The Vikings entered the 2020 draft with several aims. Among them: to restock a secondary that went through a notable shift in free agency, find a left tackle of the future, land a wide receiver who could help replace Stefon Diggs, and repopulate a 90-man roster that had 30 open spots before the draft.
Their best attempt to complete such a long shopping list came in the form of a warehouse-sized draft class that broke an NFL record.
The Vikings entered the 2020 draft with 12 picks; they made four in the first two days while acquiring five more in a series of trades. The team ultimately kept 15 of its 17 picks, setting a record for the largest draft class since the NFL went to seven rounds in 1994.
“I never even thought of [the record], to be honest with you,” General Manager Rick Spielman said. “It’s great to have that many picks. … We had enough draft capital just to take guys that, if we didn’t have that draft capital in the later rounds, we may not have gotten them as [undrafted] free agents.”
Minnesota’s 2020 group is the team’s first 15-player class since 1985. The last time the Vikings drafted more players was in 1976, when they took 17 in a 17-round draft. They also traded for a fourth- and fifth-round choice in 2021; they already have 10 choices next year, and Spielman estimated the Vikings could get two more compensatory choices.
It could be months, not weeks, before the Vikings can see what they can get from a rookie class that emerged from the NFL’s first virtual draft and will enter the league through a “virtual offseason” program with team facilities still closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertain nature of the league’s spring workouts, and a lack of clarity around when its 2020 season could actually begin, means the Vikings’ task of filling spots in their lineup with rookies could be even more difficult than usual.
A group this large, at least, gives the Vikings their fair share of chances to find immediate contributors.
“Playmakers — I would say that about most of our draft,” college scouting director Jamaal Stephenson said. “Even those top two guys, I said it the other day, [first-round pick Justin] Jefferson — 111 catches. And [first-round pick Jeff] Gladney, 14 [pass breakups] — led his conference.
“You look at [fourth-round pick] Troy Dye — he led his team for four seasons in tackles; I don’t think that’s ever been done at Oregon. So undeniably, it’s the playmaking aspect to all of their games. [Fourth-round pick] James Lynch — 14 sacks, was the player of the year in his conference. We’re not just talking about great kids off the field, which is what we always try and bring to the organization, but these kids are playmakers, man. They make a lot of plays in college, and expect them to do the same at the next level.”
The Vikings used seven of their 11 picks Saturday on defensive players, starting the day with four straight choices to aid the side of the ball most affected by departures in free agency. They took South Carolina pass rusher D.J. Wonnum in the fourth round before taking Lynch, a defensive tackle from Baylor, 13 picks later.
Dye, the last of the Vikings’ three fourth-round picks, joins the team as an outside linebacker who could push Eric Wilson for playing time in the Vikings’ base defense. Temple cornerback Harrison Hand, the team’s first fifth-round pick, could play a handful of different spots in the NFL.
“Watching the tape, you see some of those traits where you say, ‘I think this guy has some of that versatility where he could maybe transition to safety because he’s a very physical guy in the run game,’ ” Stephenson said. “That’s not my call. He’s been playing corner. I think he’s played some nickel in his career, so he’s a guy who could potentially slide inside and give you some reps over the slot as well.”
The Vikings took Miami (Fla.) receiver K.J. Osborn in the fifth round before grabbing Oregon State guard Blake Brandel and Michigan safety Josh Metellus in the sixth. In the seventh round, they took Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willikes before selecting Iowa’s Nate Stanley — the first quarterback they have drafted since Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 — with the 244th overall pick.
Stanley, who said he had interest as an undrafted free agent from three teams, had been in touch with the Vikings’ coaches earlier in the week and held out hope on Saturday afternoon the team would draft him. His experience at Iowa translated well to the Vikings’ scheme, they had told him, and the choice they used on Stanley made him something of an oddity in the Rick Spielman era: a drafted quarterback the Vikings don’t intend to use as their starter.
“I’m extremely excited to learn from Kirk [Cousins],” Stanley said. “He’s a great player. Really just excited to meet him and talk to him and see what he can help me with.”
The team finished the day with Mississippi State safety Brian Cole II and Kyle Hinton, a Division II guard from Washburn in Kansas.
In a video conference from his house on Saturday night, Spielman said the Vikings were “very aggressive” in undrafted free agency, though he estimated the team had four spots on its 90-man roster to fill in the next week.
Whenever the Vikings are able to convene as a team, rookies could make up as much as one-third of their offseason roster. The success of their efforts will be revealed over time, but the Vikings won’t lack for options.