Normally when discussing draft picks past the second or third round, we’re talking about players who could develop into a role within three years.
Take for example Minnesota Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly, tight end David Morgan and safety Jayron Kearse. They were each selected in the late rounds of the 2016 draft and made no impact right away but now have solidified roles heading into 2019.
But every so often late-round players do surprise us. Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick, emerged in 2015 with 53 catches despite being inactive for the first three games. Vikings fans would be familiar with Bears running back Jordan Howard, a fifth-rounder in 2016, who rushed for 1,313 yards in his debut season.
Last year five players selected in the fourth round or later had 30-plus receptions and 11 players became “primary starters” according to Pro-Football Reference.
So which 2019 Vikings draft pick could make the biggest impact right away? Let’s have a look at the most likely candidates.
The Vikings traded down numerous times over the final two days of the draft. The exception to that rule was a trade up to pick Oklahoma guard Dru Samia in the fourth.
While the Vikings did sign veteran Josh Kline to a three-year, $15.5 million deal with $7.5 million guaranteed, no position on the offensive line should be considered locked in. Samia will be playing from behind in any type of camp battle for right guard but Kline did struggle at times last year in Tennessee and ranked 38th of 55 guards by Pro Football Focus ratings (Mike Remmers was 36th).
Of course there’s always the chance of injury as well. In 2018 the Vikings lost starting left guard Nick Easton for the season with a neck injury and Pat Elflein did not start until Week 4 as he was recovering from offseason surgery.
General manager Rick Spielman said Samia most impressed the team with his personality and nasty attitude.
“He was an unbelievable interview at the Combine, maybe one of the toughest competitors we’ve seen on tape on how he finishes,” Spielman said. “He fits the zone scheme very well. He has a few technical flaws to clean up, but we think that is correctable with coaching. He was the highest-rated player on our board at the time, and we were going to stay true to our board and continue to add to that competition on the offensive line.”
Samia said he doesn’t expect to have issues adapting to the Vikings’ running scheme despite being on the taller side for a zone lineman at 6-foot-5.
“I’m very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like at Oklahoma we ran a pretty versatile offense, so whether I went to a team for power or zone, I felt like I was going to be a good fit. Of all the NFL coaches that I was talking to, they said that I was more of a zone scheme guy. I’ll just trust the NFL expertise. I am ready to get into this scheme and get things going.”
At the NFL Combine it was reported that the Vikings were looking for a trade partner to deal Laquon Treadwell. Over his three years in Minnesota, the 2016 first-round pick has just 56 catches for 517 yards and one touchdown. Considering his struggles, it came as somewhat of a surprise that the Vikings did not address the position in free agency or in the early rounds of the draft. That opens the door for seventh-round picks Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson to compete for a job.
The Vikings will also have former Bronco Jordan Taylor, Chad Beebe, who made the team as a tryout player last year, former CFL star Brandon Zylstra and blazing-fast practice squad receiver Jeff Badet all in the mix.
“Dillon Mitchell has explosive speed and play making ability, Olabisi is a very quick-twitched athlete for a bigger receiver that has excellent hands,” Spielman said.
Mitchell was highly productive at Oregon last season, racking up 75 catches for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I feel like I have a great shot at being the third wide receiver for the team and help out as much as possible,” Mitchell said.
Naturally for a player with that production and a 4.46 40-yard dash who gets selected in the seventh round there will be concerns. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote a somewhat scathing review:
“Mitchell isn’t big, has average speed and loses focus as a pass catcher, but his ball skills show up on tape and he’s a natural talent with the ball in his hands. While his routes are undisciplined at this time, they should get much better with coaching. Mitchell has talent but needs to put the time in and take the coaching in order to become more than a WR4/WR5.”
Mitchell ranked 16th in yards per route run but 120th in the draft class in drop rate, per PFF.
Johnson is the opposite of Mitchell. He only caught 54 passes and four touchdowns and does not have top-end speed but his personality and route-running ability could give him a chance to get on the field quickly.
“Tough, consistent and dependable are terms scouts and coaches use in describing Johnson as a player,” Zierlein wrote.
“I am a finesse guy in my routes,” Johnson said. “I take pride in my routes. I think that is what I do best, for sure. Whether it is in and out of breaks, double moves, I am a route technician. That is how I separate myself from defenders and things like that. I have the speed for sure. I am not a crazy track star but I am definitely a guy who can get some separation and just make a play. I am a very reliable guy and I am going to continue that in the NFL.”
Kris Boyd does not have impressive numbers in coverage. For his career opposing QBs posted a 92.0 rating against him and tossed 13 touchdowns to just his four interceptions.
But those stats don’t always tell the story with a defensive back. According to the website Relative Athletic Scores, which compares Combine performances with height/weight and normalizes to a 1-10 scale, has Boyd as one of the most impressive athletes of the draft. His 9.15 out of 10 score is higher than any current Viking cornerback.
“You have to have guys that have that athletic skill set that can play in this scheme because a lot of corners are very good… but they may not be as good of a corner in our scheme because of what’s demanded of them on the outside, and a lot of the man type of defense that we play in this system,” Spielman said.
Boyd was also impressive against the run, receiving a 90.1 (of 100) grade from PFF in run defense. His experience against top competition could give him a chance to adapt quickly if needed.
“I’m pretty sure there’s faces that I’ve already seen before when I first got to college, just like the NFL,” Boyd said. “If it’s not I’ll just watch film and adjust. I feel like I’m prepared and I’m ready for it – every other style, all types of receivers and stuff like that. I’m just ready for this opportunity.”
And it might be needed. Mike Hughes is still recovering from an ACL tear last year and Holton Hill is suspended for the first four games. Last year we didn’t expect to see Hill, who went undrafted, but he ended up playing a significant amount of time due to injuries.
Cameron Smith could be the Eric Wilson of the program. Two years ago Wilson made the team as a UDFA and stood out on special teams as a rookie. Then in 2018 he became the primary fill-in for Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
“I think he has the ability to play Mike, Sam and Will,” Spielman said. “You can cross-train him, his intelligence, his passion for the game, his character off the field. And I just don’t think you can go wrong because he is a very good football player, and we can get smart, passionate, high-character guys that are good football players, you usually have a pretty good chance on hitting on them.”
But it’s a well-stocked group if linebackers with run-stuffer Ben Gedeon, Wilson and special team expert Kentrell Brothers all in the mix.
Sixth rounder Armon Watts will have a long way to go in order to see the field in his first year. The Vikings have been developing Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes for the spot and Shamar Stephen is likely to see a good chunk of the playing time.
Offensive lineman Oli Udoh is a developmental player with remarkable size and speed but coming from Elon he hasn’t seen the type of competition that will face him in the NFL. He could be a practice squad candidate.
Safety Marcus Epps begins his tenure behind Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse and AAF signing Derron Smith. He will likely have to make a name on special teams to stick.
Long snapper Austin Cutting has a shot at winning the job away from veteran Kevin McDermott. The Vikings also might be looking for insurance on the practice squad in case McDermott gets hurt.