Coming off of a 13-3 season in 2017, the Minnesota Vikings entered the 2018 NFL Draft with a strong, well-balanced roster. While there were a few glaring holes, adding depth and finding long-term solutions were in the cards for a team who will have to manage the salary cap differently than in years past. Like usual, though, general manager Rick Spielman was busy working the phones, maneuvering up and down the draft with a flurry of trades listed below.
- Traded third-round (94th) pick to Tampa Bay Buccaneers for fourth- (102nd) and sixth-round (180th) picks
- Traded fifth- (167th) and seventh-round (225th) picks to New York Jets for fifth-round (157th) pick
- Traded two sixth-round picks (180th and 204th) to the Jets for fifth- (167th) and seventh-round (225th) picks
In all, the Vikings ended up drafting eight prospects.
- First round (30th overall): Mike Hughes, cornerback, South Florida
- Second round (62nd overall): Brian O’Neill, offensive tackle, Pittsburgh
- Fourth round (102nd overall): Jalyn Holmes, defensive end, Ohio State
- Fifth round (157th overall): Tyler Conklin, tight end, Central Michigan
- Fifth round (167th overall): Daniel Carlson, kicker, Auburn
- Sixth round (213th overall): Colby Gossett, guard, Appalachian State
- Sixth round (218th overall): Ade Aruna, defensive end, Tulane
- Seventh round (225th overall): Devante Downs, linebacker, California
Vikings 2018 Draft Grade: 7/10
Minnesota Vikings 2018 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Mike Hughes
It’s always easy to assume that the first-round pick is a team’s best draft pick, but Hughes is the only player who will see the field consistently going into 2018. Standing 5’10” and 189 pounds, he will battle with Mackensie Alexander for the slot-cornerback position. As the first-round pick, though, coaches will give Hughes every opportunity to seize the job on day one.
Hughes possesses elite closing speed on deep passes and contests every pass despite his size. He excelled in 2017 in his lone season with Central Florida, picking off four passes (returning one for a touchdown) and breaking up 11 passes. He also added two kickoff return touchdowns as well as a punt return touchdown during the campaign as well and will compete with veteran return man Marcus Sherels for the top job in Minnesota.
So how does a player like Hughes fall to pick 30? Following an incident in a fraternity house while attending North Carolina in 2015, Hughes was suspended and left for Garden City Community College. He dominated the competition in 2016 before heading to Central Florida. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has a history of taking troubled players and turning their careers around, though, and defensive backs are his specialty. He will do everything in his power to keep Hughes focused, and if all goes well, the sky is the limit.
The Head Scratcher: A Kicker?
In a season and a half, Kai Forbath was a serviceable kicker for the Vikings. He connected on over 88 percent of his field goals, including going seven of 10 on kicks from 50 yards and over. So why would Minnesota draft Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson? It likely had to do with Forbath’s 85 percent accuracy on extra points during his stint. He also didn’t possess the strongest of legs, leading to some conservative fourth-down conversions in fringe field goal territory.
Carlson, however, brings a strong, accurate leg up north. Standing 6’5″, he was 13-of-21 from 50 yards and over in his collegiate career, the second-best percentage in NCAA history. And although extra points are shorter in college, he set an SEC record by making all 198 attempts in his four-year career. And he was a solid 92-of-114 on field goals in his career.
Despite all of this, however, Carlson falls into the head scratcher category for two reasons. First, any time a kicker, punter, or long snapper is drafted, fans will scratch their heads. Most specialists are undrafted free agents in the NFL, so many see this as a wasted pick. Second, the decision to trade up 13 spots to grab Carlson will raise expectations for a rookie playing in the league’s least-enviable job. No matter how well he kicks, any potential game-losing kick will be over-analyzed in a market that has seen its fair share of kicker disasters.
The Surprise: Brian O’Neill
O’Neill brings all of the measurables and athleticism that you can fit in a 6’7″, 297 pound body. A former tight end, O’Neill made the move to tackle prior to the 2015 season and got right into the starting lineup that fall. He still possesses that tight end athleticism, posting a 4.82 second 40-yard dash time at the combine. Pittsburgh also used him on several gadget plays, scoring once off of a lateral and another on an end-around.
