Every year after the NFL Draft takes place, many rookies join teams via post-draft free agency. The majority of these signings will end up being released. Some will make the practice squad and keep their dreams of playing in the NFL intact. The lucky few get the right moment or opportunity to show their respective teams what they can do. Then there are those rare breeds the become stars in the NFL. Case in point – here are a few players that were never drafted but wound up having great NFL careers: Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, Miami Dolphins/Houston Texans four-time Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, 22-year veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri, future Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, and some former Dallas Cowboys quarterback named Tony Romo. That’s a pretty good list of players.
The Minnesota Vikings found their own superstar rookie free agent three years ago when they signed Minnesota native wide receiver Adam Thielen after the draft. After a couple of years of practice squads, special teams and an occasional offensive play or two, Thielen turned into a very talented starting wide receiver. Looking at the free agent rookies of 2018, the Vikings signed some talented, underrated players and one highly-rated player that has some issues.
The Best Minnesota Vikings Rookie Free Agents of 2018
Roc Thomas, Running Back
Thomas started his college career at Auburn, ultimately transferring to Jacksonville State. At the time he joined Auburn, he was considered the nation’s number two running back recruit. His college career was quiet, until his notable senior year. During that year at Jacksonville State, Thomas ran for 1,065 yards on 178 carries (6.0 yd avg.) and 13 touchdowns. He added 21 receptions for 244 yards over 12 games played. Thomas runs a slick 4.56 40-yard dash and weighs in at 5’10” and 198 pounds. Former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon, who just got paid starting running back money by the San Francisco 49ers, is 5’9” and only 205 pounds. Is it possible that the Vikings have let McKinnon go via free agency to replace him with Thomas?
Jake Wieneke, Wide Receiver
The 6’4” 221-pound wideout from South Dakota State University trained last year with Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. Like Thielen, he hopes to make the Vikings roster as a rookie free agent. His credentials are noteworthy. Upon his graduation, Wieneke was the record holder in the Missouri Valley Conference in career catches (288), receiving yards (5,157) and receiving touchdowns (59). Wieneke did this in the Missouri Valley Conference which is not a conference packed with elite talent. It is worth noting that Wieneke accomplished all this with only 4.67 speed. In the NFL, there are faster tight ends than that. Still, a 40 time is not everything, and if the Vikings use him the right way, he may be the next Adam Thielen.
Tray Matthews, Safety
The tweet from Auburn head coach Greg Brown sums up his feelings on Tray Matthews: “Congrats Minnesota- you just got a tough, physical dude AND a charismatic leader.” The 6’0”, 196-pound safety was not invited to the NFL Combine. He has average speed for a safety, running a 4.54 40-yard dash at the Auburn pro day. Additionally, he put up good bench press rep numbers (22), while putting up a 35.5-inch vertical and a 10’1” broad jump. With all the average numbers Matthews put up, he will have to rely on something else to earn a spot on the roster. Judging by his college coaches’ comments, Matthews had heart, and a never quit mentality. Those attributes might be the ones that put him over the top.
Holton Hill, Cornerback
Holton Hill could be the steal of the 2018 NFL rookie season. Hill has a 6’3” 205-pound frame. He has 4.49 speed. Hill has a flair for the big play, returning two interceptions in college for touchdowns in 2017. He possesses a myriad of characteristics that, on paper, constitute a possible first-round NFL Draft choice. As late as October 30, 2017, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller rated Hill a potential first-round pick.
Then came the suspension. On November 7th, 2017, the Texas Longhorns suspended Hill for the remainder of the season for a “violation of team rules.” Allegedly the reason for the suspension was Hill’s use of marijuana. He followed that up by testing positive or the same drug at the NFL combine, again according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Signing Hill to a rookie free agent deal was a low-risk move by the Vikings. They will cut him is he does not stay drug-free. If he does stay clean, he is good enough to be a starting corner in the NFL.
Chad Beebe, Wide Receiver
The son of former Bills’ wideout Don Beebe had a lackluster college career, yet may still earn a shot as a kick and punt returner.
Chris Gonzalez, Guard
Gonzalez was a three-year starter at San Jose State and a three-time Mountain West All-Academic team award winner.
Hercules Mata’afa, Linebacker
Mata’afa’s game draws comparisons to current Viking linebacker, Ben Gedeon.
Finally, there are analysts out there stating that the Vikings probably had a better rookie free agent class than they did a draft class. While that may or may not be true, the message that the Vikings are sending out is that whether via the draft or free agency, the Vikings are willing to explore any means to acquire the best players to get to the Super Bowl.