If I had to name the top 3 executives/GM in the NFL there is no doubt I would include RICK SPIELMAN of the Vikings on that short list. When it comes to personnel, he manipulates his roster as well as, or better than, anyone else in the League. And his work in this year’s NFL Draft is no exception.
The Vikings Defense is the heart and soul of their team under defensive wizard MIKE ZIMMER. And to no one’s surprise the team selected a CB named MIKE HUGHES/UCF in the first round. The only thing that Hughes lacks as a player is elite speed and ideal size. But he’s in the ball park on both counts at 5’10/189, and a Combine 40-time of 4.50. Elite back pedal and quick reaction times allow him to excel in press-cover, but he’s savvy enough to succeed in Zone as well. He tracks the ball well and can break on throws to cut off receivers. He’s more natural than recent top CB picks by the VIkes in ALEXANDER and WAYNES, and will likely move past them in playing time as a rookie. He also excelled as a Return Man in college. ZIMMER will also coach the heck out of him .
To stay in line with the Salary Cap the Vikes have been forced to allow much of their DL depth to get away in VFA the past couple of seasons like Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen who both went to Seattle this off-season. And that doesn’t even touch on the retirement of Jared Allen/DE 2 years ago. So SPIELMAN signed SHELDON RICHARDSON as a VFA and then drafted 2 DL roster candidates.
In Round 4, Pick 102 the team took Ohio State DL JALYN HOLMES, who can play DE on early downs and them move inside to provide some pass-rush pressure on passing downs. HOLMES looked very good during Senior Bowl week and is now up to 270 lbs, and still filling out his 6’5″ frame. Way down in Round 6 they snagged a raw, but supremely athletic DE candidate in ADE ARUNA from Tulane. They will have to work with ARUNA and be patient, but he could provide them with a replacement for aging DE/ER BRIAN ROBISON in 2019. ARUNA ran a 4.65/40 at the Combine and has 34″ long arms and 10 5/8″ hands. Don’t pay much attention to his puny 2017 stats at Tulane as the undermanned team used him inside most of the time last season, where he was over-powered much of the time.
In Round 2 the team got a superior athlete in OT BRIAN O’NEILL of Pitt. The former TE is still a bit raw and the Vikes Training and Strength staff will be charged with bulking him up a bit without diminishing his speed and quickness. The Ourlads folks ranked him as the 2nd most athletic OL out of 38 at the Combine. When healthy he also runs a sub-4.50/40. His 34 1/8″-long arms are also appealing. It seems like just a matter of time before he grabs their LT slot and allows MIKE REMMERS to move permanently inside to OG, where some of his athletic shortcomings can be hidden. In Round 6, with Pick 213 they took COLBY GOSSETT/OG/App State who has position versatility and may be able to back up at OG and OT. I also think he has starting potential at OG long term. He started 46 straight games for State and looked very reliable and savvy during Senior Bowl week. Both these players could become starters by 2019 and should upgrade the OL talent overall.
TYLER CONKLIN/TE/Central Michigan could become a very useful, versatile tool in their offensive arsenal, not unlike former-Vike Rhett Ellison used to do. The former basketball star shows flashes of athleticism and good understanding of his “new” number one sport. Athletically, Ourlads had him ranked 4th out of 16 TE at the Combine. He needs more strength to play inline TE but he could fill roles as H-B, FB, TE, Slot Receiver and fill multiple Special Teams roles. He looks even longer in pads than his 6’3″ height would indicate. He’s a nice potential fit as a third TE and as a non-positional specific player in general.
The real filet mignon of this Draft may have come in Round 5, where at Pick 167, they selected my 103rd best player overall in DANIEL CARLSEN/K/Auburn. This long, tall guy (6’5/213) has as smooth of a kicking motion as you will ever see. He has enough strength to handle kick-offs as well as place kicks. His range is tremendous, and accuracy is elite. In fact his 23/31 on field goals in 2017 was his career low. He had 92 made field goals during his SEC career. Overall, CARLSEN hit 81% of his career field goal attempts during his time at Auburn, with the majority of those misses being on attempts from 50+-yards. Since the departure of Ryan Longwell this team has struggled at times with their Kickers, especially Blair Walsh. IMO, CARLSEN looks to be a long term answer to their need to improve in the kicking game.
The team also added LB/DEVANTE DOWNS/Cal in Round 7. I missed seeing him in 2017 because of injuries, but he was a very productive player for The Bears prior to said injuries. He could be a nice surprise if he has truly returned to full health, or will do so in the future. He might make a nice PUP list player for 2017 with the ability to contribute in 2018.
As usual, under Spielman, this is a top notch Draft effort, with as many as 4-5 starters within a season or two. They also signed a promising group of URFA who will win a couple of roster spots as well. Rick Spielman, and his Personnel people strike again.