There are more questions than answers when looking back at Rick Spielman’s quietest rookie draft class since he took full control as General Manager five years ago.
Each player in the Vikings’ 2016 draft class, which produced the fewest offensive and defensive snaps among all rookie groups in the NFL, faced different road blocks between poor practices, injury or a lack of opportunity. The latter is why Spielman, who last spring assessed a roster with veterans approaching free agency in key spots, said he traded back from the third to sixth round in last year’s draft to add via trade with Miami third- and fourth-round picks this spring.
Having Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman meant second-round pick Mackensie Alexander wasn’t given much of a chance to grind his teeth in what was supposed to be a Super Bowl-or-bust season for the Vikings. Head coach Mike Zimmer has long stated his win-only philosophy toward playing time, evident as Alexander and safety Jayron Kearse were quickly pulled after mistakes in their rare appearances in the league’s third-ranked defense last season.
More concerning for the Vikings was the absence of two rookies in the league’s 28th-ranked offense, which dealt with injuries and inefficiency along the offensive line and at split end.
First-round pick Laquon Treadwell saw 80 snaps and was a healthy scratch for two of his first three games before missing five games to various injuries toward the end of the season. He had one catch for 15 yards and bobbled another target into an interception that was negated by a penalty in Detroit.
“His feet were bothering him, so that started him off slow a little bit,” Zimmer said at the end of the season. “It wasn’t so much about learning the offense. I think it was just he didn’t really feel totally healthy coming in until I don’t know what time of the year it was.”
The Vikings couldn’t get help from another late-round offensive lineman as Willie Beavers disappointed at guard and was the league’s earliest 2016 draft pick (121st overall) to not make his team’s 53-man roster after training camp. He was re-signed and promoted to the active roster, playing just 11 snaps for an offensive line thinned by injuries.
Treadwell surprisingly led Vikings rookies on offense and defense, just ahead of Kearse (78 snaps), Alexander (68) and sixth-round tight end David Morgan (63). They didn’t have a single rookie surpass 100 snaps on their respective side, something six 2015 rookies did for the Vikings. It was by far the least involved rookie class under Spielman, according to snap counts compiled by Football Outsiders.
It’s important to note the Vikings were headed this direction naturally since they made 39 draft picks between 2012-2015 to build a young foundation through the draft, though the drop off in rookie playing time was dramatic in large part because Treadwell and Beavers couldn’t get on the field. Fifth-round pick Kentrell Brothers, who made some plays on special teams, also wasn’t able to make a move on Chad Greenway’s role as the next man up behind Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.
Where does this compare in Vikings history? Without reliable snap count data, that’s not easy to decipher. However, based on games alone, you don’t have to go far back to find a more inactive rookie class. The Vikings got 63 games (7.8 per pick) out of last year’s draft class. Their 2011 class had a lower average (6.8 games per) while the 2010 rookies also had fewer games overall (45) from draftees.
Based on their slew of pending free agents and how depth in certain spots performed, the Vikings will need to find immediate contributors this spring at positions like running back, offensive line and defensive tackle, depending on their needs filled via free agency.
And they’ll need to find out the answers to questions like, can Treadwell stay healthy and produce in the NFL? What steps will Alexander make in his second season, when he has the potential to step into the slot role? And so on down the list.