The Minnesota Vikings went into Day 3 with 13 draft picks. They made several trades and still came home with a large crop of new players. Here are the five who stuck out the most…
DJ Wonnum, DE, South Carolina
After trading out of the third round, the Vikings went with a Danielle Hunter look-a-like in Wonnum, whose production at South Carolina was underwhelming but his size, NFL Combine scores and high character were all attractive to Minnesota.
Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson noted his strong game against Georgia as a sign of his ability to take on strong competition (both Georgia’s tackles were drafted in the first round).
“I think Danielle might have been a little bit faster as far as straight-ahead 40. But this guy is a self-made … leader,” Stephenson said. “We had a chance to talk to his head coach down there and they just raved about the kid as a person. But then when you turn on the tape, you watch him against Georgia and those two offensive tackles, and he played really well in that game. That was kind of our litmus test for a lot of these defensive linemen… He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s very coachable, a good kid off the field, so he fits the Viking mold, for sure.”
While the Vikings’ new DE produced only 26 pressures on 299 pass rush snaps last year per PFF, he scored a 40-yard dash, broad jump and vertical jump in the 80th percentile or above among players at his position. Those athletic skills combine with his arm length of 34 inches and 6-foot-5, 258-pound frame.
“Coach [Andre] Patterson saw something in me that were some of things he saw in Danielle Hunter, and I’m just excited to be able to learn from one of the best pass rushers in the league right now,” Wonnum said.
Setting the bar at Danielle Hunter would be unfair to Wonnum but Hunter isn’t the only player with this type of profile to become a contributor for the Vikings along the defensive line in recent years. Stephen Weatherly, who just signed with the Carolina Panthers this offseason, had a similar height/weight, arm length and speed combo.
With Everson Griffen unlikely to return to Minnesota, the Vikings will need a rotation of rushers, which likely starts with former Day 3 pick Ifeadi Odenigbo and opens the door Wonnum to contribute if he adapts quickly.
James Lynch, DT, Baylor
The Vikings’ fourth round was classic Vikings. With their first pick on Day 3 they selected a lanky defensive end in Wonnum and then with their second selection they grabbed a highly productive player who doesn’t fit the exact pass rusher mold in James Lynch.
In Lynch’s redshirt junior season at Baylor he produced 13.5 sacks, 41 pressures and 13 QB hits in 501 pass rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. At 290 pounds, he appears to be a “tweener,” not specifically fitting as a defensive end or interior D-lineman but the Vikings have had success in the past with undersized defensive tackles like Tom Johnson (who was also 290 pounds) and they routinely moved Ifeadi Odenigbo over the guard in pass rushing situations.
Per PFF, Lynch lined up on the interior of Baylor’s D-line on 275 snaps and over the tackle on 562 plays.
“I feel like playing inside is my natural position and I bring a mismatch to offensive guards and whoever I’m going against,” Lynch said. “I can do different things to confuse them and try to get to the quarterback as fast as I can.”
Lynch enters the mix with a crowded group of developing D-linemen, including Armon Watts, Jaleel Johnson and Hercules Mata’afa at defensive tackle. He will be looking to make himself stand out as a rusher.
“I think when it comes down to a D-lineman is being someone who is disruptive and that’s what I’m trying to be,” Lynch said. “I know that a lot of work to do to be able to do that on Sunday. But being disruptive is what D-lineman want to be and if you disrupt it helps everybody else on the field. So that’s what I can bring to the table.”
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
The question here might be: Why linebacker? The Vikings are completely set with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Eric Wilson but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying to find impressive depth talent. Keep in mind that players like Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson took several years before getting their chance and made an impact when they did. That could be the case for Dye, who was ranked on PFF’s board as the fifth best linebacker in the draft and rated as one of the best coverage linebackers.
With more teams copy-catting the Vikings, 49ers and Ravens with big personnel (multiple tight ends and/or fullback), it might suddenly be valuable to have a coverage specialist linebacker in the mix.
“You look at Troy Dye – he led his team for four seasons in tackles, I don’t think that’s ever been done at Oregon,” Stephenson said. “So undeniably, it’s the playmaking aspect to all of their games. James Lynch – 14.0 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.”
When camp begins, he will look for a spot as a special teamer with an opportunity to replace Kentrell Brothers, who the Vikings did not re-sign in free agency. From there, it will depend on his development.
As a side note, Dye said he is very interested to learn from Barr when he arrives in Minnesota.
“Now that I’m his teammate I’m going to be able to pick his brain and really get to know what he does and why he does it,” Dye said. “The thing that stands out to me is he’s a big, long athletic guy that’s able to cover space really well, he understands the game and you can see it in his reads and in his keys that he flows really well. Just to sit down with a guy like that and be able to pick his brain and get to know how he flows and how he does his things because he was a transition guy in college like I was. To be able to see what were some of the keys and tools he used to help him with his transition and be able to pick his mind with stuff like that.”
Josh Metellus, S, Michigan
The Vikings did not select a safety high in the draft, giving us the indication that Anthony Harris has a good shot at working out a long-term deal soon but they did find a versatile player in Metellus. At Michigan he largely split snaps between the box and deep safety but also played at cornerback and in the slot at times as well.
“Moving around definitely helps me because at the end of the day I just want to be able to get on the field,” he said. “Moving around at Michigan has helped me a lot getting a different feel for the game and helping my football IQ. That’s the biggest thing, I’ll be able to come in and do whatever the coaches ask.”
At the Senior Bowl he took some snaps as a cornerback to demonstrate that he could handle one-on-one matchups with wide receivers. According to PFF, he allowed only 50% of his targets to be caught and gave up a QB rating against of 68.1 while playing over 600 snaps three years in a row. PFF also noted his success with the Wolverines as a blitzer.
The Vikings’ safety room is more or less empty with the exit of Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse in free agency. Now they have a player to develop with the possibility of contributing quickly in a big nickel situation if he proves trustworthy right away.
Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan State
Another production-over-traits player that the Vikings will use as part of a large group of players aiming to become rotational contributors. Willekes was a terrific run defender in college, grading over 80 in every year by PFF’s system and developed as a pass rusher, going from zero to nine sacks in his final year at Michigan State and adding 39 pressures.
This is one of the Vikings’ best value selections. By PFF he was graded as a third-round pick but his lack of NFL-caliber athleticism likely hurt his grade by teams. He only ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at the Combine and is undersized at 6-foot-3 but Willekes already overcame being a walk-on at Michigan State and has an opportunity to do so again in Minnesota.