The Vikings began to fill pressing needs on Thursday in the opening round of the NFL draft and that continued Friday in the third and fourth rounds.
A day after taking LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson and TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney in the first round, the Vikings selected Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland with the 58th overall pick in the second round. Minnesota used its third-round pick (89th overall) on Mississippi State cornerback Cameron Dantzler.
The Vikings were scheduled to also have a compensatory selection at No. 105 in the third round but general manager Rick Spielman ended up trading that pick to New Orleans for four selections (one in each round) on the final day of the draft Saturday. That will give the Vikings 13 picks on Saturday and, if they use all of them, means they will have 17 selections in the three-day draft. Spielman explained to reporters that he wanted the extra picks because it will mean that instead of having to pursue so many college free agents after the draft, he will have the picks with which to select the players he wants.
Spielman’s trade with the Saints brought an end to what he had to consider a successful day. Although the Vikings were unable to complete a potential trade with Washington for veteran left tackle Trent Williams, Spielman did find a way to address a need on Minnesota’s offensive line.
Cleveland, a three-year starter at left tackle for Boise State, won’t have the immediate impact that Williams would have, but he looks to be the long-term replacement for left tackle Riley Reiff. Cleveland is 6-foot-6, 311 pounds and is considered to be a good fit in an outside zone blocking scheme. “I think it’s a huge benefit for me to be coming from a zone type scheme and then going right back into one,” said Cleveland, who had an impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Jamaal Stephenson, the Vikings’ director of college scouting, said that Cleveland is going to help the Vikings right away.
That could mean he will get a chance to begin his NFL career playing left guard — a spot at which Pat Elflein struggled in pass protection last season — before eventually making the transition to left tackle. The Vikings’ offensive line is far from a polished product, but Spielman has added some pieces via the draft in recent years. That includes right tackle Brian O’Neill, a second-round pick in 2018, and center Garrett Bradbury, a first-round pick in 2019. Bradbury had a rough rookie season but is expected to show big improvement in his second year.
If Cleveland can step in at left guard in the short term that means the only real question mark to open the 2020 season will be at right guard. Veteran Josh Kline played that spot last season in his one year with the Vikings before being released. Dru Samia, a fourth-round pick last year, could get a chance to win the job when training camp opens.
The Vikings might have thought early Friday that if they wanted Cleveland they would have needed to trade up to get him, but that didn’t end up being the case. In fact, when the Vikings’ second-round selection arrived they had their choice of two quality left tackle prospects in Cleveland and Houston’s Josh Jones. Jones, projected by some as a first-round pick, lasted into the third round before the Arizona Cardinals took him. This came after six offensive tackles were taken in the first round.
Dantzler, who is 6-2, 185 pounds, joins Gladney in adding much needed cornerback depth to the Vikings’ roster. The depth chart at corner also includes includes Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd. Dantzler was a very good cornerback in the tough SEC but he fell in part because his 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine was a disappointing 4.64.
Dantzler redshirted as a freshman at Mississippi State before playing three seasons of college football. He had two interceptions and 10 passes broken up last season after entering the year on the watchlists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Jim Thorpe awards.