Immediately handing out letter grades to measure how well teams did in the NFL Draft can be a trite waste of time. Let’s be honest, nobody knows specifically how well the drafted players will pan out. Thus, assigning letter grades before any of them have suited up for their new teams – or even signed their contracts -- is presumptuous. It presumes the author or blogger has detailed insight on exactly how talented each player is, how hard they’ll work and how well they will fit the systems into which they’ve been drafted. More significantly, it presumes an ability to, you know, foretell the future. Coaching changes, roster changes, scheme changes, luck, suspensions, injuries, etc. are impossible to forecast.
However, my guess is that if you make your way around the Internet the next 48 hours looking for draft analysis you’ll see a lot of letter grades. They make for effective headlines. That’s about it. Show me a draft from five years ago and then maybe we can talk letter grades.
So what can we adequately ascertain in the immediate aftermath of the biggest weekend of the NFL offseason? We can gauge how well a team like the Vikings addressed their perceived needs… and not much more. We don’t know what their big board looked like. We don’t know what trades were offered or turned down. We can only surmise they followed their plan. In light of that, I’d give the Vikings a passing grade on the pass/fail system. Or maybe just a big thumbs up.
Going into the draft the Vikings appeared to have needs at every level of their defense as well as quarterback, backup running back and offensive line depth. To that end, the Vikings successfully checked every box. On defense, they wound up with two linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs (two corners, and a corner being converted to safety). On offense, they landed a possible long-term answer at quarterback, a versatile guard and an interesting running back.
As draft day approached general manager Rick Spielman was very open about his desire to accumulate more picks – to turn his eight picks into 10 picks. That’s precisely what they did. Again, to that end, the Vikings succeeded.
Prior to the draft, I went on the record in this space predicting (like many others did) that the Vikes would trade back and go defense with their first pick and then hope one of their top-three quarterbacks would still be available when it was their turn to pick again. I also suggested on radio airwaves (and really to anyone who asked) that the Vikings might look for a pass-catching type of tailback to complement Adrian Peterson – someone like a Darren Sproles, who thrived under Norv Turner in San Diego.
We have a bingo on all of the above.
Yes, the Vikings executed their stated plan of stockpiling picks, drafted players at positions of apparent need and even fulfilled some of my educated guesses. That’s a trifecta or something.
Anthony Barr gives them a raw athlete at linebacker, the likes of which the Vikings have never had. Barr will provide immediate help rushing the passer and should develop quickly into a versatile, three-down impact defender. Watching him on tape is reminiscent of watching Jason Taylor. The ceiling is extremely high. Did the Vikings take him too early? Who knows? Again, we’re not assigning letter grades. What we know is that the Vikings really wanted him and had to take him when they did. What we’ve heard is that the Lions (11th pick) coveted him, the Titans (12th pick) really liked him and the Cowboys (16th pick) were prepared to take him. Head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN that he heard from two other teams who picked soon after the Vikings that they would have taken Barr if he had still been on the board.
Anyone familiar with this VikesCentric space or my Twitter account (@Bo_Mitchell) knows I was beating the drum loudly for Johnny Manziel to be the quarterback the Vikings drafted. It would have been a lot of fun if they had done so. I’m a Manziel believer and love to watch him play. I think his skills will translate well enough to the NFL and his highlight reel plays will be on ESPN for years. Finding a replacement in Cleveland for rumored-to-be-suspended All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon will be tough to do so that hurts his immediate outlook, but I won’t back away from my overall Manziel assessment.
Having said all of that, I also really like Teddy Bridgewater. He won’t be as fun to watch as Manziel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bridgewater has great mechanics and footwork; he’s calm under pressure, is as tough as they come and has football smarts. His arm is plenty strong enough and the metrics suggest clearly he was the most accurate passer in the nation last season. His work in a pro-style offense in college will definitely help – as will working with coach Turner. He might never be as fun to watch as Manziel, but few will be. Bridgewater might turn out to be better than Manziel for all I know. If I had to loosely compare him to a current NFL quarterback, it would be Russell Wilson… and he’s turned out okay so far.
In third-round pick Scott Crichton and the first of their three seventh-round picks Shamar Stephen, the Vikings added more depth for coach Zimmer’s blueprint of rotating defensive linemen. The trio of sixth and seventh-round picks they made to bolster their defensive secondary should help. None appear destined to start anytime soon, but depth is crucial in this pass-happy league. The more bites of the apple you take, the better chance one pans out, so for the Vikings’ sake hopefully at least one of the three – Antone Exum, Kendall James or Jabari Price – sticks around and has an impact.
Back on offense, fifth-round selection David Yankey has the makings of a superior backup or very solid starter. He should push Charlie Johnson and/or Brandon Fusco for playing time at guard at some point, perhaps early this season.
Lastly, the pick with whom I am most intrigued is cornerback-turned-quarterback/running back Jerrick McKinnon out of Georgia Southern (their third-round pick). I’m not sure what to make of him yet but his combine numbers were absurd. It sounds like the Vikings plan to use him as a speedy, pass-catching running back and possible punt returner – their version of Sproles. He could turn out to be a great deal of fun to watch and a good change of pace to Peterson.
Letter grade: incomplete, but it looks pretty good on paper.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell