Minnesota Vikings: Winners and Losers from Vikings' Draft
The Vikings can make the argument that there was no difference between need and best-player available when they selected cornerback Trae Waynes with their first pick, the 11th overall, on Thursday night.
Waynes will be expected to come in and start from the get-go, and the hope is when paired with Xavier Rhodes, he'll give the Vikings a pair of lockdown corners.
Minnesota's second-round choice was the hugely productive linebacker Eric Kendricks. It was a slight surprise that Kendricks was still on the board for the Vikings, who didn't hesitate to snap up Anthony Barr's former college roommate and one of his closest friends. Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press passed along Barr's comments regarding "playing alongside" Kendricks:
Anthony Barr on playing alongside former UCLAer Eric Kendricks: “Playing on the same FB team with 1 of your best friends is pretty special’’— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) May 2, 2015
The guess here is that Kendricks will have more of an impact as a rookie. Waynes has all the tools to become a star, but Kendricks is further along as a football player and should be productive right from the start.
Minnesota's No. 3 and No. 4 picks are two players who could be big-time starters within two or three years. Defensive end Danielle Hunter is raw, but he has huge upside, and offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings has the talent to start pretty quickly somewhere on the offensive line.
In all, general manager Rick Spielman made 10 picks in the 2015 draft. Not all of them will make the team, but for now hope is on their side.
With that in mind, let's take a look at who the big winners and losers were for the Minnesota Vikings after the draft.
Losers: Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson
Prospective rookies aren't the only ones with butterflies in their stomach when the NFL draft rolls around.
When the Minnesota Vikings selected cornerback Trae Waynes of Michigan State with the 11th pick of the first round on Thursday night, both Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson probably slumped a bit in their chairs.
Make no mistake, if you take a cornerback in the top 20, he's going to be given every opportunity to start on opening day.
Munnerlyn said all the right things on Friday, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, welcoming the competition, but Waynes arrival almost assures that Munnerlyn will be removed from the starting lineup and moved to the nickel role. Zimmer noted Waynes is similar to Stephon Gillmore in terms of length, but he also pointed out "they are different":
There's no doubt that Munnerlyn and Robinson's short stature hurt the Vikings last season. In a division filled with excellent receivers on the tall side, both players lost too many jump balls to keep the Vikings happy.
Munnerlyn is tough and a good tackler and is probably better suited to take on the slot corner position anyway.
Robinson, on the other hand, might be fighting for a roster spot come training camp. Minnesota signed veteran Terence Newman this offseason, and he'll be in the mix as well, with a huge advantage in experience and what he'll be able to teach the young starters in Waynes and third-year man Xavier Rhodes.
Robinson was a third-round pick of the Vikings in 2012 after running a 4.33 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine, the fastest time put up that year. Robinson got off to a good start during his rookie season, but seemed to wear down toward the end of the year.
His second season was a disappointment, and although he was better in 2014, he's still unable to match up well with big receivers.
Not only is Waynes taller, with much longer arms, but he's also faster too, posting a blistering 4.31 time at the combine.
As Waynes begins a new chapter in his life as an NFL starter next fall, both Munnerlyn and Robinson will have to fight to keep their NFL stories going.
Winner: Head Coach Mike Zimmer
If there was ever any question who had the most say in the Minnesota Vikings hierarchy (there wasn't), the first three rounds of the 2015 draft gave you a resounding answer.
The Vikings drafted a speed demon they hope can develop into a lockdown corner in the first round, a tackling machine of a middle linebacker in the second round and a young defensive end oozing with potential in the third round.
General manager Rick Spielman has the final say on draft picks, but he's clearly more than happy to accommodate the head coach. Zimmer wants to load up with talent on the defensive side of the ball and that's exactly what the Vikings are doing.
During the first two days of the draft the Vikings added three defensive players. Two of them will be counted on to start from day one in cornerback Trae Waynes our of Michigan State, and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks from UCLA. The third is 20-year old defensive end Danielle Hunter out of LSU. Tomasson shared Spielman's assessment of Hunter:
Rick Spielman says Danielle Hunter is "raw" and a "project" but that there is "tremendous upside.''— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) May 2, 2015
As Tomasson pointed out, Hunter is a player who might not be counted on to start for a couple of seasons, but his ceiling was just too high for the Vikings to pass up. As young as he is, given a couple of seasons under Zimmer, he could develop into one of the better players on Minnesota's defense.
You knew Zimmer was going to be a winner coming out of the 2015 draft, but you might not have guessed that Minnesota would go defense with their three picks.
The talent on the defensive side of the ball is mounting.
Loser: Audie Cole
If you're a Minnesota Vikings fan, you're also a fan of Audie Cole. It's impossible not to be.
The 6'5", 240-pound Cole hasn't been given a ton of chances to start by the Vikings, but every time he's been on the field, he's stood out.
From his first preseason, where he had two pick-sixes to help win a roster spot, up to last season's final game against the Chicago Bears, Cole has looked the part of starting linebacker.
With his 6'5" stature and his long hair flying everywhere, Cole was easily the Vikings' best defensive player against Chicago in the season finale last season, racking up 14 tackles and a pass defensed.
All of his impressive outings led one to believe that Cole might get a shot at the starting middle linebacker job when 2014 starter Jasper Brinkley was let go in free agency.
