The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Minnesota Vikings 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (14)
Round 3 (78)
Round 3 (90)
Round 4 (119)
Round 4 (125)
Round 4 (134)
Round 4 (143)
Round 5 (157)
Round 5 (168)
Round 6 (199)
Minnesota Vikings Offense
By Rich Hribar
Minnesota still has Kirk Cousins signed over the next two seasons. Although Cousins only has a $10M dead cap hit in 2022 and does not get a lot of praise since he is not on the pantheon of position, he is still a productive quarterback. Cousins has thrown 25 or more touchdown passes in six straight seasons and has thrown for over 8.0 yards per pass attempt in each of the past two seasons. The unfortunate part is that efficiency has been tethered to pedestrian volume in this offensive philosophy as Cousins has been 29th and 26th in pass attempts per game over those seasons.
Behind Cousins, the depth is lacking as neither Jake Browning nor Nate Stanley has thrown a pass in the NFL. Stanley is under contract through 2022, but this is arguably one of the worst backup quarterback stables in the league.
C.J. Ham (FB)
The Vikings gave Dalvin Cook a five-year extension last offseason with the earliest potential out coming after 2022. Cook has earned that extension through his play, averaging over 5.0 yards per touch in each of his first four seasons in the NFL. The 26-year-old has yet to play a full season through four years, but has 1,654 yards and 13 touchdowns and 1,918 yards and 17 scores in each of the past two seasons.
Even with Cook missing time in every season, Minnesota has a capable backup in Alexander Mattison that still has two seasons on his rookie contract remaining. Outside of a potential late-round depth addition, Minnesota is set at the top of their running back depth chart for multiple seasons.
The Vikings hit an absolute home run with Justin Jefferson last season at pick 22 as the fifth wide receiver taken. With an 88-1,400-7 line, Jefferson had the most receiving yardage for a player in his first season since 1960. Jefferson caught 23-of-34 targets (67.6%) on throws over 15 yards downfield, the highest rate for any player with over 25 such targets (league average was 43.8%).
Adam Thielen will turn 31-years-old this August, but is still productive and under contract through the 2024 season. Thielen caught 74 passes for 925 yards and a career-high 14 touchdowns in 2020. That touchdown production did some masking overall that his 4.9 receptions and 61.7 yards per game were far from the 2017-2018 pace he was at.
With Jefferson and Thielen anchoring the position, the depth is lacking, but Minnesota also used 11 personnel at a league-low 29% in 2020. The league average rate was 60% and the next closest team (the Titans) was at 38%. In 2019, that rate was 25%, which was also at the bottom of the league. Some of that influence may be impacted by the lack of talented depth at the position, but also is impacted by offensive philosophy.
Minnesota has Olabisi Johnson, K.J. Osborn, and Dan Chisena under contract beyond this season, but there is a massive gap from the talent at the top of their depth chart to their depth should they need to call on any of these options to contribute.
Irv Smith Jr.
With Kyle Rudolph released this offseason, Irv Smith Jr. will finally get a true opportunity to be the primary tight end for the Vikings after they selected him in the second round in 2019. Smith took a step forward in year two, upping his yards per catch from 8.6 to 12.2 in 2020 while scoring five times after finding the end zone twice as a rookie. With Rudolph sidelined the final four weeks of 2020, Smith Jr. caught 15-of-20 targets for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
The team brought back Tyler Conklin on a one-year contract, who also contributed down the line with 21 targets over the final four games of the season. Tight end is not a pressing need for the 2021 season. If the Vikings do add a player here, we are likely looking at a day three addition.
LT: Ezra Cleveland/Rashod Hill
LG: Dakota Dozier/Kyle Hinton/Zack Bailey
C: Garrett Bradbury/Mason Cole
RG: Dru Samia
RT: Brian O’Neill/Olisaemeka Udoh/Blake Brandel
Overall, the Vikings turned in a subpar season on the offensive line, ranking 18th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (56%) and 21st in Run Block Win Rate (70%). Kirk Cousins also faced pressure on 38.6% of his dropbacks per Pro Football Focus in 2020, which was only below Sam Darnold (43.3%) and Daniel Jones (40.3%).
Both Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury are still under rookie contracts for multiple seasons. Cleveland only played right guard as a rookie, but did play left tackle in college. With Riley Reiff leaving in free agency, Cleveland is the most obvious move to left tackle, but his guard experience does allow some flexibility in the draft and post-draft free agency.
