Minnesota Vikings Draft Grade + Analysis: 2020 NFL Draft Review

RoundPickPlayerPositionGrade
122Justin JeffersonWRB
131Jeff GladneyCBA
258Ezra ClevelandOLB
389Cameron DantzlerCBA
4117D.J. WonnumDEC
4130James LynchDLB
4132Troy DyeLBC
5169Harrison HandCBB
5176K.J. OsbornWRB
6203Blake BrandelOLA
6205Josh MetellusSB
7225Kenny WillekesDEA
7244Nathan StanleyQBC
7249Brian Cole IISB
7253Kyle HintonOLB

The tumultuous Kirk Cousins era of the Minnesota Vikings rages on as we head into the 2020 NFL season. Despite a 10-6 record and a game-winner in overtime against New Orleans in the playoffs, $84 million guaranteed has divided the Vikings fanbase. Leaving little room in the salary cap for free agency, the Vikings turned to the draft to replace the gaps left by their departing starters (CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trey Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, WR Stefon Diggs, DT Linval Joseph, DT Stephen Weatherly, DE Everson Griffen, OL Josh Kline). Let’s take a look.

Round #1, pick #22 – Justin Jefferson (WR, LSU): Grade B

Here’s a list of wide receivers not named Adam Thielen that were in line to fill out the Vikings WR depth chart: Tajaé Sharpe, Olabisi Johnson, and Chad Beebe. Jefferson is certainly impressive. He shouldered over 20% of the target share last year for Joe Burrow en route to 111 catches, 1540 yards, and 18 touchdowns. ESPN Insider ranked him the 14th overall player heading into the draft. One reason to give pause is Jefferson’s scheme fit. He played almost exclusively from the slot but the Vikings run mostly two wide receiver sets without a slot. For this reason the pick drops from an A to a B. 

Round #1, pick #31 – Jeff Gladney (CB, TCU): Grade A

After losing their top three starters the cornerback position was the Vikings biggest question mark heading into the draft. Gladney fills a position of need. Additionally, he’s Zimmer’s type of player. His scrappy reputation and ability to press cover are traits Zimmer looks for in a corner and he has even expressed his confidence in Gladney’s ability to play outside with his above average wingspan and vertical jump despite his smaller height (5’10’’). He started 42 of 50 games at TCU, earned 1st-team all-conference in the Big 12, and played 80 to 90 plays per game, for which TCU coach Gary Patterson called him “battle-tested” and “country-tough.” He’s a well-regarded talent that is poised to contribute to the defensive backfield in 2020, and for this the pick deserves an A.

Round #2, pick #58 – Ezra Cleveland (OT, Boise State): Grade B

If Gary Kubiak admires anything in his offensive lineman, it’s athleticism, and Ezra Cleveland has plenty of it. He ran the 3rd fastest 40-yard dash for an offensive lineman (4.93) and was over the 80th percentile in the broad jump, bench press, 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle. Not only do his physical attributes make him a perfect fit for Kubiak’s zone scheme, it’s what he’s run at Boise State for years. Everything points towards this being a wonderful pick, if not for the fact that him seeing playing time in 2020 will require somebody to change positions. He plays left tackle, which would make him a backup to Riley Reiff. For this reason, the second round pick is a B instead of an A. 

Round #3, pick #89 – Cameron Dantzler (CB, Mississippi State): Grade A

This was Minnesota’s second corner in their first four picks and it’s hard not to love this one. Dantzler has an impressive resume and promising tape. Dantzler allowed just one career redzone reception, 60 yards in coverage in a game just once, and a career passer rating of 13.0 against on third downs. At the combine however, Dantzler’s weight and arm length came in lower than desired, and he ran a 4.64 40-yard dash. This hurt his draft stock (even though he posted a video of him running an unofficial 4.38 at a pro day). Mike Zimmer himself defended Dantzler, expressing how misleading 40-times can be when compared to tape. Drafting Dantzler at 89 (when many mock drafts had him ranked higher) to hammer home the team’s biggest need makes this pick deserving of an A. 

Round #4, pick #117 – D.J. Wonnum (DE, South Carolina): Grade C

With the departure of Griffen and Weatherly, the Vikings need somebody to contribute to the pass rushing rotation. Wonnum will certainly get the chance to earn that spot, his only competition being veteran backups Anthony Zettel and Eddie Yarbrough and his fellow rookies. Most mock drafts had Wonnum well beyond pick 117 which suggests he may have been a reach. His impressive combine (top ten for DE and EDGE in 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle) and physical measurables may have left Spielman thinking they could be drafting another Danielle Hunter. It addresses a position of need, but receives a grade of C for being a reach. 

Round #4, pick #130 – James Lynch (DL, Baylor): Grade B

While Wonnum may have been a reach, Lynch could be a steal at 130. Lynch will join Wonnum and 7th round pick Kenny Willekes in competition for rotational playing time at the end position. Lynch might also be asked to play inside as a 3T. This optimizes the conundrum for Lynch though, as he’s somewhat of a tweener (too small to be an interior lineman and not explosive enough to be an edge rusher). I just don’t think Minnesota could pass up on the value. Lynch was extremely productive in 2019 (13.5 sacks in 2019) and was awarded Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Drafting value at a position of need makes this a solid pick, only receiving a B instead of an A for the uncertainty of where he will play on the line. 

