Day One Minnesota Vikings Draft Recap

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ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: UCF Knights defensive back Mike Hughes (19) returns a kick during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl football game of the UCF Knights v Auburn Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. The UCF Knights won the game 34-27. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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Like most teams near the bottom of the first round, the Minnesota Vikings had to sit back and let the top of the NFL draft play out on Thursday night. While most analysts and fans agreed that offensive line was a top priority going into the night, the need for more secondary depth was a priority as well. Once pick 30 came, the Vikings selected Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes. The 5’10” defender is short but brings an aggressive mentality and unique skill set to an already talented secondary.

Day One Minnesota Vikings Draft Recap

While praised by many, the selection of Hughes drew some criticism from fans that believed the team needed to beef up an offensive line that newly-acquired quarterback Kirk Cousins will be counting on. But just because Minnesota boasted the number one defense in the NFL last season doesn’t mean that Hughes was a luxury pick. Cornerback Trae Waynes‘ contract will be up soon, and with so much money devoted to Cousins, the team will have to part with some talented players in upcoming seasons. Hughes can contribute right away as a rookie but will need to grow if he wants to reach his full potential down the road.

Competing for the Nickel Cornerback Spot

Veteran cornerback Terence Newman has yet to be re-signed with Minnesota, and third-year corner Mackensie Alexander made strides in 2017 but still played only roughly 25% of the team’s snaps in the team’s sub-packages. Coming off of a 13-3 season and a flurry of splashy free agent acquisitions, the Vikings don’t have time to wait and see if Alexander can handle a full-time role at nickel cornerback. Hughes brings ideal size, speed (4.53 forty yard dash), and ball skills (four interceptions and 11 pass break ups in 2017) that could land him the starting nickel position heading into the regular season. It would be fair to say that the coaching staff would give their first-round investment every chance to win the job.

A New Returner?

When Hughes has the ball in his hands, he looks for the endzone. In 2017, he returned one interception for a score. He also took two kickoff returns for touchdowns and added a punt return score as well. Long-time Viking cornerback and return man Marcus Sherels is coming back for his ninth season, but while valuable, he didn’t have the most productive season in 2017. He averaged a respectable 9.5 yards per punt return with no touchdowns, but only returned 11 kickoffs all season, mostly electing to take touchbacks rather than risking field position. Hughes could add a dynamic to a defensive-minded team that puts a huge emphasis on field position. His ability to return kickoffs would take stress off of an offense that could be efficient in 2017 but sometimes couldn’t make things happen on its own when attempting to drive the length of the field.

What Do the Vikings Plan to do Tomorrow?

The Vikings are slated to have two picks tomorrow, one in the second round (62nd overall) and one in the third round (94th overall). Plenty of talented players are still on the board heading into round two, and general manager Rick Spielman will have to decide if he wants to sit back and let the night unravel again or if he will get aggressive and trade up like he did last year for running back Dalvin Cook and center Pat Elflein on day two. UTEP guard Will Hernandez, a projected first-round target in the eyes of many, survived the first round. So did Iowa center James Daniels and Texas tackle Connor Williams. It would be a major letdown for fans and the front office if the team didn’t come out of tomorrow with at least one offensive lineman.

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