Vikings rookie minicamp is in the books, and Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke favorably Saturday about Minnesota’s crew of youngsters.
Zimmer isn't the only one, though.
The Vikings 11 draft picks have come up in conversation around the league by experts who especially appreciate specific additions. Most recently, first-round tackle Christian Darrisaw was the subject of two different categories by ESPN.
ESPN's NFL experts were asked to answer "the 2021 NFL Draft’s biggest questions" for a roundtable-style article. The first section featured "six bold predictions" by panelists," and NFL analyst Mike Clay highlighted Darrisaw. Clay wrote:
First-round pick and projected starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw will help the Vikings offensive line finally emerge into one of the league's better units. If Darrisaw and third-round rookie guard Wyatt Davis join center Garrett Bradbury, guard Ezra Cleveland and tackle Brian O'Neill in the lineup, Minnesota's starting line would include five Day 1 or 2 picks from the past four drafts. That's some serious pedigree.
When the question of favorite overall draft pick was posed to the panel, it was Seth Walder who this time pointed to Darrisaw, whom the Vikings snagged at No. 23 after trading down from their original No. 14 spot.
General Manager Rick Spielman pulled off an incredible Day 1 of the draft by getting the Jets to overpay for pick No. 14 and then landing the tackle he may well have selected at the Vikings original selection in Darrisaw. Plus, I took notice when my colleague Matt Bowen called Darrisaw (No. 23) the best pass-blocking lineman in the class. In the modern NFL, if there's one area I want to prioritize for my offensive linemen, it's pass protection.
Minnesota players weren't spotlighted in the other four questions, but an NFC North rival caught my attention under "Which team's draft class will have the biggest impact in 2021?" Clay predicted that honor to Detroit.
It's possible that this entire draft class will play a significant role this season. Penei Sewell is the starting right tackle, Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill will step right into the defensive tackle rotation, Ifeatu Melifonwu will be needed at corner, Amon-Ra St. Brown is a sleeper to lead the team's receivers room in targets, Derrick Barnes will compete at linebacker, and even seventh-rounder Jermar Jefferson could play a role after Kerryon Johnson was released.
PFF tabs Dantzler as Vikings most-underrated player
Let's back up for a second and look at Minnesota's entire roster, not just the newbies. Which player is the team's most underrated?
Analytics site Pro Football Focus answered that question for all 32 teams, and Sam Monson pointed to 2020 draft pick Cameron Dantzler for the Vikings. Monson wrote:
Dantzler fell to the third round of the draft a year ago despite having first-round tape because he was extremely lightweight and struggled to run well when he added weight during the process. He had ups and downs as a rookie but put up multiple single-game PFF grades above 90.0 and forced his way into the starting lineup.
View the best photos of Vikings rookie CB Cameron Dantzler from the 2020 season.
It's worth noting the players Monson spotlighted for Minnesota's division rivals, as well.
I was not expecting his answer for the Bears that listed wide receiver Allen Robinson II.
Yes, you read that correctly: Allen Robinson is still underrated. His 88.4 overall PFF grade was a top-five figure for all wide receivers last year, and he did that despite suffering poor quarterback play (again). Robinson has consistently been a top-10 receiver in the NFL with one of the worst quarterback situations in the game. If Justin Fields changes that, Robinson could immediately look as good as any receiver in the league.
Interestingly, Detroit's most underrated player also was a 2020 cornerback: Jeff Okudah, whom the Lions drafted third overall last spring.
No glimmer of hope can be redeemed from Okudah's rookie year — if that were the only sample I had to work with, I'd be conjuring optimism out of thin air. However, we know Okudah was an elite college cornerback, and we also know that almost every rookie corner was routinely torched in 2020. The scheme Detroit employed also wasn't helping anybody, so we have to assume that Okudah is better than the player we saw last season. How much better is the big unknown.
And lastly, Monson lauded Packers safety Adrian Amos.
For some reason, no matter how well Amos plays, many people are reluctant to give him the credit he deserves. The veteran safety has never had a bad season in the NFL and now has another elite year under his belt — this time for a new team — after 2020. He has 15 pass breakups to go with five picks over the past two seasons, including the playoffs.
League lifts mask mandate for fully vaccinated players & staff
We certainly can't say we're back to "normal" as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but certain protocols are being lessened as vaccines are more widely available.
On Friday, the NFL lifted the mask mandate for fully vaccinated players and team staff across the league. NFL.com's Grant Gordon wrote:
Fully vaccinated NFL players and tiered staff will no longer be required to wear masks inside or outside at club facilities, the league announced Friday in a memo obtained by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
The updated protocol comes following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's easement on Thursday of mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people.
The league went on to state additional changes to COVID-19 protocols were expected "consistent with CDC guidelines" and that teams would still have to adhere to local and/or state regulations, "even if they are more restrictive."
This is the latest modification regarding COVID-19 protocols for the league and further incentive for NFL players and staff to get vaccinated.