While he has a large frame and exceptional physical traits, he still has a lot of room to grow. The team’s director of college scouting Jamaal Stephenson admitted Friday night that O’Neill lacks the strength to play right away, although Stephenson was confident that the team’s staff could improve that. He will need to continue putting on weight as well, which will go hand-in-hand with improving his strength.
With both offensive tackle positions held by veterans Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, O’Neill will have time to grow. What makes the pick a surprise is that as a second-round pick, the expectation is for that player to compete for a starting spot sometime during his rookie season. He may see the field occasionally as a third tight end, but that will likely be the extent of his offensive snaps. Still, if the coaching staff can unlock his potential, he could be a high-end starter in a year or two.
The Steal: Ade Aruna
A projected fourth or fifth round pick by NFL.com, Aruna got snagged by the Vikings at the end of the sixth round. Like O’Neill, the defensive end possesses great size (6’5″, 265 pounds) and athleticism (4.6 40-yard dash, 38.5-inch vertical jump). Despite his physical traits, his production never jumped off the page while in college. In 2016 he recorded his highest sack total with five sacks, a number which dipped to three in 2017.
Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson will look to mold Aruna much like they have with current defensive end and former third-round pick Danielle Hunter. Like Aruna, Hunter possessed all of the physical tools yet only managed 4.5 sacks in his three years at LSU. Since entering the NFL in 2015, he has racked up 25.5 sacks. Aruna will not be rushed into the lineup, but if he can be coachable, Zimmer will not hesitate to insert the rookie into sub-packages a season after the starting defensive line wore down as the year wore on.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Tyler Conklin
When Cousins is spreading the ball around in August, most fans will be looking for familiar faces like Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph on the receiving end. However, with Kirk Cousins‘ and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo‘s histories with using two-tight-end-sets, Conklin will have a chance to steal the show. At 6’3″, 256 pounds, he doesn’t have the towering stature of Rudolph, but his athleticism and ball skills will complement Rudolph.
Like Rudolph, Conklin isn’t going to burn many defenders (ran a 4.8 forty). But he runs decent routes and has a tendency to find soft spots in the defense, evidenced by his 14 yards per reception during his college career. With all of the weapons the Vikings possess, he will have very favorable matchups, whether that’s in camp or during games. Even if his blocking won’t bring back memories of Jim Kleinsasser, the team already has blocking tight ends in David Morgan and Blake Bell. Conklin won’t be put in situations he isn’t suited for which will help him get confident and comfortable.
The Vikings drafted three other players. These included defensive end Jalyn Holmes, guard Colby Gossett, and linebacker Devante Downs. Holmes has the frame and potential to move inside as a three-technique in the NFL and will battle to become part of the defensive line rotation. Much like Aruna, he has a lot of physical tools that never got maximized in college (only five sacks at Ohio State).
Gossett was a high-value pick in the sixth round. With the starting right guard position up for grabs, the Appalachian State product will have a chance to sneak into the starting lineup. Unlike many of the Vikings draft picks, he isn’t as much of a project and may see the field earlier than higher picks. Even if he can’t crack the starting lineup, the team is still seeking depth on a line that has gotten thin in recent years.
Downs will fight for special teams reps, but the team is looking for depth behind starting linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Ben Gedeon. Downs has good size (6’3″, 245 pounds) and racked up a good stat line at California (14.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in his career). With the departure of Emmanuel Lamur, Downs will have an uphill battle to climb to make the final roster, but there will be an opportunity for him if he can seize it.
Outside of the Hughes pick, this draft was more focused on the future of the team rather than immediate impact. Guys like O’Neill, Holmes, and Aruna have diamond-in-the-rough potential and could become contributors in 2019. Fans may be frustrated by the lack of playing time this class gets this season, but with salary cap casualties on the horizon following the Kirk Cousins deal, the team will rely on the draft more than ever to fill depth and holes on the roster.