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Recent Vikings Draft Picks Growing in Roles

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Whether it's been Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes or Harrison Smith, the usual suspects of homegrown talent have played a big role in helping the Vikings secure a 6-2 record at the bye week.

When Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman held his annual bye week question-and-answer session with media members this week, three other recent draft picks were mentioned as helping Minnesota's strong start in their own way.

The trio of players landed on the Vikings roster by way of recent drafts, as running back Jerick McKinnon (third round, 2014), cornerback Trae Waynes (first round, 2015) and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (first round, 2016) each have made an impact this season.

McKinnon has 802 combined yards this season (287 rushing, 203 receiving and 312 on kickoff returns), which is good for the sixth-highest total in the league.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur has used McKinnon in a variety of roles.  The running back ranks third on the team with 28 receptions but also has a career-high three rushing scores.

"You've always seen flashes. And there's no question about his speed and his athletic ability. And I think he's just continued to progress as a running back," Spielman said of McKinnon. "You know, he was a wishbone, option-type quarterback back in college [at Georgia Southern], and each year you see him get more and more comfortable at that position.

"I think this year, with the way Pat's system fits his skill set and his experience at the position, you're starting to see how valuable of a player he can be," Spielman added. "And how productive he can be."

Waynes played primarily on special teams after being taken with the 11th overall pick in 2015. He had an interception in the postseason that season before moving into a starting defensive role in 2016.

The former Michigan State standout had three interceptions in 2016 and already has two picks this season. Spielman compared Waynes' growth the past few seasons to Rhodes, who is now looked at as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks.

"Even in the London game, you saw No. 29 not getting a lot of balls thrown his way. He's going to get a lot of practice where he's at," Spielman said about opposing teams consistently testing Waynes. "Each week he's gotten better and better and better. I think it's gaining the confidence and gaining the swagger. I think he ended up with four pass breakups against Cleveland. All those opportunities coming his way has actually helped him progress at an even quicker rate.

"I know Coach Zimmer and [Vikings Defensive Coordinator] George Edwards and [Vikings defensive backs coach] Jerry Gray work the heck out of those DBs from a technical standpoint. It was the same thing with Xavier … he started out slow as a rookie and then got a little better his second [season],"Spielman said. "It takes time for a lot of these corners. People don't look back where Xavier was his rookie year and how he progressed … I think you're seeing that same track with Trae Waynes right now."

Treadwell, meanwhile, was the No. 23 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Mississippi.

He had one reception for 15 yards as a rookie, but has progressed during his second season with 12 catches for 142 yards.

Spielman said that the Vikings offense isn't necessarily designed for one receiver to get the targeted a bevy of times, and that Treadwell has come a long way since his rookie season.

"I think he's doing better. I think you've seen flashes," Spielman said. "It's hard. When you look at the stat sheet at the end of a game and you see, whether it was Case [Keenum] or with [Sam] Bradford, there's eight, nine, sometimes 10 different guys that have caught balls. And I think within Pat's scheme, it's not designated just to go to one guy.

"I mean, the emergence of Adam Thielen and [Stefon] Diggs, and then Laquon is slowly coming in, and he's light-years [ahead of] where he was a year ago at this time," Spielman said. "It's pretty unique, I think, when you look at the stat sheet, to see the play calling and to see, 'OK, two running backs, a fullback, two tight ends and four receivers caught passes.' So the targets are pretty evenly distributed throughout the game."

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