After last season's virtual draft, Cleveland played host to festivities this year with a handful of potential draft picks present and socially distanced because of COVID-19.
Here's a pick-by-pick look at how each player Minnesota selected will fit.
Round 1, No. 23 overall: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
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My take: The Vikings couldn’t have done any better for the value they got out of this pick. Minnesota tried to trade up in the first round and get in contention for one of the top two offensive tackles in the draft. When that didn’t work out, the Vikings traded back nine spots and drafted the same player general manager Rick Spielman said they were considering taking at No. 14. To pick up two additional third-round selections (Nos. 66 and 86) in the process gives the Vikings the ammunition needed (along with having three fourth-rounders) to trade into the second round since they don’t have a second-round pick. With needs on the offensive and defensive lines, Minnesota’s first-round selection came down to which position it could get the best value. The athletically gifted Darrisaw is one of the best tackles in the 2021 draft class with the size and strength the Vikings sought to aid their issues in pass protection. Bringing Darrisaw into the fold addresses a major need with a player who will be expected to start immediately and perhaps be Minnesota’s left tackle for years to come.
One hole to fill: Aside from an opening at left guard, the Vikings' offensive line is set headed into the offseason program. Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer called Darrisaw a pure left tackle who possesses the size and physical attributes they’re looking for. The Vikings were drawn to Darrisaw's strengths in pass protection (three pressures and one sack allowed on 264 pass blocking snaps in 2020), knowing they not only have a stout run-blocker but a left tackle who is capable of protecting Kirk Cousins’ blind side. Penciling in Darrisaw at left tackle will allow the Vikings to keep Brian O'Neill at right tackle. With Garrett Bradbury at center, it seems safe to infer Minnesota is planning to have Ezra Cleveland at guard, whether it's on the right side (where he started nine games) or moving him back to left guard (where he trained with the second team during camp). Drafting Darrisaw allowed the Vikings to solidify a major question mark on the line and not have to wait until Day 2 to draft a prospect who might not be ready to start immediately. Now they can look to the remaining rounds of the draft to bring in a guard to compete for a starting spot.
Passing on a potential franchise QB: The Vikings may have found a franchise left tackle who will play in Minnesota for the next decade, but there will always be the question of who they passed up on when they decided to trade back from No. 14 to No. 23. If Alabama's Mac Jones, who fell into the Patriots' lap at No. 15, ends up being a stellar NFL quarterback, the Vikings will have to reckon with their choice no matter what. It’s not often teams with aspirations of winning are in position to select a top-five quarterback in the draft. The value these QBs have is immense. If the Vikings passed on a potential franchise QB, that’s going to haunt them in the years to come, just as the nine teams that didn’t draft Patrick Mahomes feel when they grapple with their choice.
Third round, No. 66 overall: Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
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My take: The Vikings have a contingency plan in place at quarterback and are preparing for life after Kirk Cousins. Given the way the board fell in the second round, Minnesota didn’t need to use any of its draft capital acquired on Thursday to trade into the second to land Mond, instead staying put and drafting the QB two picks into the third round. The 21-year-old Mond, who was named MVP of the Senior Bowl, was a four-year starter at Texas A&M and left as the all-time career leader in total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions and attempts.
Minnesota is the ideal fit for a developmental prospect like Mond, who needs time to learn the ins and outs of an NFL offense similar to the path he took at Texas A&M. After three seasons and two different coaches, moving from an Air-Raid attack under Kevin Sumlin to a pro-style offense under Jimbo Fisher, everything finally came together for Mond in 2020. His accuracy, which still needs work, improved year to year, and he was consistent with good decision-making. A year or two learning under Cousins could lead Mond to become the Vikings next quarterback should Minnesota let Cousins play out the remainder of his contract extension, which comes with a $45 million cap hit in 2022.
There’s no downside for the Vikings with taking a flier on a mid-round quarterback. If Cousins ends up playing at an MVP level or leading Minnesota deep into the playoffs next year, the Vikings can extend him and keep Mond in the fold or trade him at a later time. After all, teams are always in need of quarterbacks. At best, Mond is the Vikings’ next franchise QB. At worst, Minnesota can trade him if the team decides it wants to hang on to Cousins beyond 2022.
Round 3, 78th overall: Chazz Surratt, ILB, North Carolina
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My take: Surratt, who switched from quarterback to linebacker for the Tar Heels and was the runner-up for ACC defensive player of the year in his first season on defense, is the modern NFL prototype at linebacker. His instincts impressed the Vikings so much with his ability to cover, run and tackle that Minnesota made him its highest-drafted player at the position since Eric Kendricks in 2015. After letting Eric Wilson walk in free agency, Surratt is likely a candidate to start at weakside linebacker next to Kendricks and Anthony Barr. He played inside backer at UNC but has demonstrated the speed and blitz ability to be effective on the outside.