The rest of his offensive line is extremely suspect. Left guard Dakota Dozier allowed 46 pressures in 2020, the most of any guard in the league. He also is only under contract for this upcoming season. Right tackle Brian O’Neill also has an expiring contract while the team. If Cleveland does kick over to left tackle, Dru Samia logged 272 snaps last season was the 130th graded guard out of 132 players last season. Outside of center and wherever the team plays Cleveland, the Vikings have competition and depth needs everywhere else.
Minnesota Vikings Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Last year, the Vikings ranked 32nd as a team in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate and 30th in run defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders, so the big free agency move was to bring in Dalvin Tomlinson from the New York Giants. Tomlinson has been a plus run defender in his four-year career with 64 starts in 64 games. Pass rush isn’t his calling card, but he ranked 30th among defensive tackles in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions, and has tallied 3.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons.
Help on run defense will also come from nose tackle Michael Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 season after signing a three-year deal with the Vikings last offseason. The addition of Pierce and Tomlinson will allow the rest of the positional depth to continue to rotate in as they did last season behind Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson.
Danielle Hunter is reportedly unhappy with his contract signed back in 2018 that runs through 2023. But he’s also recovering from a neck injury that forced him to miss the entire 2020 season. Hunter still won’t turn 27 years old until the end of October and put up 14.5 sacks in his of his previous two seasons played.
The question is who will line up across from Hunter on the defensive line. Jalyn Holmes dropped weight last offseason to transition more to a defensive end after spending time on the interior and he ended up playing 57% of the defensive snaps. However, that ended with a low pressure rate, four quarterback hits, and no sacks.
Stephen Weatherly was a rotational end early in his career and will return to the Vikings after spending 2020 with the Panthers. D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Wilekes were 2020 late-round picks. Wonnum, the fourth-round pick, ranked 75th among edge rushers in pressure rate.
Edge is the most mocked position to the Vikings in the first round at 42.8% of drafts compiled by Grinding The Mocks.
Eric Kendricks has fully cemented himself as one of the league’s best coverage linebackers. Kendricks allowed just 5.3 yards per target with three interceptions against no touchdowns allowed in 2020, according to SIS. Kendricks, like Hunter, signed a five-year extension in 2018 that runs through 2023.
Anthony Barr tore his pec and only appeared in two games during the 2020 season. During the offseason, Barr restructured his contract which voided the final two years so his deal is now up after 2021.
Eric Wilson played 96.2% of the defensive snaps in 2020 but just signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent.
The Vikings tried to add to the depth with a fourth-round selection of Troy Dye in the 2020 draft but he struggled a bit in limited snaps during his rookie season.
Patrick Peterson ranked 52nd in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap last season, so while he’s not Patrick Peterson, he still has coverage ability to be an above-average coverage corner. He only signed for a one-year deal.
Minnesota double-dipped at corner in the 2020 draft with picks in the first and third rounds. Third-round pick Cameron Dantzler was the better of the two. He was highly targeted and allowed four touchdowns in coverage but had a better-than-average completion rate allowed.
Jeff Gladney, Minnesota’s first-round corner, struggled mightily as a rookie but his on-field performance is the least important concern around him. Gladney just turned himself in on charges of third-degree felony family violence assault. The NFL has announced they are investigating the situation and given the severity of the charges, a suspension appears to be the floor of discipline.
Mike Hughes missed most of the 2020 season with a neck injury but the 2018 first-round pick is still just 24 years old and has previously had an above-average play in coverage. After Mackensie Alexander signed with the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason, he will return to the Vikings.
The rest of the depth consists of late-round fliers at the position.
After a slightly down year while playing on the franchise tag, Anthony Harris became a free agent and only got a one-year deal for $5 million from the Eagles. Harris will be replaced by Xavier Woods, who had his own down season in the poorly schemed Cowboys defense last year. Woods has the ability to be a plus player in a better structure. There’s not much investment in Woods, who signed for one year and $1.75 million this offseason.
Harrison Smith still plays as one of the better all-around safeties in the league. Smith had his best season as a blitzer with a 34.3% pressure rate, which ranked second among 24 safeties with at least 30 pass rushes, according to SIS. Smith, though, just turned 32 years old in February and is on the final year of his contract.
Harris played 100% of the defensive snaps and Smith played 95.9%. There will be a need to fill those snaps both in 2020 and beyond.