The wide belief around the NFL is that the Minnesota Vikings’ roster improved with the selections of center Garrett Bradbury, tight end Irv Smith and running back Alexander Mattison. And that other draft picks like guard Dru Samia, cornerback Kris Boyd and receivers Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson all have a shot at contributing right away. But the Vikings are hardly the only team that appears to be improved by the draft in 2019. With that said, Matthew Coller and Judd Zulgad looked at what’s different about the schedule now that the draft is over…
Tops on the list should be the Green Bay Packers. They had the option of loading up on weapons around Aaron Rodgers with tight end Noah Fant and receiver Marquise Brown among the players they could have used their two first-round picks on. Instead they went defense with both picks, grabbing Rashan Gary at 12 and Darnell Savage with the 21st pick. Both of those players could help defensive coordinator Mike Pettine right away but it was a surprising approach after taking cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson last year.
Green Bay’s defense suddenly has a good amount of talent — which is quite a swing from just two years ago. They signed pass rusher Preston Smith and all-around monster Za’Darius Smith in free agency, which makes the defensive line/edge rushers a lot more menacing than a washed up Clay Matthews was last year.
Whether that makes the Packers tougher to beat is hard to say. Unless something changes, Rodgers will go into his new offensive scheme with Matt LaFleur having only Davante Adams as a proven stud receiver. Green Bay did add tight end Jace Sternberger in the third round but it’s hard to expect a ton from him in Year 1.
If the Packers’ rookies are good right away, the Vikings could have a tougher time scoring. If not, we might find out it wasn’t just Mike McCarthy’s old scheme that was the problem.
The team that might have quietly gotten a lot better is the Philadelphia Eagles.
Left tackle Jason Peters has battled injuries for the past few years, so having depth with Andre Dillard gives them a player who can step in and handle the load. Where they became more dangerous was in the second round, picking running back Miles Sanders and receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. With the addition of Vikings killer Jordan Howard via trade and Sanders, the Eagles now have a pretty impressive backfield duo. And Pro Football Focus had Arcega-Whiteside as the 23rd best player in the draft. Philly loves to load up on weapons around Carson Wentz. The question is: Will he be healthy by the time the Vikings face him at US Bank Stadium?
Last one that’s on my radar: The Oakland Raiders.
Everyone said they over-drafted Clelin Ferrell but he might be the pass rusher they needed after trading away Khalil Mack. They also got the runaway No. 1 running back in the draft and a solid safety who can make an impact immediately. With the addition of Antonio Brown and some assistance on defense, they’re a little tougher now than we might have expected.
The draft didn’t change how I feel about the Vikings because the assumption from this corner was they would address the offensive line and that side of the ball early. That’s exactly what they did.
However, there’s been a big shift in how I feel about a game the Vikings will play and I’m not happy about it. When the regular-season schedule was announced last month, it was with great excitement that I sized up Minnesota’ matchup in Week 8 on a Thursday night against Washington at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It would be Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum facing their former teams in prime time on national television. Cousins had felt snubbed that Washington did not offer him the type of long-term contract he wanted and signed that three-year, $84 million deal in Minnesota in March 2018.
The guy he replaced, Keenum, had helped lead the Vikings to a 13-3 regular-season finish in 2017 and then threw that improbable pass to Stefon Diggs on the last play of the “Minneapolis Miracle” victory over New Orleans in a second-round playoff game.
It was clear throughout that season that Keenum, playing in place of the injured Sam Bradford, never gained the trust of coach Mike Zimmer and thus it wasn’t a surprise Keenum was allowed to leave after the Vikings lost at Philadelphia in the 2017 NFC championship game.
Keenum signed with Denver, went through a disappointing season with the Broncos and then was traded to Washington.
That set up the Cousins-Keenum matchup halfway through 2019 – at least until the draft arrived.
Washington used the 15th-overall selection in the first round on Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. That pick had the fingerprints of owner Daniel Snyder all over it and that means it’s only going to be a matter of time until Washington head coach Jay Gruden is told Haskins is the starting quarterback in D.C.
Maybe Keenum is the starter to open the season but by Week 8 there is little chance he is playing ahead of Haskins. I fully expect that the rookie will be starting at U.S. Bank Stadium and Keenum will be back in the role that he held for so many years before that magical season in Minnesota.
That would be holding a clipboard and wearing a baseball cap on the sideline. That’s probably the role in which Keenum belongs – and that’s the reason Zimmer never really seemed to trust Keenum – but a Cousins vs. Keenum matchup sounded like great fun a few weeks back.
The draft likely ruined any chance of that happening.