The 2017 draft class for the Minnesota Vikings addressed most of their problems and thin positions. Both the defensive and offensive lines were addressed, along with bringing in talent at tight end and running back. While the rookie class features almost every position, these are the groups most heavily impacted by the fresh crop of talent.
The Vikings dealt with a fair share of injuries last year on the offensive line and saw Jake Long retire while letting Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris walk. Minnesota turned around and bolstered the line in the draft by grabbing Pat Elflein at center in the third round, and a guard from Miami named Danny Isidora, in the fifth. They also snagged rookie guard Freddie Tagaloa in free agency. The much-needed depth at guard, plus a center in Elflein who is expected to win the starting job, could be just what this offensive front needed to reboot.
The Viking defensive interior played on heavy rotation last year and injuries to Tom Johnson and Sharrif Floyd makes for a great opportunity for Jaleel Johnson to get onto the field early in the season because of Floyd’s and Johnson’s rehabs. Behind the line, the starting three of Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Emmanuel Lamur at linebacker is a solid trio. With Chad Greenway retiring, that leaves Edmond Robinson and Kentrell Brothers as the backups. They drafted Elijah Lee out of Kansas State, Ben Gedeon from Michigan and Shaan Washington from Texas A&M to bring depth behind the established starters. With the aggressive fronts that Minnesota plays with, these young linebackers also are poised to make a difference early on if they prove themselves in training camp.
“It’s nice to get back, get working with your team. We started to build a bond together once we got here and it’s just nice to have more opportunities and more reps,” said rookie linebacker Lee. “I just help them bring speed to the defense, and that’s something I’m big on and something we talk about every day in our meeting room; everybody getting to the ball, a running back might break a tackle so make sure to be there to the ball whether you’re the first one or the last one.”
With the 41st pick in the draft, the Vikings took Dalvin Cook, the Florida State back who rushed for 4,464 yards in his colligate career and is one of the many backs brought in to fill the void left by Adrian Peterson. Latavius Murray and Bishop Sankey were acquired in free agency to join Jerick McKinnon, the lone half-back on the roster. Terrell Newby joined the Vikings as a free agent. With so many backs that can catch the ball out of the back field and run up the middle as the every down back, there are plenty of carriers in the Minnesota backfield.
This may be the thinnest position the Vikings have, even after the draft and free agency. The team has two established players in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, however, this team desperately needs either Rodney Adams out of South Florida or Stacey Coley of Miami to step up to give the roster some depth and diversity.
“Just trying to make plays, I feel good right now so just going through the motions of running routes and everything,” said the Miami product on his job during training camp. “I feel like me just being explosive, the run after the catch and my speed, and dialing into my playbook and learning my role, it’s all just exciting.”
Laquon Treadwell has yet to become a contributor and Jarius Wright has never played to the level of even the fourth best receiver. The new crop of receivers needs to have some second and third string players to offer something up to the depth chart.
MyCole Pruitt and Rhett Ellison have left the team that had a deep tight end squad behind Kyle Rudolph, which is supposed to be bolstered by Bucky Hodges and Josiah Price joining the roster. Price is the better blocker of the pair, but Hodges does not give much of a fight in that category. Hodges is more the pass-catching tight end, and while he is athletic, the toss-up, 50/50 catch in the red zone is where he fell inconsistent.
“I see myself as a playmaker. I’m a good teammate and put everything on the line, whether it’s blocking or a pass play I put everything on the line,” said Hodges on what he brings to the roster. “I use [my late draft pick] as motivation every day I come out here, but I just have a lot to prove and I don’t want to do too much talking about it because I know how hungry I am, but I’m just looking forward to this training camp and regular season.”
They need another stud like Rudolph, but if they cannot have that they need at least a tight end that is good at one thing or another.
There are so many players that need to succeed from this rookie class that the Vikings need if they are to fill holes in this roster, most importantly at the offensive line and tight end positions. With Sam Bradford in the pocket, they need to have a really solid offensive line. The tight end spot is also crucial to this team because they are thin at wide receiver and in this offense the tight end can have a big role as the Swiss army knife that glues the offense.