It seems ridiculous to push the panic button so early in the season, especially after your team lost its first two games by a combined four points in two heart-breaking nail-biters.
But that’s where the Minnesota Vikings find themselves heading into its Week 3 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
Making matters worse? The lack of impact the 2021 rookie class has had thus far.
Granted, first-rounder Christian Darrisaw, an offensive tackle picked No. 23 overall out of Virginia Tech, has been hurt and isn’t expected to play against the Seahawks. The team had no second-rounder, and one of its three third-rounders, quarterback Kellen Mond, is backing up starter Kirk Cousins. But the other third-rounders, linebacker Chazz Surratt (North Carolina) and offensive guard Wyatt Davis (Ohio State), did not take the field.
In fact, none of the Vikings’ 11 rookies played last Sunday in the team’s 34-33 loss to the Cardinals.
Too soon to expect much from your rookie class? Maybe so.
But the Vikings have had a stretch of bad luck – or bad drafting or bad coaching – in recent years. Some of the team’s drafting problems of late include:
- 2020: WR Justin Jefferson had one of the best rookie seasons ever with 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and 7 TDs, good for a Pro Bowl nod and second-team All Pro. But the team’s other first-rounder, former TCU CB Jeff Gladney, was released by the team in August after he was indicted on two felony domestic assault charges. Meanwhile, Ezra Cleveland appears to be set at guard and is starting to come into his own, but cornerback Cameron Dantzler, the team’s third-rounder, sat out Game 1 and played just 16 snaps against Seattle after a bumpy rookie season.
- 2019: Is he a bust? He’s dangerously close to it, says Purple PTSD, as the team’s 2019 first-rounder, Garrett Bradbury of North Carolina State, continues to struggle. And second-rounder Irv Smith Jr. was tabbed by Fansided’s The Viking Age last December as a player who’s in jeopardy of obtaining the “bust” label. Since then? Smith is now expected to miss the entire season with a meniscus injury suffered in the team’s preseason finale. The Vikings’ third-rounder that year, Boise State RB Alexander Mattison, is a serviceable backup to starter Dalvin Cook.
- 2018: Minnesota did not have a third round pick that year. The good? Second-rounder Brian O’Neill of Pittsburgh recently signed a five-year, $92.5 million contract, the second-highest contract for a RT in the league. Now comes the bad: The team’s first-rounder, CB Mike Hughes of Central Florida, was great when he was on the field, but injuries derailed his career in Minnesota. The Vikings eventually traded Hughes and a seventh-round pick in 2022 to Kansas City for a sixth-round pick. (Rubbing salt into the Vikings’ wounds was Hughes’ fourth-quarter interception against Cleveland in Week 1 that helped seal the Chiefs’ 33-29 win.)
That’s two potential stars, two above-average players and five who haven’t performed up to expectations who were drafted on Days 1 or 2.
Granted, the Vikings still have one of the best lineups in the division and should push for a playoff berth, even if they lose on Sunday. But missing out on so many picks over the years will eventually catch up to a team.
Minnesota has six picks in the 2022 NFL draft, with no picks in the fourth and seventh rounds and two picks in the sixth.
Therefore, the team really needs to hit on at least two, if not all three, of its picks on Days 1 and 2.
Looking for potential starters? That’s easier said than done, as most evaluators loved the picks of Gladney, Bradbury, Dantzler, Smith and Hughes.
Here are three players to watch who could break into Minnesota’s starting lineup early:
- Georgia DL Jordan Davis: Minnesota’s two starting DLs, Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce, make it tough to run against the Vikings – but Davis would represent an immediate upgrade and would likely replace Pierce in the starting lineup. At 6-foot-6, 340-pounds, Davis is primarily a run-stopper like Tomlinson and Pierce. His biggest issue is also his best attribute: his size. Davis has had trouble in the past keeping his weight down, but the senior is looking to become an every-down player, according to Dawg Nation. His lack of pass-rushing productivity has pushed him down many evaluators’ draft boards, but he’s still widely regarded as a first- or early-second round pick. From Pro Football Focus, who ranked Davis as its No. 31 prospect in its preseason top-100 list: “Davis has some of the most impressive reps you’ll see from a college defensive tackle, but they are too few and far between. … (H)e can overpower even the strongest offensive linemen.”
- Penn State CB Tariq Castro-Fields: After dealing with Hughes’ injuries, Minnesota might be a bit hesitant to take a player like Castro-Fields, who has his own injury history. But Castro-Fields might be too good of a talent to pass up in the second round, especially if the 6-foot, 198-pound senior can stay healthy. Castro-Fields has played in only three games in each of the last two seasons due to undisclosed injuries. Still, there’s a lot to like. A director of player personnel told Walter Football that Castro-Fields reminds him of Marlon Humphrey. “They both are big, fast, physical, disciplined in coverage, good technique and prevent separation. In college, Marlon had some issues playing the ball downfield, but he’s fixed that at Baltimore. Castro-Fields plays the ball better right now than Marlon did at Alabama. As long as he stays healthy, I think Castro-Fields could be a corner comparable to Marlon.” Humphrey was the No. 16 overall pick in 2017 by Baltimore.
- Notre Dame C Jarrett Patterson: It’s probably too early to pull the plug on Bradbury at center – but the Vikings have moved on from draft picks relatively quickly before, ala Hughes and Dantzler. That’s where Patterson enters the picture. At 6-foot-5, 307 pounds Patterson is listed as the No. 2 center in Pro Football Network’s preseason rankings of guards and centers. From PFN: “Patterson doesn’t have the dominating power or zeal that other linemen above him have. Rather, he’s just a solid player. He’s a great athlete for his 6’5”, 305-pound frame, and he plays with a good pad level, leaning into blocks to maximize leverage. His mobility makes him an asset blocking to the second level, with the alertness to be a valuable safety net in pass protection as well.”