The wait is over, as the 2019 NFL Draft kicks off at 7 tonight (CT) from Nashville.
There will certainly be surprises and drama littered throughout the night as teams try to add an immediate impact player from the first round.
Vikings draft history, particularly since 1998 (the second year of the Tennessee Oilers that preceded the Titans), has had some intermingling with folks in Nashville.
Chad Graff of The Athletic connected with former Vikings and Titans executive Jeff Diamond to retrace draft lore of both teams that, coincidentally, are scheduled to pick 18th (Minnesota) and 19th (Tennessee) overall in the first round.
Back in 1998, the Vikings were at 21, and the Titans held the 16th spot. Diamond stacked magnets of enticing players, and Randy Moss was in the list despite availability that was considered a longshot.
Diamond correctly predicted that Tennessee would tab a receiver, but the Oilers went with Kevin Dyson. Graff wrote:
Still, Diamond thought there was little chance Moss would fall to the Vikings. And besides, Diamond and the rest of the front office wanted to improve the team’s defense that day.
So they put defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday’s name under Moss’ in the list of players they’d draft once they were due up. Below Holliday, they put safety Tebucky Jones. Best-case scenario, Diamond thought, we get Holliday.
But then at No. 19, Holliday was taken by the Green Bay Packers. The draft room felt deflated, Diamond said. The Lions were up next and they needed a wide receiver, so Diamond prepared to pick Jones after missing out on Holliday.
And then, to the surprise of everyone, the Lions chose [defensive back Terry Fair], and Moss fell to the Vikings, changing the course of the franchise.
“We were so kind of amazed that this talented of a player was dropping down like that,” Diamond told Graff.
Diamond also relayed a story of opting to draft Daunte Culpepper at 11th overall in 1999 before trying to work out a trade with Tennessee, which became the Titans in 1999, for the No. 16 spot.
Tennessee, however, held onto the pick and tabbed Jevon Kearse, the uncle of Vikings safety Jayron Kearse.
The elder Kearse made an immediate impact who went on to become the Defensive Rookie of the Year, an All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, but Diamond didn’t mind not working out that deal as much because he joined the Titans organization that year.
Holler: Safety not a top priority for Vikings in 2019 draft
There’s a chance the Vikings could add some depth on the back end of their defense over the next few days by selecting a safety in the draft.
But John Holler of Viking Update said that the position isn’t a top priority for Minnesota to focus on right now.
Holler, in the final part of a series looking at each position on Minnesota’s roster and how it could be impacted by the draft, recently wrote that he’d look elsewhere in the early rounds.
Holler noted that the trio of Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse give Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer a solid group to lean on. While Andrew Sendejo departed in free agency, the Vikings did add Derron Smith and Jordan Martin earlier this month.
Both Harris and Kearse stepped up last year for the Minnesota Vikings when starter Andrew Sendejo went down five games into the season. Sendejo became a free agent last month and, prior to the draft, the Vikings added a pair of safeties from the now-defunct Alliance of American Football (Smith and Martin). That shouldn’t diminish the team looking to add a safety in the draft, but the solid play of Smith, Harris and Kearse may be a bigger reason why a safety may not be a top priority for the 2019 draft.
Harrison Smith made his fourth straight Pro Bowl in 2018, while Harris started nine games and tied with Smith for the team lead with three interceptions. Kearse was deployed in Minnesota’s “big nickel” package, where the 6-foot-4 safety matched up against the opposition in the slot.
While Holler believes this isn’t an elite safety class, he said there are plenty of players who can make an impact after getting picked on the second and third day of the draft.
This is a very solid safety class, but not elite. There may not be a safety taken in the first round, but once they start coming off the board, we could easily see a run on safeties on Day 2 that depletes the top end of the class more than most. Safety is becoming a hybrid position leaning more toward the college game than the established NFL, but safeties who stand out are still about as valued as any player on a defense because of their varied responsibilities.