.5 negative plays in 2 seasons, including 2 interceptions. Or, with a team this loaded in a division that is falling apart, why not get really aggressive and package 2-3 of those 3rds to move back into the 2nd round? It’s not a stretch to think they couldn’t get all the way up into the top 40 and grab an impact player. I would have loved to see what Rondale Moore could have done with Thielen and Jefferson on the outside. His explosiveness underneath as a third option is legitimately the only thing this passing attack is missing. Just a lot of other spots to go than backup QB…not a plus for our Vikings draft grade.
North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt (Round 3, Pick 78)
I’m more in line with this selection. Chazz Surratt was dynamite for the Tarheels in the two years he started. Over 220 tackles, 20+ for a loss, 10+ sacks, and 4 turnovers in his two seasons as a starter. He has the exact size and physical traits the Vikings look for at (6’2, 230) and he’ll be a valuable depth piece that has the potential to move into the starting lineup with time. I absolutely loved this pick for Minnesota and thought they got really good value for him, a plus for our Vikings draft grade.
His production alone should have made him a 2nd round pick at minimum, again, it’s one thing to be productive, it’s completely different to be productive when there isn’t much around you. These aren’t the teams from the early 2010s that were spitting out names like Robert Quinn, Zach Brown, Quinten Coples, and Sylvester Williams. North Carolina has failed to produce a 3rd round defensive player since Nazair Jones in 2013. Sure, they just put out names like Javonte Williams and Dyami Brown. Yes, I understand Sam Cowell is likely to be the top pick in 2022, but all of those guys play offense.
So, on a defense that was primarily just him and 10 other dudes, well, he shined. Which, some may argue, well someone HAS TO get the tackles. Yes, but it doesn’t mean that the same guy is making ALL the tackles, ALL the negative plays, AND CERTAINLY not while making plays in the passing game. I really think Minnesota found a stud here.
Ohio State IOL Wyatt Davis (Round 3, Pick 86)
Meh, this is a good depth selection here and one that has the potential to replace right guard Dakota Dozier. However, I would have much preferred this selection to be packaged with 66 to move up the board to grab a more impactful player in the near and distant future. It’s not that I dislike this pick either, having depth along the offensive line is always a must and for where they were drafting I’m good with the player they took. Again, it’s just more along the lines of the fact that the NFC North is collapsing, so why not act more aggressively? Especially when many thought that your window closed after a disappointing 2018, let alone two more seasons where you were underwhelming.
Could Wyatt Davis develop into a starter at some point? Yes, but I’m not convinced he’ll become a mainstay on the offensive line. To me, at best, this selection reeks of well if we don’t have anyone better on the roster then Davis will do, but he’s easily replaceable. In fact, unless he takes a team-friendly contract, I would be surprised if he gets a second contract with the Vikings.
Pittsburgh ED Patrick Jones II (Round 3, Pick 90)
This might be the biggest value pick for Minnesota, we liked him to go at the end of the second round because of his combination of size and production. So, to grab him almost exactly a round later than projected, this was a steal. Jones II will fit perfectly in with Mike Zimmer’s pressure front-4 defense that pins its ears back and gets up the field. In two years as a starter, he amassed 19 sacks and 80 hurries/hits, this tells you that he gets home. Despite his size (6’5, 260), he was able to burst off the ball with a level of ferocity that matches what eventual running-mate Danielle Hunter exhibits. This is a great pick for our Vikings draft grade, but as the potential to be even better when looking back a few years from now.
He may only begin his career as a rotational rusher, but I think by the time Thanksgiving rolls around he’ll be the primary edge rusher in their base 4-3 package. Minnesota had to address their front-7 through free agency and the draft. They targeted established veterans starters in March and then coupled that with high-upside draftees to fill in behind them in April. Though there are concerns with the level of competition that Jones II played against in Pittsburgh, he’s coming to a roster that will allow him to develop naturally and won’t be asking him to provide more than what he is capable of.
Minnesota has done really well this off-season to set themselves up for 2021, they’re primed to pick-up where they left off 4 seasons ago, which sounds weird, but I think Vikings fans understand where I’m coming from. Darrisaw may end up being a solid contributor that is still seen as a reach, but he filled a major need at the end of the day and winning cures all. I also would have liked to see the Vikings target a third option in the passing game, I understand the idea is that Dalvin Cook and Irv Smith Jr will fill that role, but a team with two solid corners can slow this offense to a crawl. With a guy like Rondale Moore slipping, it surprised me a bit that Minnesota wasn’t more aggressive.