The Vikings added 12 players to the roster through the 2019 NFL Draft, the most ever by Minnesota in a seven-round draft.
Which of these fresh faces will step in and contribute in their first season? ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., recently delved into draft selections around the league and said that “several first-round picks will be guaranteed starters when training camp begins.” He wrote:
By now hopefully you’ve seen my draft grades for all 32 teams, and now let’s evaluate the rookies I think will make an early impact, from each day of the draft. This is more about having a clear role, not coming in and dominating from the outset.
Kiper highlighted five first-round draft picks, including center Garrett Bradbury, whom the Vikings snagged 18th overall.
Yes, offensive linemen picked in the first round are supposed to start on Day 1 with their new teams. But I want to highlight Bradbury here because of the way he instantly makes the Vikings better. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was just OK last season, but it was the Minnesota running game that disappointed most, as its 93.3 yards per game ranked 30th in the league.
Kiper said he wouldn’t be surprised if “the athletic Bradbury” lined up at center and Pat Elflein, who has played center the past two seasons, slid to guard.
With an improved running game, Cousins will be improved, too. And in Year 2 of his three-year deal, the offense must be more complete for the Vikings to get back to the playoffs.
According to Kiper, other first-rounders who will make an immediate impact are Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Broncos tight end Noah Fant, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and Giants cornerback Deandre Baker. The Vikings will see Fant in Week 11, Jacobs in Week 3 and Baker in Week 5.
Kiper pointed out that Baker started 35 games at Georgia.
He is the most pro-ready of the top group of cornerbacks in this class, and he can be a legitimate No. 1 corner. He’s going to play early and often for a New York defense that allowed 61 receptions of at least 20 yards last season, the second-most such passes in the league.
Kiper then highlighted five players from Rounds 2-3 and five from Rounds 4-7 who will have an early role with their respective teams. To see the entire list, click here.
Vikings 7th-rounder among Zierlein’s favorite picks
NFL analyst Lance Zierlein took a similar approach to Kiper but specifically highlighted three draft picks from each round that jumped out at him. Zierlein wrote:
My take on draft picks can be quite similar to that of NFL teams, but occasionally we have extremely divergent opinions. I like certain early-round picks more than others based upon upside or team fit, while my favorite late-round picks are often dictated by which players went later in the draft than I projected.
In this space, I’ll take a look at three players from each round that I believe could make substantial immediate impacts for their new teams or have a great chance of eventually outplaying their draft slotting and turning into valuable members of the roster for the clubs that selected them.
Zierlein tabbed a new Viking in his seventh-round trio: Texas cornerback Kris Boyd, who was selected by Minnesota at the 217th overall spot.
Zierlein said that Boyd’s college film shows “a strong but handsy cornerback who struggled with his back to the ball in man coverage” and opined that a position switch could be advantageous for Boyd.
Boyd could develop into a solid Cover 2 cornerback, but I gave him a higher grade in anticipation of a move to safety, where his coverage experience and aggressiveness in run support could push him into some early playing time in sub packages. I believe transitioning to safety gives him the best chance to outplay his draft positioning.
Fellow seventh-rounder Isaac Nauta, tight end out of Georgia picked by the division-rival Lions, was also highlighted by Zierlein, who believes a bad performance at the NFL Combine caused Nauta to slide.
His testing numbers suggest he won’t be an NFL player, but I love this pick in Round 7 because he plays faster than he tested, he has great hands and I can see him competing for a role as a move tight end or H-back when Detroit looks to create matchup problems out of two-tight-end sets.
The Lions also drafted a tight end in the first round, using the No. 8 overall pick to grab Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson.
View images of the Vikings 2019 Rookie Class during their photoshoot on their first day in the TCO Performance Center.
Hardaway on Mitchell: ‘Minnesota got a steal’
As a middle-school athlete, Vikings receiver Dillon Mitchell, drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round, was coached on the basketball court by NBA legend Penny Hardaway.
SKOR North’s Matthew Coller spoke earlier this week with Hardaway, who said he was “amazed” when he first saw Mitchell play football in 10th grade.
“I thought I was seeing a reincarnation of Reggie Bush, the way he was running kick returns and punt returns back for touchdowns,” Hardaway told Coller over the phone.
Mitchell was named Tennessee’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a senior. He caught 81 passes for 1,484 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for 951 yards and 20 more touchdowns on 64 carries.
The current head coach of the Memphis Tigers basketball team would have loved to have seen Mitchell continue his basketball career in college and advocated Mitchell playing both sports at Oregon, but it was clear to Mitchell’s mentor that football was the sport of choice.
“He was probably, in my mind, a four-star basketball player, five-star football player, and I think if he had focused strictly on basketball could have been a five-star basketball player,” Hardaway told Coller. “Pretty impressive. But he talked only about football. You’d have him over at AAU events, and he was still staying in tune with football.”
Hardaway was surprised to see Mitchell fall to the seventh round, saying he “dropped way too low with his talent.”
“I look at it this way: I say that Minnesota got a steal,” Hardaway said. “He’s going to prove a lot of people wrong; he’s more motivated than ever, and he’s going to prove a lot of people wrong.”