The Minnesota Vikings are coming off another draft where they led the league with the most selections made. Over the last two seasons the team has totaled 26 draft picks creating room for a much younger roster.
There were rookies that got thrown into situations they weren’t ready for in 2020 due to an injury plagued season, but the depth is looking much stronger after another solid class in 2021. The team has a long way to go before making decisions on the 53-man roster, but the evaluations are set to begin this coming weekend with rookie minicamp kicking off May 14.
With so much young talent on the roster, the Vikings are set up to have roster battles at several key positions. Here are five young players that are worth keeping an eye on throughout minicamps, training camp and the preseason.
The Vikings have needed to address the backup quarterback role since Kirk Cousins arrived in 2018. That changed in the 2021 NFL Draft, as the Sean Mannion era is over, and the Kellen Mond era begins.
Mond had a prolific career at Texas A&M where he threw for 9,661 yards and 71 touchdowns, both of which are Aggie records. He plays with good arm strength, a quick release and shows flashes of great accuracy. He’s capable at escaping the pocket and extending plays but could use some work on his decision making at times.
It’s clear that the keys are still in the hands of Cousins for the 2021 season, but Mond will be developing in the shadows if something goes south. At the very least he provides upside at the backup position and has the talent to potentially develop into something more down the road.
If Mond has a good preseason we could witness the Kyle Sloter effect throughout the Vikings fanbase. It’s important to understand that Mond has a lot of potential, but Cousins gives the Vikings the best chance at winning in 2021.
The more this pick starts to settle in the more I start to see the idea of Chazz Surratt making an immediate impact in his rookie campaign. I wasn’t super high on the idea of going linebacker with this pick, but it’s important to remember that Anthony Barr has one-year left on his deal.
There will likely be an open competition for the Will linebacker role between Nick Vigil, Troy Dye and Surratt. While Vigil and Dye have the most experience playing the position, they lack the excitement level that Surratt shows on tape. Take this with a grain of salt, as there’s certainly some negatives on his tape as well.
Surratt has only played two seasons at linebacker after originally going to North Carolina to play quarterback. In his first season at the position he was named First-Team All-ACC and the runner up for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Mel Kiper believes that he has the potential to start early for the Vikings and called this one of his favorite picks for the purple. Surratt has a good blend of athleticism and physicality in his game, but it’s clear at times that he’s new to the position.
At the very least Surratt will be an instant special teams contributor, but there’s a chance he’s a base package linebacker if he impresses enough over the summer months.
Perhaps my favorite mid-round pick for the Vikings in the last two draft classes, Janarius Robinson is the type of player that was needed in Andre Patterson’s toolbox. The team spent a third and fourth round pick on pass rushers, so it’s clear they felt a need to find someone opposite of Danielle Hunter.
In terms of physical traits, Robinson is an absolute freak and built to play the position. Although he wasn’t the most productive player throughout his career at Florida State, he should still be looked at as a potential steal in the fourth round.
Robinson is good in the run game and has some solid pass rushing maneuvers. Pairing his traits with a coach that has a proven track record at developing pass rushers should only help him as he begins his NFL career.
The starting defensive end opposite of Hunter is going to be a big storyline throughout the summer. Unless the team makes another free agency addition, it will end up coming down to D.J. Wonnum, Stephen Weatherly, Patrick Jones II and Robinson. However, it’s likely there will be an ongoing rotation throughout the regular season.
Speaking of value and underwhelming collegiate careers, the Vikings found another player that likely shouldn’t have fallen to the position in which he was drafted.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette had to battle through poor quarterback play at Iowa, but always seemed to find ways to get open. The Vikings desperately need help at the WR3 spot, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Smith-Marsette getting reps there at some point in 2021.
The Vikings like easing young wide receivers into the pace of the NFL, but sometimes they need to just let them loose. Justin Jefferson was eased into his rookie season before his breakout party in Week 3 against the Titans where he totaled 175 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Stefon Diggs, who was also drafted in the fifth round, is another example of the Vikings not forcing a young receiver onto the field early. The front office has done a great job over the years at finding late-round receivers that can make an impact at the next level and they took another swing this year.
The former Hawkeye might take some time to get used to the speed of the NFL, but don’t be shocked if there’s a lot of buzz circulating Smith-Marsette throughout training camp. His name will also be linked to the battle for return man duties, another unit the Vikings needed desperate help on.
The first four names on this list consisted of players that were drafted by the Vikings this year. Myles Dorn doesn’t fit any part of the last sentence, as he was an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina in 2020.
Vikings fans didn’t get to watch Dorn get reps in 2020 due to injury, but I won’t be shocked if there’s buzz circulating around his name in training camp. It’s almost a guarantee that Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods are the starting safeties in Week 1, but Dorn could crack the roster as a special teams player early in his career.
He’s not the fastest player but he plays hard and is a good tackler. The lack of practice in 2020 could hurt his chances, but he’s worth keeping an eye on as we get closer to the start of training camp.
This would be a similar path that Anthony Harris took before claiming the starting safety role the last two seasons. With Harris no longer on the roster, and the starting spots all but filled already, Dorn will have to impress if he wants a chance at the 53-man roster.
The Vikings are coming off a mediocre 2020 season that was plagued with injuries and opt outs. Getting some veteran leadership back on the field is going to help drastically, but there are several young players ready to be difference makers for the team in 2021.
It’s too early to label the last two draft classes as hit or miss, but the Vikings have had more dart throws than any team in that span. I won’t be shocked if we look back at these two draft classes five years down the road and label them similarly to the 2015 class that Rick Spielman and company hit out of the park.