The 2015 NFL draft was a typical one for Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.
He addressed a couple of pressing needs early. He piled up 10 picks for the third time in four years. He bet on athletes, waited to select big guys and couldn’t resist adding yet another seventh-round linebacker.
None of these new Vikings has strapped on a purple helmet, but analysts already are giving out favorable grades to Spielman for his work over the weekend.
I’m going to reserve judgment on the Vikings’ class until training camp and the preseason. But I do have five prevailing thoughts now that the draft has wrapped up.
1 The Vikings are building what should become one of the NFL’s best defenses
The Vikings could have stayed content on defense and used this draft to help the offense catch up to speed. But instead they went defense with their first three picks.
The selection of Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, who excelled in press-man coverage in college, made a ton of sense. He has oodles of ability, and “DB guru” Mike Zimmer is just the coach to get all of it out of him.
UCLA middle linebacker Eric Kendricks can play right away — more on that in a minute — and while Louisiana State defensive end Danielle Hunter is far from a finished product, he shouldn’t be needed to play much as a rookie.
The addition of that trio to their strong core of ascending defenders — Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, Sharrif Floyd, Harrison Smith and others — should create excitement about what Zimmer and the Vikings are building.
2 Eric Kendricks probably will have the biggest impact of this class in 2015
Waynes will get every opportunity to start at left cornerback in Week 1, but Terence Newman or Captain Munnerlyn could have something to say about that.
Kendricks’ path to a starting role has fewer obstacles. The Vikings say he has the skills to play middle or weak-side linebacker. Right now he is the favorite to lock down the middle linebacker job between former UCLA teammate Barr and Chad Greenway.
If he does, Kendricks has the potential to be a big-time playmaker in this defense. He is savvy with good instincts against the run. What separated him from his fellow linebackers in this class were his coverage skills.
In recent years we have seen rookies such as Luke Kuechly, Kiko Alonso and C.J. Mosley make an impact as three-down linebackers. That’s a lofty group, but some draft analysts seem to think Kendricks could have a similar ceiling.
3The Vikings might have waited too long to select a receiver for Teddy Bridgewater
While I liked what the Vikings did in the first couple of rounds, this draft serves as another reminder that you can’t always get everything you want.
One need on which the Vikings procrastinated was wide receiver, a position in which they have as much uncertainty as they do speed. They didn’t take one in last year’s legendary receiver class. And this year, with another strong class, they waited until the fifth round to take Maryland’s Stefon Diggs. He was the 20th wide receiver selected.
That isn’t meant to be a knock on Diggs. He has a ton of ability, which didn’t always shine through because of inconsistent quarterback play at Maryland, and he could be a nice addition.
But the Vikings need someone to step up this year — it would be nice if it was 2013 first-rounder Cordarrelle Patterson — or receiver will be a big need again next year.
4 Instant improvement from the offensive line will need to come from within
Another need the Vikings put off was the offensive line, but I guess that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Since 2007, they have selected only two offensive linemen in the first three rounds — starting tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt.
Instead, the Vikings waited until Day 3 before taking tackles T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson and guard Austin Shepherd. Clemmings and Thompson are intriguing, especially Clemmings, a player who some draft analysts projected as a possible first-round pick.
It seems unlikely, though, that any of these rookie linemen will be asked to start in 2015. So it’s on the big guys already on the roster to play like the coaching staff thought they would last season — and that starts with Kalil and Loadholt.
Left guard remains a concern. But Spielman is bullish on 2014 fifth-rounder David Yankey, and Joe Berger is back as a veteran insurance policy.
5 The Peterson saga is pretty much over — at least for the next eight months
As expected, the draft came and went without Adrian Peterson being traded. He’s definitely not going anywhere now. Heck, even his outspoken agent, Ben Dogra, has waved a white flag on the possibility of a trade.
Dogra might not be done fighting, though. He said in an interview with USA Today that he wants the Vikings to show more “commitment” to the running back. And by “commitment,” it’s obvious he means more guaranteed money.
The question now is whether Peterson reports for the mandatory minicamp next month and then training camp in July. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him skip the minicamp to send a message, but the hunch here is he eventually reports. There’s no way that Peterson, chasing after Emmitt Smith’s NFL career rushing record, willingly sits out another season.
But unless the Vikings cave and give Peterson a new deal, they might be back in another contentious situation next winter.
Matt Vensel firstname.lastname@example.org