The Vikings parted ways with two of their longtime stars this offseason in defensive end Everson Griffen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and if the club is going to compete for a Super Bowl in 2020 it is going to have to find some way to replace those players.
With a first-round pick used on wide receiver Justin Jefferson and three potential pass rushers being selected in the fourth round — James Lynch, D.J. Wonnum and Troy Dye — it sure looks like the Vikings wanted to find a way to fill the holes left by Griffen and Diggs through the draft.
Coach Mike Zimmer said after the first round that there was no question the team lost a lot of talent that will be difficult to replace.
“That’s part of life in the NFL,” Zimmer said. “Guys move on, and we had to do what we had to do with salary cap issues. We really appreciate all those guys that played for us. But it’s our job to get these young guys ready to play.”
What’s unique about both Griffen and Diggs is that they became NFL stars despite being middle-round draft picks.
Griffen was a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, going No. 100 overall, while Diggs was a fifth-round pick in 2016, selected 146th.
They put up impressive numbers for the Vikings. Diggs has the ninth-most receptions in franchise history with 365, and his 4,623 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns rank No. 8.
Griffen leaves with 74½ sacks for the Vikings, a total that trails only John Randle (114), Chris Doleman (96½) and Jared Allen (85½) in franchise history.
And even though not every fourth- or fifth-round pick is going to turn out to be like Griffen and Diggs, the Vikings have had success finding stars later in the draft.
You have to wonder if some of their picks Saturday could fit that profile. ESPN had very high praise for the Vikings picks in the middle rounds. And where everyone thought they would go after offense they went the other way and drafted high-upside defensive players.
One of those potential stars has to be Lynch, the 6-3, 289-pound Baylor defensive tackle who was the 2019 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Lynch recorded 13½ sacks, tying for the sixth-most in college football.
Wonnum, a defensive end out of South Carolina, was taken No. 117 overall and is another defensive lineman who has a profile similar to where Danielle Hunter when he was drafted in the third round out of Louisiana State in 2015. Wonnum posted 14 sacks but also 29½ tackles for loss over four years.
The team also grabbed Dye, a linebacker who was the only player in Oregon history to lead the team in tackles four years in a row.
It sure seems like Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman had a plan in the draft to pick star talent early and then stockpile a bunch of picks in the middle rounds to give them a great shot at finding another diamond in the rough.
Looking back to the Diggs trade, he was sent to the Bills along with the No. 239 pick for the Nos. 22, 155 and 201 picks in this draft along with a fourth-round pick in 2021.
The Vikings used that No. 22 pick on Jefferson out of LSU and hope that he can start alongside the great Adam Thielen.
For his part, Jefferson said he isn’t focused on replacing Diggs but is very excited to play alongside a talented quarterback in Kirk Cousins.
“I’m just excited to play for an organization and play alongside Kirk and Adam and all those other guys on the team,” Jefferson said. “Excited to join the team and give it my all.
“I watched Cousins a lot, especially this past season. We watched a lot of film on them and watching Adam and Stefon Diggs, share the ball together. Yeah, Kirk is definitely a great quarterback and I’m definitely excited to see what we have in store.”
Playing time available
When it came to the Vikings’ other first-round pick — Texas Christian cornerback Jeff Gladney — with the team losing cornerbacks such as Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander via free agency, the Vikings will need to replace a lot of snaps. Gladney could fill that role, as could Cameron Dantzler, the third-round selection out of Mississippi State.
The fact that the Vikings focused more on defense than offense with their top picks might have surprised some. But Zimmer said that when it comes to all of these picks, the biggest goal was to target players who are ready to play this season.
“We obviously know where we have holes in the team. I said, ‘Let’s go get good football players and not worry about it,’ ” Zimmer said. “We’ll figure out how to play them and how to use them to our advantage and all that stuff, because I think it’s important for the franchise and everybody else that, you know, we take the right kind of guys. We take good, competitive guys.”
• The Vikings drafted Louisiana State wideout Justin Jefferson in the first round and, interestingly, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron just hired former Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to be his passing game coordinator. Linehan was out of coaching last year after serving as Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator from 2015 to ’18.
• Now that Lane Kiffin has taken over as coach at Ole Miss, the Bloomington Jefferson alum has made his father and former Vikings assistant Monte Kiffin a player personnel assistant. He also gave former Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt the same title.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter said that while the team weathers the financial fallout from the start of the 2020 season delayed by COVID-19, he feels like the club is on solid ground. “Certainly from a Twins perspective we feel that our financial situation in this market in Minnesota is better than a lot of clubs,” he said. “We feel very blessed to have the support we have not only from our ownership but from our fanbase.”
• Chet Holmgren, the rising basketball star out of Minnehaha Academy, is now the No. 2 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2021, according to 247 Sports. Recruiting experts give the Gophers the clear edge in landing Holmgren.
• The 10-team Korean Baseball Organization League starts play May 5, and Byung Ho Park isn’t the only ex-Twin playing. Utility player Taylor Motter will play with Park for the Kiwoom Heroes. Motter played nine games for the Twins in 2018. Drew Rucinski, who pitched in two games with the Twins in 2017, is with the NC Dinos.