The Vikings entered Round 7 of the 2020 NFL Draft on Saturday with four picks: Nos. 219, 244, 249 and 253, but traded No. 219 and received No. 225 as part of a deal with Baltimore.
Vikings Select Michigan State DE Kenny Willekes with 225th Overall Pick | By Eric Smith
The Vikings selected defensive end Kenny Willekes in the seventh round (225th overall pick) in the 2020 NFL Draft on Saturday afternoon.
Willekes, a redshirt senior out of Michigan State, is listed at 6-foot-3 and 264 pounds.
Willekes is the Spartans all-time leader with 51 tackles for loss, and was a two-time, First-Team All-Big Ten selection in college in 2018 and 2019. He also was Michigan State's Team MVP in those years as well and ranks third in program history with 26.0 career sacks, despite beginning his career as a walk-on.
"I'd say it was part of our scheme at Michigan State," Willekes said of his tackles for loss. "They allowed me to be a little bit of a free player, and they stunted me a lot inside, something we worked on every day with [defensive ends coach Chuck Bullough] – our one-gap footwork, our two-gap footwork.
"It was something we focused on every day." Willekes added. "When I got the ability to do it in games and they gave me the opportunity to stunt, I was able to get in there and make plays."
A Second-Team All-American selection by Walter Camp in 2019, Willekes recorded 78 tackles with 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. He also had two fumble recoveries and forced two forced.
ESPN Senior NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., said Willekes will bring a relentless attitude to Minnesota.
"He'll have to battle his way onto that roster," Kiper said. "I think you look at a guy, a classic overachiever. He doesn't have long arms … but he has that knack for getting after the quarterback.
"He had 20 tackles for loss in 2018, and 10.5 sacks this past year," Kiper added. "He anticipates that snap and wants to beat that offensive tackle out of his stance, and he does it a decent amount of times. He's the kind of guy I wouldn't want to bet against because he's overcome the odds and became a heck of a player at Michigan State for the Spartans."
Willekes also won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best player who was a former walk-on.
ESPN's Trey Wingo noted Willekes' talented and large family. He's the fifth among eight total children.
"Look at that family! Everything from a cardiothoracic surgeon (his father, Charles) … to an Olympic-level trampoline gymnast (brother, Lourens) … to a concert pianist (sister, Allison)," Wingo said. "The Willekes family is very, very big … and very, very talented.
View images of Vikings new DE Kenny Willekes from his days at MSU.
"Willekes won the Burlsworth Trophy … his story on making it from a walk-on to the player he was, was really incredible," Wingo added.
Willekes will now be teammates with fellow former Michigan State star Kirk Cousins.
"He's definitely a Michigan State legend," Willekes said of Cousins. "He kind of set the path, showed the way from Michigan State to the NFL, and not only that, but he's also from West Michigan.
"I had the opportunity to go to his Holland Christian High School football 7-on-7 and meet him there when I was in high school," added Willekes, who grew up in Grand Rapids. "So, having the opportunity to play with him in Minnesota's kind of like a dream come true. He's someone I looked up to a lot growing up."
The selection of Willekes marked the eighth time in Vikings history that Minnesota selected at pick No. 225. The most recent player was California linebacker Devante Downs in 2018.
Vikings Select Iowa Quarterback Nate Stanley with 244th Overall Pick | By Craig Peters
The Vikings kept things relatively close to home when adding a quarterback on Saturday in the final round of the NFL Draft.
Minnesota tabbed Iowa senior Nate Stanley, who measured 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds.
Stanley was 237-of-399 passing for 2,951 yards with 16 touchdowns against seven interceptions in 13 starts and was a permanent captain in 2019.
The native of Menomenie, Wisconsin, is one of two Hawkeyes QBs in school history to go 3-0 in bowl games, joining Ricky Stanzi.
Stanley ranks second in school history with 68 career touchdown passes and 8,302 passing yards behind Chuck Long.
He finished his career 27-12 in 39 starts, completing 673 of 1,155 passes for 8,302 yards.
Stanley said Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak called him leading up to the draft to let him know the Vikings were interested and thought his experience in the scheme at Iowa would blend well with his future playbook in Minnesota.
"Coach Kubiak has said a lot of their concepts are very similar, their offenses are similar," Stanley said. "Obviously I'll know more as I dive into the playbook a lot. This is really just my first introduction into the offense, but from what Coach Kubiak has said he liked my play and the type of offense I played in college was very similar. Just excited to get started and get things going again."
Stanley will be diving into the new playbook virtually rather than attending a minicamp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Distance learning might pose "some challenges" but he has faith in video technology to put people in the same meeting room.
"It'll be tough, but thankfully with all the technology I think it's going to work out fairly well," Stanley said. "I know everybody in the organization, we're going to find a way to make the best of it. I don't think it'll pose too many problems. If it does cause any problems, we'll find a new way to get our work done and be successful."
View images of Vikings new QB Nate Stanley from his days at Iowa.
Although Stanley is from Wisconsin, he was raised a Bears (and Cubs) fan by his father, Jay.
