The Vikings, looking to increase the level of competition throughout their roster, made a bevy of trades during last weekend’s NFL draft and walked away with 11 picks, including nine new players on the final day.
Some of those selections were surely met with groans from Vikings vets who saw the team bring in their potential replacements. Others probably pumped their fists when the Vikings were finally done drafting.
We have already written about how the 11 new players will fit into the mix and the important lineup questions that must be answered in the coming months. Now let’s look at the guys already on the team who may be most impacted by what the Vikings did and didn’t do in the draft.
LOSER: Jerick McKinnon. The 2014 third-round pick waited for his time behind star running back Adrian Peterson. But after the Vikings parted ways with Peterson this spring, they added a pair of talented runners to the backfield in free agent Latavius Murray and second-round pick Dalvin Cook. McKinnon, an explosive athlete who as a rookie flashed starter potential, could still carve out a significant role in 2017, the final year of his rookie deal. But Cook is now viewed as their future lead back.
WINNER: Andrew Sendejo. Before last season, Sendejo had to fend off a few youngsters and former Pro Bowl safety Michael Griffin to start next to Harrison Smith. He then went on to have a solid season. The Vikings could have grabbed one of the several quality safeties in this draft. But none of their 11 picks was a safety. That’s an endorsement for Sendejo.
LOSER: Nick Easton. Easton, the former undrafted center acquired in the Gerald Hodges trade a couple of years ago, started the final six games of 2016, even remaining at the position once Joe Berger returned from his concussion. Easton seemingly played OK in that late-season audition, but the Vikings felt they could stand to upgrade there, trading up in the third round to get Pat Elflein. Elflein could ultimately end up sliding to guard, but for now the plan is for him to begin his career at Easton’s position.
WINNER: Mackensie Alexander. This was a stacked class for corners, but the Vikings did not select one, Jack Tocho, until their final seventh-round pick. That suggests the Vikings are indeed confident that Alexander, their brash second-round pick from 2016, can replace Captain Munnerlyn in the slot. If Alexander is still not ready by Week 1, the Vikings could turn to Terence Newman or Jabari Price. But this is Alexander’s job to lose.
LOSER: Jarius Wright. Wright, their veteran slot receiver, inexplicably fell out of favor in 2016, even though he seemingly would have been useful in their quick-hitting passing attack in the season’s second half. Wright was spared when the Vikings did their salary-cap cuts in February. But one wonders if he is secure after the Vikings drafted Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley, two wide receivers who can play out of the slot and who also bring value on special teams, an area where Wright hasn’t contributed.
WINNER: Taylor Heinicke. At the NFL scouting combine in March, General Manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings, disappointed about the valuable snaps that Heinicke missed out on last summer, would consider drafting another development quarterback. They ended up passing on passers, a good sign for Heinicke, who this spring and summer will jockey with Case Keenum and undrafted rookie Wes Lunt for depth-chart position.
LOSER: Shamar Stephen. After the Vikings used their fourth-round pick on defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, coach Mike Zimmer said that he envisions Johnson getting snaps at both nose tackle and three technique, which was the exact role Stephen played last season. Playing time for Datone Jones, Tom Johnson and others could be affected by Jaleel Johnson’s presence if he makes a strong push in the coming months. But Stephen, in the final year of his rookie contract, could potentially lose his roster spot.