Third round, No. 86 overall: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
My take: Minnesota’s scouting department received a "directive" from coach Mike Zimmer to get the Vikings bigger along the offensive line. Mission accomplished, from Christian Darrisaw to Wyatt Davis, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound mauler from Ohio State. Interior pass protection was an issue last season with 20 of the 39 sacks allowed coming up through the middle of the offensive line. The Vikings made a conscious effort to add more size around center Garrett Bradbury with the guards they've brought in this offseason, from Mason Cole to Davis. The former Buckeye played his career at right guard but says he's comfortable moving spots if Minnesota wants to keep Ezra Cleveland there and try Davis out at left guard. Either way the offensive line appears to be set headed into offseason training with an answer at all five positions.
Round 3, No. 90 overall: Patrick Jones II, DE, Pittsburgh
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My take: What do Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum and new Vikings third-round pick Jones all have in common? All three defensive ends fit the same athletic profile the Vikings are routinely in search of with long, lean frames and physical tools that may appear raw at first but have the potential to be molded into skilled pass-rushing talent. It’s fitting that the pick the Vikings acquired in the deal that sent Yannick Ngakoue to the Ravens last October was used on an edge rusher to solidify the defensive line opposite Hunter (along with Stephen Weatherly and Wonnum). A pure pass-rusher is exactly what Minnesota is getting in Jones. Over the past two seasons, 99% of Jones’ snaps on pass plays were rushing the passer with only a total of five plays in coverage.
Round 4, No. 119 overall: Kene Nwangwu, RB/returner, Iowa State
My take: Minnesota’s kicking issues weren’t the only problem on special teams in 2020. The Vikings ranked last in yards per punt return, 26th in yards allowed per kick return and 23rd in yards allowed per punt return. Nwangwu’s elite athletic traits made him an intriguing pick for the Vikings in the fourth round after he ran a 4.32 40-yard dash (ranks in the 98th percentile) and ranked seventh nationally in kickoff return average with five returns of 30 or more yards, including two that went 65 yards or longer. Last year’s fifth rounder, K.J. Osborn, really struggled during his rookie season, so it’s clear the Vikings wanted to upgrade their return unit with an explosive athlete who could also be an occasional change-of-pace running back. Nwangwu averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2020 and provides depth as a backup (along with Ameer Abdullah) behind Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.
Round 4, No. 125 overall: Camryn Bynum, S, Cal
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My take: After starting all 42 games from 2017-20 at cornerback -- where he recorded six interceptions and 35 pass breakups -- Bynum is making the move to safety. The Cal standout said every team he met with during the draft process asked about moving him to another position, so this doesn’t come as a surprise. Bynum’s speed (4.58 second 40-yard dash) is a bit of a concern as is the ceiling of his athletic ability, so the move to safety appears to be a better fit than where his ceiling would be as an outside corner in the NFL.
Round 4, No. 134 overall: Janarius Robinson, DE, Florida State
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My take: Another defensive end who fits what the Vikings are looking for, in terms of athletic traits. Robinson’s wingspan (86 ¼ inches) and arm length (35 ¼ inches) are absurd, but he’s got a ways to go in maturing physically after beginning his football career as a wide receiver. Though he has the capabilities to align standing over the tackle, most draft projections pegged Robinson to be a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 system. His college film was inconsistent. The defensive end was the only Seminole defender with multiple sacks last season (3.0), but his 6.8% pressure percentage was actually well below the 2020 FBS average (8.7%). He’s a raw, athletic prospect who needs time and coaching to learn how to put it all together on the field.
Round 5, No. 157 overall: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa
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My take: The Vikings found Stefon Diggs in the fifth round. Maybe Smith-Marsette will be the next wide receiver steal to emerge from Day 3 for the Vikings. This offense needs a WR3 and a vertical threat, and that’s what Minnesota believes it is getting from the Iowa product. Smith-Marsette’s top-end speed brings an important element to the passing game behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. He’ll need to improve his route running and be better in press coverage, but his body control and ability after the catch are strong. He could also compete to become Minnesota’s kickoff returner after averaging 29.6 yards per return last season. Smith-Marsette says he feels like is the best player in the draft when it comes to his return abilities and believes he could compete to return punts as well.
Round 5, No. 168 overall: Zach Davidson, TE, Central Missouri State
My take: Davidson might possess the most interesting story of any Vikings’ draft pick. Recruited exclusively as a punter, the Division II product didn’t become an NFL tight end prospect until late in his career. In a short period of time, Davidson developed into a down-field threat for the Mules and demonstrated his run-after-the-catch ability during a breakout campaign in 2019 where he recorded 894 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s not a polished blocker but gives the Vikings depth at tight end after Kyle Rudolph's departure left Irv Smith Jr., Tyler Conklin and Brandon Dillon at the position. It sounds like the Vikings got an intriguing, albeit raw athlete, in the fifth round.
Round 6, No. 199 overall: Jaylen Twyman, DT, Pittsburgh
My take: Before he opted out of the 2020 season, Twyman became the first interior defensive lineman to lead Pitt in sacks (10.5 in 2019) since Aaron Donald six years prior. He’s an undersized defensive tackle whose best fit is probably playing three-technique in a rotational capacity, and he’ll have to improve his ability against the run. Minnesota has been seeking pass-rush help since the start of free agency and after adding two defensive ends in the earlier rounds, they spent their final selection on a player whose fit projects well in their one-gap system.