The second installment in our series on Vikings draft picks takes a look at the Top 5 third round picks in team history. There are some memorable names on our list, and here’s hoping the Vikings hit some picks like these players in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The pickings are a bit slim in this round in Vikings history, but the names at the top don’t disappoint. In the 54 years of Vikings drafts, there are 15 years in which the team did not have a third round pick (although there were other years where they had more than one third rounder—most recently last year with Scott Crichton and Jerick McKinnon).
The third round has been a position of trading for the Vikings—both into it and out of it over the years (in 1985 the team had three third round picks), and general manager Rick Spielman is no stranger to draft-day trades. But some decent careers have come from third round picks for the Vikings, so let’s take a look.
Several players who didn’t make our Top 5 include WR Nate Burleson (2003), RB Moe Williams (1996), LB Carlos Jenkins (1991) and LB Don Hansen (1966). Perhaps McKinnon and Josh Robinson (2012) still have a chance to squeeze into the list someday, but making the cut amongst this group will be tough.
No. 5: Jake Reed—Wide Receiver—3rd Round (pick 68), 1991
A former member of the famed Three Deep receiving corps of the Vikings teams of the 90s (with Cris Carter and Randy Moss), Reed was the lesser celebrated member of the group. Carter and Moss got the headlines, but Reed generally got the single coverage and made the most of it in his 10 seasons in Minnesota (he had two seasons in New Orleans). Reed was taken three picks behind Carlos Jenkins in 1991, and he caught 33 of his 36 career touchdown passes in a Vikings uniform. His production really hammers home the point of the need for and the production available to a third wide receiver—even on a team with two future Hall of Famers.
No. 4: Kirk Lowdermilk—Center—3rd Round (pick 59), 1985
The Vikings have always seemed to identify good centers—from Matt Birk and John Sullivan to Mick Tingelhoff, who will be going into the Hall of Fame this summer. Lowdermilk was another one in that lineage. The first of three third-round picks in 1985 (LB Tim Meamber and C Tim Long were the other two), “Milk” was clearly the best. He anchored the offensive line for eight seasons in Minnesota (before going to Indianapolis), missing just 14 games in his 12-year career. Lowdermilk garnered an AP honorable mention All-Pro nomination in 1988, despite missing four games with a broken right thumb that year.
No. 3: Tim Irwin—Offensive Tackle—3rd Round (pick 74), 1981
I remember seeing Irwin standing in the doorway of the training camp locker room heading out to the practice field in Mankato one summer and I never saw anyone completely fill up a space like that before or since. At 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, Irwin was a mountain of a right tackle and held that position for 13 years in Minnesota—starting 181 consecutive games. His size helped him on special teams also, where he had ten blocked kicks in his career (including a Vikings record-tying two blocks in one game), placing him third on the Vikings all-time list. Irwin played one last season for Miami and Tampa and then retired to take up a career as a lawyer. He might strike an intimidating figure for those on the other side of the courtroom from him—just like when defenders were on the other side of the line of scrimmage. In 2010, Irwin was named one of the 50 Greatest Vikings.
No. 2: Henry Thomas—Defensive Tackle—3rd Round (pick 72), 1987
Thomas was the unsung defensive line hero playing alongside the always attention grabbing (and opponent tackling) John Randle (who was undrafted and made it to the Hall of Fame). Thomas was a solid and tough interior defensive lineman who played eight years with the Vikings—starting all eight seasons. Thomas helped anchor a very tough defense, and with 93.5 sacks in his career, only Hall of Famers Randle and Warren Sapp, along with Steve McMichael, rank ahead of him in career sacks by a defensive tackle. Thomas was twice a Pro Bowler and he tallied 19 forced fumbles and accumulated more than 1,000 tackles in his 14-year career. He also was named one of the 50 Greatest Vikings.
No. 1: Fran Tarkenton—Quarterback—3rd Round (pick 29), 1961
There is little unknown about the career of this Hall of Fame Vikings quarterback, who led his team to three Super Bowls and held a lot of the NFL’s passing records before the rules changed and turned the game into a throwing league. The scrambling Tarkenton was a star right out of the gate, as came off the bench in the franchise’s 1st-ever game to throw four touchdown passes and lead the club to an upset victory over the Chicago Bears. Tarkenton is certainly one of the 50 Greatest Vikings, is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor and is far and away one of the best draft choices in team history. If the Vikings could only do that again in the 2015 NFL Draft.