The Vikings draft class finished with the ideal number of selections, 10, for general manager Rick Spielman. Once you take a quick scan at all 10 players, it’s telling what Spielman thinks about head coach Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff.
They can teach. They can develop. They can mold young, raw talent.
The Vikings roster didn’t have any pressing needs heading into the NFL Draft. You could argue they needed to find a starting left guard, but they have a solid veteran option in Joe Berger. None of these players will be forced to start in Week 1, though they will all get the opportunity to snag a starting spot during training camp.
That gives the Vikings coaching staff time to do what it does best — develop.
“I think when you get down, especially into the third day, that if they have the tools that these coaches can work with, they don’t have to come in and be immediate impact player right away,” Spielman said. “Some of these guys may not make our roster, but be great practice squad guys, guys that we have time to develop.”
Outside of the Vikings’ first and second round picks, cornerback Trae Waynes and linebacker Eric Kendricks, the other eight prospects are fairly raw. However, they all possess something the Vikings can’t teach in terms of size, speed, athleticism or versatility.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter, the Vikings’ third round pick, is the most athletic Vikings draft pick in this class. He’s not ready to play immediately, but Hunter, 20, possesses all four of those unteachable qualities. Meanwhile, offensive lineman Austin Shepherd, a seventh round pick, is likely the least athletic Vikings draft pick. Shepherd, however, does have the size, listed at 6-4 and 315 pounds, and versatility along the offensive line that would be appealing with a late round pick.
“As long as they have the traits and the athletic skill set that can play at this level, yet may not be totally polished to where they are going to be and they have upside, I’ll take those guys every day of the week,” Spielman said. “That’s how much belief I have in this coaching staff in developing guys.
Zimmer looked for teachers on his coaching staff that would stress the fundamentals and proper technique at each position as much as he would. It’s only been a year, but it’s clear to see how some of the Vikings young talent improved under Zimmer’s watch.
The defensive line is the Vikings’ biggest strength due to the development of defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Shamar Stephen under defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Xavier Rhodes flashed his potential as a No. 1 cornerback with Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray constantly working on his technique last summer. Heck, even Josh Robinson made strides at the position.
Linebackers coach Adam Zimmer prepared Anthony Barr to start in Week 1 when many, like myself, thought the rookie was too raw to make an immediate impact after playing linebacker for only two years at UCLA.. Now, Barr appears to be a cornerstone piece on the Vikings defense for years to come.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson went from a practice squad player on the Browns to the team’s No. 1 option under wide receivers coach George Stewart.
And of course, there’s some guy named Teddy Bridgewater the Vikings drafted to be the franchise quarterback. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner did a good job developing Bridgewater into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL during the final month of the season.
It’s no wonder why Spielman has complete confidence in the coaching staff. It’s functioning exactly how Spielman and Zimmer envisioned it would last winter.
Now the Vikings have more projects at hand with the latest draft class, and they still have work to do with some of last year’s rookies that essentially had a redshirt season (Yankey, safety Antone Exum and defensive end Scott Crichton). There’s also work to be done with Cordarrelle Patterson, who needs to take the next step in his third season, but you can see the ability this coaching staff has as teachers in Year 1.
Many think that the organization’s success is dependent on Bridgewater’s progress, but that’s only part of the story. Given the trust Spielman has for Zimmer and his staff, the organization’s success hinges on the coaching staff. It has to continue to develop these raw, athletic prospects into serviceable players in order for the Vikings to have any sustainable success in the Zimmer era.