Round #4, pick #132 – Troy Dye (LB, Oregon): Grade C

Another best player available pick, as it would seem. Troy Dye has impressive height (6’4’’) and athleticism (4.48 40-yard dash at his makeshift pro day) and led Oregon in tackles all four years he attended (earned first-team all-conference honors in the Pac 12 in 2019). Dye will likely provide depth at the position, and will see most of his playing time on special teams. Round four seems too early to draft a player who will primarily contribute on special teams.

Round #5, pick #169 – Harrison Hand (CB, Temple): Grade B

More depth at the corner position was needed. Hand played in every game in 2019 and led Temple in tackles. His above average wingspan (76 ⅜) is once again a favorite of Mike Zimmer’s. He’ll likely fight for time as a nickel corner. Adding depth at corner was a necessity for Minnesota, but this pick only received a B because Hand was a bit of a reach at 169.

Round #5, pick #176 – K.J. Osborn (WR, Miami): Grade B

There’s little doubt Osborn will be given a chance to play the role of return specialist in 2020. GM Rick Spielman even said as much. With decent speed (4.48 40-yard dash) and some experience as a return specialist), this pick earns a B for adding value to the 2020 team in the 5th round. 

https://twitter.com/theACCDN/status/1188176621381046272?s=20

Round #6, pick #203 – Blake Brandel (OL, Oregon State): Grade A

The wave of athletic offensive linemen in Minnesota continues. Brandel, who started all 48 career games at Oregon State, posted a solid 5.31 40-yard dash and was considered one of the best pass blocking prospects in this year’s class. Once again, another wonderful scheme fit for Minnesota. To get such a highly graded pass-blocking offensive lineman that perfectly fits the Vikings scheme in the 6th round is a home run.  

Round #6, pick #205 – Josh Metellus (S, Michigan): Grade B

Outside of their two starters, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, the Vikings didn’t have any safeties heading into the draft. They needed the depth. Metellus started all 13 games in 2019, notching 74 tackles, four for a loss, two interceptions and five pass breakups. He followed that up with an impressive combine, showing his overall athleticism (above average in hand size, arm length, 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill, and bench press). Filling a team need with a 6th rounder deserves a solid grade. 

Round #7, pick #225 – Kenny Willekes (DE, Michigan State): Grade A

Kenny Willekes won the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best player who was a former walk-on. He racked up 78 tackles, 10.5 sacks and a whopping 16 tackles for a loss last season at Michigan State, despite his lack of size in the trenches (264 lbs, below average arm length). Mel Kiper says he’s the type of guy he “wouldn’t want to bet against,” because he has done nothing but overcome the odds thus far. To address a hole on the team at 225 with a player who some experts had as a top-100 player is deserving of an A. 

Round #7, pick #244 – Nathan Stanley  (QB, Iowa): Grade C

This is a flyer if I have ever seen one. At best, Nate Stanley beats out Sean Mannion for the backup QB spot on the 53-man roster. Still, there’s something exciting about drafting a potential future QB. Stanley has great physical measurables as well (6’4’’, 235 lbs, 4.81 40-yard dash, 10-inch hands) and was a 3-year starter at Iowa with a record of 27-12. It was only a 7th rounder and 1 of 15 picks, but it earns a C for being the pick most likely to end up a total waste. 

Round #7, pick #249 – Brian Cole II (S, Mississippi State): Grade B

Almost a necessity in terms of the team’s lack of depth. Drafting Cole put four safeties on the roster. Cole has had quite the journey to the league. He went from playing at Michigan his true freshman year to playing at the community college level the following year. Then, featured on the Netflix docu-series “Last Chance U,” Cole finally landed at Mississippi State. He only became a full-time starter this past year and is thus rather inexperienced, but has the ideal size for a strong safety (6’2’’ and 205 lbs). Addressing a position of need with a player that has solid physical makeup and mental fortitude such as Cole makes for a solid 7th round pick. 

Round #7, pick #253 – Kyle Hinton (G, Washburn): Grade B

The average offensive tackle checks in at nearly 6’6’’ and 312 lbs.  Hinton is 6’2’’ and 295 lbs. That’s small even for a guard or center in the NFL. Still, Hinton was one of the smaller-school pro day standouts and impressed scouts with his physical measurables. No surprise here, another lineman that can move really well (4.93 40-yard dash). Using your last pick for a player that fits schematically and adds depth to a position of need is well deserving of a good grade. 

Overall draft grade: B+

A B+ might be on the low end of most Vikings’ draft grades. They made multiple trades to acquire more picks, all the while addressing primary needs (CB, WR, OL) and secondary needs (DL and S depth). Many of their picks were either team captains or heralded as “high-energy” or “high-character” guys. They receive a B+ instead of an A mostly because two of their top four picks (Jefferson and Cleveland) might not fit in schematically right away. This is an issue for a team that lost many starters and is expecting to find themselves back in the playoffs next season. Despite this, the Vikings front office once again shows its savviness building a solid roster through the draft.

  
Zach Boeder is a high school math teacher that has a passion for sports and data journalism. Zach received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches in Saint Paul and Lives in Minneapolis with his partner Sarah, their dog Dozier, and cat Remy. Zach plans to argue for a very long time that "2020 would have been the Twins' year if baseball hadn't been shut down."

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