The Minnesota Vikings had very specific needs as the 2021 NFL Draft approached. The defense had been bolstered by some savvy free-agent pickups. The top signings were 8-Time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, soon to be starting 3-Technique tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, and the return of the prodigal son, nickelback Mackensie Alexander.
The most obvious need was along the offensive line. Not only had this unit struggled in pass protection in 2020 but they also had lost their highest rated player to free agency. With the departure of Reilly Reiff to the Cincinnati Bengals, they had a glaring hole at left tackle. Also, a replacement for the much maligned Dakota Dozier at left guard was a high priority.
With their 14th pick in the first round of the draft, there still would be some quality offensive lineman for the Vikings to select. The only question is would they select a tackle or a guard. The plan had always been to move Ezra Cleveland from the right guard position he played last year to the blindside tackle position. Many people believed perhaps, guard was Cleveland’s best position and that the Viking should instead select a tackle in the first round.
Position needs identified by GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer included an edge rusher, guard, safety, wide receiver, and kick and punt returner. Many also hoped that The Purple would draft a future quarterback. Kirk Cousins has two more years left on his monster contract and this year seemed like a good time to draft and groom his future replacement.
There were attempts by the Vikings to move up in the draft to select one of the two highest rated offensive tackles, but they were rebuffed in their attempts to do so. Thus, these players, Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater were gone by the time the Vikings went on the clock.
The speculation was that the Minnesota Vikings BrainTrust would choose one of two players. The choice would either be left tackle Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech or USC tackle/guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. What happened next was nothing short of shocking and controversial.
Instead of drafting one of the aforementioned players, the Vikings may a trade. They sent their pick to the New York Jets in exchange for the Jet’s number 23 pick in the first round and picks 66 and 86 in the third round. The Vikings also sent New York their fifth round 123 pick.
This created an unhappy group of Minnesota Vikings fans. The consensus was that they passed on drafting a player that could have filled an immediate need just to stock up on draft capital. Salt was poured into the wound when the Jets proceeded to take Vera-Tucker with the pick they received from the Vikings.
The Vikings chances of obtaining Darrisaw now looked dim. They caught a lucky break when the Los Angeles Raiders drafting in the 17th spot picked offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood from Alabama as their first pick. A sigh of relief was echoed by Vikings fans and also, bewildered looks on the faces of NFL analysts, as this was clearly was a reach pick.
To the surprise of Vikings Nation, Darrisaw was still available with the 23rd pick and Minnesota gladly picked up their new starting left tackle. In addition to Darrisaw, with one of the third round picks they received from the Jets, they looked to the future. With this pick, The Purple selected quarterback Kellen Mond from Texas A&M. He is now the heir apparent to succeed Cousins when his contract ends.
Mond has some mechanics issues to work out, but he has at least two years to resolve these issues. It will also give him valuable time to get comfortable with the Vikings offensive system as Cousins plays out the remainder of his contract.
And with the other third round pick they obtained from New York, Minnesota was able to draft its new starting left guard, Wyatt Davis from The Ohio State. The draft experts collectively praised this pick as one of the best of the draft. Davis is a tough, mean, junk-yard dog type of player. He should be a fixture on their offensive line for at least the next decade.
The rest of the draft saw the Vikings select players who filled some of their secondary needs. They drafted two edge rushers, Patrick Jones II from Pittsburgh in the third round and Janarius Robinson from Florida State in the fourth round. Both players are tall and athletic, which are traits co-offensive coordinator/defensive line coach Andre Patterson looks for in players at this position.
Revival of the Vikings putrid return game was also a necessity. To fill that void, the Vikings selected Kene Nwangwu, a running back from Iowa State, (fourth round), and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a wide receiver out of Iowa (fifth round). They should be an upgrade from last year’s starters at the return positions.
Additionally, Minnesota picked up third round linebacker Chazz Surratt out of North Carolina to fill the need at the WILL linebacker position. He is a raw, athletic talent, who likely will also be a candidate to replace Anthony Barr at the MIKE linebacker position when Barr’s contract expires after this coming season.
With their remaining picks, the Vikings selected cornerback turned safety, Camryn Bynum in the fourth round out of USC and tight end Zach Davidson out of Central Missouri State in the sixth round. Both of these players should provide much needed depth at these positions.
And the Vikings final pick of the draft was defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman out of Pittsburgh in round six. He projects to be a rotational player who will back up the newly acquired Tomlinson.
Overall, I would give the Minnesota Vikings an A- grade for their draft. They filled their most pressing need, which was the offensive line, and they also provided depth to positions where they were thin. Time will tell, but Minnesota infused talent into their roster which hopefully will lead to a division title and a playoff run.