I joined Kevin Seifert on the Vikings’ beat in 2005 at the Star Tribune, but did not cover the team’s draft until 2006. That will make the 14th Vikings draft I have covered.
First-year coach Brad Childress and Fran Foley, who had a short run as the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel, were in charge of the first draft in 2006. Rick Spielman replaced Foley and helped Childress run the drafts from 2007 through 2010. It was Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier’s show in 2011 and then Spielman took control in 2012 after being named general manager.
During those 13 years, there have been some very good selections, some not so good selections and some terrible ones. Here are my choices for what turned out to be the best and worst picks in each round through the fourth during those 13 drafts. In rounds five through seven, I only go with the best and a runner-up since so many players taken that late don’t make it.
The best: Adrian Peterson, running back out of Oklahoma, seventh pick, 2007. Runner-up: Harrison Smith, safety out of Notre Dame, 29th pick, 2012.
The decision: Injury concerns caused Peterson to fall in the opening round, but it was surprising to see the top running back in the draft tumble all the way to the Vikings with the seventh pick. Spielman and Childress jumped at the opportunity to grab Peterson and didn’t look back. At the time, it didn’t matter that Peterson’s ability to catch or pass protect were suspect because he was so dynamic once he got the ball in his hands. Peterson rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his first four seasons and seven times in his 10 years with the Vikings, including going for an incredible 2,097 yards on the ground in 2012 after suffering what appeared to be a devastating knee injury late in the 2011 season. Smith’s selection has proven to be one of the shrewdest moves Spielman has made since joining the Vikings. Minnesota had taken Matt Kalil with its first pick in the draft — more on that in a second — but Spielman traded back into the draft by sending second- and fourth-round picks to the Ravens. Smith, now entering his eighth season, turned into a standout safety for the Vikings.
The worst: Matt Kalil, left tackle out of Southern Cal, fourth pick, 2012. Runner-up: Christian Ponder, 12th pick out of Florida State, 2011.
The decision: There were a few candidates here but we went with Kalil because he was such a disappointment after being a top-five pick. The Vikings made a trade with Cleveland to move down one selection — the Browns grabbed a big-time bust in running back Trent Richardson — and Kalil stepped right in and looked as if he might be the Vikings’ left tackle for the next 10 years. Only his play quickly dropped off after an outstanding rookie season and Kalil was gone after his fifth year in Minnesota. He played in only two games in 2016 because of injury. The runner-up was between Ponder and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (the 23rd selection in 2016), but Ponder proved “victorious” based on being a higher pick and a complete bust at such an important position.
The best: Tight end Kyle Rudolph, 43rd pick out of Notre Dame, 2011. Runner-up: Linebacker Eric Kendricks, 45th pick out of UCLA, 2015.
The decision: Rudolph is not an elite tight end but he’s become a very good one and has 386 receptions for 3,787 yards and 41 touchdowns in 112 games and 104 starts over eight seasons. Rudolph has started every game the past four seasons and had a career-high 83 catches for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Kendricks didn’t have a great 2018 season after signing a contract extension, but he has become an important part of coach Mike Zimmer’s offense since being taken out of UCLA.
The worst: Cornerback Chris Cook, 34th pick out of Virginia, 2010. Runner-up: Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson out of Alabama State, 64th pick, 2006.
The decision: Cook was selected during the time when the Vikings were desperate to solidify their secondary but having no success doing so. Cook had no interceptions in four seasons and 34 games with the Vikings and then spent one season and six games with San Francisco before leaving the NFL. Cook’s best days in purple might have come during training camp practices in Mankato and that’s not a good thing. Jackson was the guy who was going to be Childress’ quarterback, but could never take control of the job. He made 20 starts with the Vikings and threw 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
The best: Defensive end Danielle Hunter, 88th pick out of LSU, 2015. Runner-up: Center Pat Elflein, 70th pick out of Ohio State, 2017.
The decision: This one is easy. The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Hunter came out of LSU possessing plenty of athletic skill but not considered NFL ready. Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson have helped turn him into the Vikings’ best pass-rushing end and a guy who had 14.5 sacks last season. That tied him for fourth in the NFL. He has 40 sacks in 62 career games and is only getting better. Elflein, meanwhile, fell on draft day and the Vikings were able to grab him and install him as their starting center. Elflein followed an outstanding rookie season with a less-productive 2018, but that was in part because of a couple of surgeries he had after his rookie year. Look for him to rebound to his previous form in 2019.