"I just grew up with that because that's where my dad's from," Stanley said. "But now I'm a Vikings fan. Not a fan, a player, and that allegiance to the Bears I had when I was younger is no longer. Extremely excited to be part of this organization and everything I do is going to be to help this organization and be the best player I can be."
Stanley was rated as the No. 10 overall QB in this year's class by ESPN Senior Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. He is the first quarterback drafted by Minnesota since Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
Vikings Select Mississippi State Safety Brian Cole II with 249th Overall Pick | by Lindsey Young
The Vikings selected safety Brian Cole II with the 249th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
A senior out of Mississippi State, he measured 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds.
Cole was the second Bulldogs defensive back that Minnesota drafted this weekend, joining third-round selection Cam Dantzler.
"Man, I called him – as soon as I got off the phone with [the Vikings], I called him and said, 'Hey, I'm about to be your teammate [again]. You know what time it is – let's get it,' " Cole said. "He's just excited. We work well together.
"I know what he doesn't like; he knows what I don't like," he continued. "We've been around each other for a couple years now, so I just know we'll be able to stay on top of each other and hold each other accountable."
Cole started 12 games as a hybrid safety/linebacker for the Bulldogs in 2019 and recorded 67 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss. He also added one interception, two passes defensed and 2.0 sacks, which led all Mississippi State defensive backs.
He did not play in the Music City Bowl, opting instead to turn his focus to draft prep.
Cole started his college career in 2015 at Michigan, where he played receiver. The following season, he changed schools and positions. The Michigan native transferred to East Mississippi Community College and made the switch to defensive back, eventually being named one of the country's top five junior college safeties.
The JUCO part of his story not only humbled Cole but reignited his passion for the gridiron.
"When you go from a D-I school to a junior college, it's a major difference as far as the scholarship money, the food you eat, where you lay your head at night. Everything is just different," Cole said. "But it's molded me. I needed that. That's what humbled me, that's what got me to love the game of football again and brought the drive back."
In 2017, Cole transferred to Mississippi State and redshirted his first season with the Bulldogs.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah highlighted the ways in which Cole can be used.
"He's not only a safety, but he can also drop down and cover some in the slot," Jeremiah said. "Going to have a chance to make the team on special teams and can probably get you out of a game at wide receiver if you had some injuries, as well. Versatility is his calling card."
Also on the ESPN/NFL Network broadcast of the draft, analyst Trey Wingo highlighted Cole's father, a longtime member of the police force.
"He and his sister lived a disciplined childhood in Saginaw, [Michigan]," Wingo said. "Their father, Brian Sr., [is] a 25-year vet of the Michigan State Police Department, and they couldn't get anything past him – because 14 of those years he spent as a polygraph examiner."
View images of Brian Cole II from is days at Mississippi State.
Cole acknowledged that his father was certainly strict but always was in his son's corner.
"He can tell if you're lying; he knows if you're telling the truth – but he's supportive," Cole said. "He handles his business. He's a man who's going to get the job done and is going to handle his business. He leads by example in everything that he does."
The selection of Cole marked the second time in franchise history the Vikings have selected from the 249 spot in an NFL Draft. Minnesota picked receiver Pat Newman 249th overall in 1990, but he spent his career with the Saints and Browns.
Vikings Select Washburn OL Kyle Hinton with 253rd Overall Pick | By Eric Smith
The Vikings selected offensive lineman Kyle Hinton in the seventh round in the 2020 NFL Draft on Saturday afternoon, wrapping up their draft class with the 253rd overall pick.
Minnesota's 2020 draft class consists of 15 players, a total that set a seven-round draft record that had previously been shared by the Browns in 2016 and the Dolphins in 1997.
Hinton, a senior out of Washburn University (Division II), is listed at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds.
"I'm excited to be a part of the Vikings organization," said Hinton, who noted he can play guard or center. "They've been talking to me since November. I'm really glad they drafted me. I think I'll fit in just well with the offense.
"The area scouts that come through all the schools … they'll come through and they'll look at your film and they'll talk to you personally and things like that … they were the first ones on me and that really meant that they wanted me and things like that," Hinton added. "And I think they were really part of why I got into the NFL."
Hinton played 40 games for the Ichabods, including 34 starts on the offensive line. He was a four-time all-MIAA selection and was a three-time All-American selection.
Hinton caught an 8-yard touchdown pass as a senior in his final college game, which was his first-career reception. He participated in the NFLPA Bowl Game in January.
"That was a big confidence booster for me and a confidence booster for NFL teams to see I could hang with D-I talent and things like that," Hinton said. "It showed I could play at the next level.
"You watch big SEC games and think, 'I could handle that guy,' but it's different when you can actually show yourself that you can do it," Hinton added.
Hinton was also a star in track and field, as he earned Second-Team All-American honors by finishing ninth in the discus at the Division II NCAA Indoor Championships. He holds the school record in the weight throw, and the top eight overall throws indoors. Hinton exceled outdoors as well, as he holds the school record and the top six throws there.
"[Discus] is one of these I really like," Hinton said. "The throwing program at Washburn is really good."
Hinton's selection meant a Washburn player was picked in back-to-back drafts. The Giants chose cornerback Corey Ballentine in the sixth round in 2019.