That ended on Friday night when the Vikings hit a bull's-eye in the second round when they drafted Eric Kendricks, a middle linebacker out of UCLA. It says here that not only will Kendricks start next season, but he'll also lead the team in tackles.
The 6'0", 232-pound Kendricks might not have ideal size for a middle linebacker, but he makes up for that with a football instinct that's second to none. He left UCLA as the school's all-time leading tackler, racking up 481 stops in his four years.
Kendricks' arrival certainly doesn't mean that Cole won't be given an opportunity to earn playing time, but his chance at starting at middle linebacker all but vanished.
Winner: Defensive Coordinator George Edwards
Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards turned 48 years old in January, but he must have felt like it was his birthday when he went to bed on Friday night.
Edwards inherited a defense in 2014 that had given up the most points and the second-most yards per game in 2013. He took the Minnesota defense from the 31st-ranked unit in 2013 all the way up to 14th in 2014.
The arrival of dynamic rookie linebacker Anthony Barr and the huge strides taken forward by second-year men Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd boosted Edwards' unit to one of the most improved in the league.
Two positions that were still far from adequate for the Vikings in 2014, however, were the cornerback spot opposite Rhodes and middle linebacker.
Edwards had to be giddy in the Minnesota war room as the Vikings' first two picks were Trae Waynes and Eric Kendricks, two young, talented players who look like they might start for the Vikings for the next decade.
In addition to those two studs, Edwards was given two defensive ends with a ton of potential in Danielle Hunter out of LSU and B.J. Dubose out of Louisville. Hunter might end up being one of the steals of the draft if he can cash in on all of his potential.
Just 20 years old, his list of strengths, as noted by Lance Zierlein on his NFL.com draft profile, begins like this: "Freakish combination of size, athleticism and explosiveness." It's not a stretch at all to say that Hunter could be Minnesota's version of Ziggy Ansah in a year or two.
It's a very good draft for George Edwards.
Loser: Adam Thielen
Life in the NFL is never going to be easy for Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen.
Coming out of Minnesota State-Mankato, Thielen has bucked the odds so far as an undrafted free agent who's gone from the practice squad in 2013 to the team's fifth receiver in 2014. Thielen had a career highlight catching a 44-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater in the Vikings win over the Bears last December.
Being a team's fifth receiver means that your roster spot is pretty much always on thin ice. Although Thielen has proved himself as a great special teams player and a useful receiver when called upon, it won't help his cause that the Vikings drafted a wideout with a ton of potential in Stefon Diggs in the fifth round on Saturday.
Diggs was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school in Maryland, per 247Sports, and chose to stay home to help boost the Terrapins program. He had back-to-back season-ending injuries the last two years, but he still made second-team All-Big Ten last season.
Diggs doesn't have blazing speed, but he's plenty fast, and he's a phenomenal runner with the ball in his hands. He's a great open-field runner and is a threat to turn any reception into a big-gainer.
Most draft analysis had Diggs pegged as a third- or fourth-round pick, including CBSSports.com, but he slid a bit in the draft probably due to his injuries. He broke his leg in 2013 and suffered a lacerated kidney at the end of last season.
Thielen keeps getting over the bar no matter how high the NFL sets it for him, and with Diggs arrival, he'll probably head to training camp as a player who's near the cut line.
Winner: Offensive Line Coach Jeff Davidson
One of the biggest questions heading into the 2015 offseason for the Minnesota Vikings was, "Who's going to start at left guard?"
While offensive line coach Jeff Davidson may not be any closer to an answer following the draft this weekend, the Vikings did go out and get him three more offensive tackles to work with.
The big prize for the Minnesota in regards to the offensive line is getting tackle T.J. Clemmings out of Pittsburgh in the fourth round. Regarded by many draft prognosticators as a possible first-round pick, Clemmings fell to the fourth round apparently due to concerns over a foot injury that Clemmings insists isn't an issue, per ESPN's Ben Goessling:
T.J. Clemmings said he figured he'd go late 1st/early 2nd round. Said foot is not an issue; isn't even sure when injury happened.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) May 2, 2015
Mike Mayock of NFL.com and the NFL Network was effusive in his praise for Clemmings and said that he could be a day-one starter for the Vikings (via NFL.com's Mike Huguenin):
"He played extremely well as an offensive tackle at Pitt in games. Went to the Senior Bowl and got undressed. Why? Because he's only been an offensive player for two years. He's very raw from a technique perspective."
What the 6'5", 310-pound Clemmings is, though, is a huge talent Davidson will get the opportunity to begin evaluating immediately to see where he can best help the Vikings. He's only been a right tackle for two seasons after playing defense, so it's not a stretch to think that Minnesota might give him a look at guard.
The Vikings went out and drafted two more tackles for Davidson on Saturday, taking Tyrus Thompson, a 6'5", 324-pound giant out of Oklahoma in the sixth round and Austin Shepherd, a 6'4", 315-pound load out of Alabama.
Thompson is a mountain of a man and has the same body type and look of his new teammate and fellow Sooner, Phil Loadholt. Shepherd is a tough kid who should be in the mix to earn a backup role with Minnesota. Both Thompson and Shepherd could be moved to guard with the Vikings.
Day 3 of the draft was a very good one for Jeff Davidson.