The worst: Cornerback Marcus McCauley, 72nd pick out of Fresno State, 2007. Runners-up: Cornerbacks Asher Allen, 86th pick out of Georgia, 2009, and Josh Robinson, 66th pick out of Central Florida, 2012.
The decision: While the Vikings swung and missed on Cook in 2010, the place where they used to love to find corners was the third round. As the above list of three names shows, it was rarely successful. The lasting memory of Robinson is either of him getting beat by an Aaron Rodgers pass or trying to replace Antoine Winfield as the inside corner in the nickel. Robinson was completely overmatched when asked to take that job in 2013. However, it could have been worse. McCauley (two years) and Allen (three years) did not last as long as Robinson (four years) with the Vikings.
The best: Defensive end Everson Griffen, 100th pick out of Southern Cal, 2010. Runner-up: Defensive end Brian Robison, 102nd pick out of Texas, 2007.
The decision: Griffen fell in the draft based largely on concern about off-the-field issues and his maturity. There was early cause for concern with Griffen, but he began to mature and in 2014 he had 12 sacks as he started all 16 games. That began a stretch in which Griffen had double-digit sack totals in three of four seasons and established himself as the Vikings’ starting right end. Griffen dealt with off-the-field issues last season but remained with the club after having his contract restructured. He will entering his 10th season with the Vikings and has 66.5 career sacks.
The worst: Offensive tackle Willie Beavers, 121st pick out of Western Michigan, 2016. Runner-up: Defensive tackle Christian Ballard, 106th pick out of Iowa, 2011.
The decision: Beavers did not make it out of his first training camp and became the team’s highest pick not to make the Vikings’ roster since Spielman joined the organization. Beavers eventually ended up returning to the Vikings and played in two games, but those are the only two NFL games in which he’s appeared. He has bounced from New England, back to the Vikings, to Seattle and then to Chicago. Ballard appeared in 32 games over two seasons with two starts.
The best: Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, 146th pick out of Maryland, 2015. Runner-up: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion, 152nd pick out of Florida State, 2008.
The decision: How easy is this one? Diggs, much like undrafted free agent Adam Thielen, arrived in Minnesota simply looking for an opportunity and turned into a star wide receiver. Diggs was actually the Vikings’ sixth pick in the 2015 draft and second in the fifth round, behind tight end MyCole Pruitt. Pruitt was taken three picks before Diggs. Diggs’ reception total has gone from 52 to 84 to 64 and then 102 last season for 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns. The following year the Vikings took Treadwell with the 23rd-overall pick, showing just how difficult it can be to judge talent. Guion, in case you’ve forgotten, had five sacks in six seasons and 68 games with the Vikings before being cut and joining Green Bay.
The best: Center John Sullivan, 187th pick out of Notre Dame, 2008. Runner-up: Quarterback Joe Webb, 199th pick out of Alabama-Birmingham, 2010.
The decision: After one season of sitting behind Matt Birk, Sullivan took over as the Vikings’ starting center when Birk signed with Baltimore as a free agent in 2009. Sullivan started all 16 games as Brett Favre led Minnesota to the NFC championship game in 2009 and remained the Vikings’ starting center through 2014 before he was cut in late August 2016. Sullivan had missed 2015 after two back surgeries and then lost the job to Joe Berger in training camp. The choice of Sullivan was an easy one, as evidenced by the fact that Webb was the runner-up.
The best: Defensive end Stephen Weatherly, 227th pick out of Vanderbilt, 2016. Runner-up: Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, 220th pick out of Connecticut , 2014.
The decision: Weatherly is another example of a defensive player who has made significant strides under Zimmer and Patterson. Weatherly played in only two games in his first season and saw that number increase to 15 games in 2017. Last season, Weatherly had the first three sacks of his career and also added 35 tackles, six tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits as he played in all 16 games and made six starts. Stephen returned to the Vikings as a free agent in March — he signed a three-year, $12.45 million contract with $6 million guaranteed — after a season in Seattle. Stephen had spent his first four seasons in Minnesota and started all 16 games in 2016. He had two sacks in 15 games for the Seahawks last season.