The list of undrafted free agents making an impact on the Vikings this season is lengthy. Case Keenum, Adam Thielen, Marcus Sherels, Andrew Sendejo, C.J. Ham, Jeremiah Sirles, Nick Easton, Kai Forbath, Ryan Quigley and Tom Johnson were all passed over in the NFL draft.
And on the offensive line, undrafted free agent Rashod Hill has been stepping in and playing admirably at right tackle in the absence of another undrafted free agent, Mike Remmers, who has been out for four consecutive games because of a concussion and a lower-back injury.
There’s no doubt Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his staff spend as much time looking at undrafted players around the league as they do their No. 1 overall picks.
Of the 57 players who have been on the Vikings active roster this season, 35 were drafted and 22 were undrafted. And last year, Elias Sports Bureau noted that before opening day, there were more undrafted free agents on NFL rosters than first- or second-round picks.
That observation remains true for the Vikings this season: They have 22 undrafted players and 14 first- or second-round picks.
It just goes to show how hard it can be to predict NFL-level talent, and how important it is to invest in long-term player development.
Hill is a good example. He focused on basketball growing up and didn’t start playing football until his junior year in high school. He eventually made second-team All-Conference USA at Southern Miss, but went undrafted in 2016.
“I mean, I was a little disappointed [to not be drafted], but that’s how life goes,” Hill said. “Sometimes it makes me play with a chip on my shoulder to prove them wrong. People said I wouldn’t make it, so I am where I am today by just proving people wrong and working my butt off.”
The 6-6, 309-pound Hill eventually was signed by Jacksonville and actually saw quite a bit of playing time before being moved to the Jaguars practice squad. That’s when the Vikings moved in to sign him in November of 2016.
“My agent called me and he said, ‘The Vikings want to pull you off the practice squad,’ ” Hill recalled. “… Jacksonville wanted to put me on the active roster when the Vikings called, but me and my agent felt like this was the best fit for me with the Vikings. A great team. So I made that choice.”
A tough blessing
Hill has started four games this season and probably will again Sunday against Carolina, because Remmers hasn’t been able to practice this week. Hill said it has been an adjustment.
“It has been a blessing to be able to play and help contribute to the team when Mike went down,” he said. “Fortunately I moved up and got a great set of guys … helping me out. It has been a blessing just helping the team win. That is all. In this game, it’s a blessing to help them win.”
Hill said Remmers was a big mentor to him on and off the field, and it’s one of the cruel realities of being a professional athlete: Sometimes your chance comes when someone getting hurt.
“I don’t wish no hurt on nobody,” Hill said. “I wish that everybody is healthy. Mike is a good dude. A lot of people don’t know that me and Remmers have the same agent, me and Remmers are actually good friends. Him going down, he’ll be back, but until he comes back, I’m trying to hold down that spot.”
The right group
Hill talked about what offensive line coach Tony Sparano told him as he moved into his starting role.
“I learned if I can use my length and use my hands, really nobody can beat me,” he said. “Sparano always says get off first, move your feet and be nasty out there. I’m learning every day with Coach Sparano. He’s a terrific coach, and he corrects me when I’m wrong and praises me when I’m right. He’s a tough coach, and we love that about him.”
Hill said he’s gained a world of knowledge from having linemen around such as Easton, Joe Berger and Riley Reiff.
“They’re vets. They’re veteran guys that I learn a lot from,” Hill said. “When I ask Riley about certain people that he’s played against, he always contributes. Berger — 12 or 13 years he has been doing it — is a whole lot of help playing with him because if I have a little mistake and wonder what to do, Berger is already right there on it.
“He always is helping me out, always encouraging me, and you know, just being a guy that has been doing it so long, it’s just a blessing to have two guys like that. Berger, Riley and Remmers have been doing it so long, having guys in there that have done it so long just helps me a lot.”
• Thielen on what it means to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC through 13 weeks: “It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now. Everybody is talking about how we have the outright No. 1 seed but there is a lot of football left to play and a lot of things can change in the next four weeks. We just have to keep control and take it one week at a time.” … Thielen is second in the NFL in third-down receptions (27) and third-down receptions for a first down (21).
• The Vikings sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton eight times when they faced him last season in Week 3 in Carolina, with defensive end Everson Griffen recording three sacks in the 22-10 victory.
• Another big indication of how far the Vikings offense has come this season? They have 11 drives of 80 yards or more, compared to four in 2016.
• A lot of talk has been made about the Vikings being in the top five in the NFL in both total offense (fifth, 370.4 yards per game) and total defense (second, 289.1 yards allowed per game), but just as impressive are the facts they are No. 1 overall in third-down conversions on offense (46 percent) and No. 1 in stopping third downs on defense (27.2 percent).
• Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is sixth in career receiving touchdowns for the Vikings with 35. He trails only Cris Carter (110), Randy Moss (92), Anthony Carter (52) and Sammy White (50).
• One comparison in the Vikings’ favor Sunday: They have thrown the second-fewest interceptions in the league (five), while the Panthers have recorded the third-fewest interceptions (five).