Vikings begin virtual rookie camp for draft class and others

Draft picks Jefferson, Gladney, Cleveland will command the greatest attention

Jeff Diamond
May 06, 2020 - 8:52 pm
Zimmer

Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images

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Vikings begin virtual rookie camp for draft class loaded with late round and undrafted prospects

By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM who co-hosted Monday Night Purple and Purple Sunday Postgame last season on News Talk 830 WCCO along with WCCO’s NFL Draft coverage.


The Vikings’ 15 new draftees and 12 undrafted players begin a virtual rookie camp this week before continuing on with the virtual offseason program. This hopefully will lead up to a partial on-field offseason program and then training camp, preseason and regular season if the NFL so allows amid the pandemic.

Draft choices in the first couple rounds such as Vikings No. 1 picks Justin Jefferson at wide receiver and Jeff Gladney at corner along with second round offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland will command the greatest attention once the players hit the field. But GMs and scouts truly earn their keep in the late rounds and through undrafted player signings as these players generally are more under the radar and it’s a challenge to identify players who fit the team’s needs and schemes.

In recent years, GM Rick Spielman and his scouting staff along with input from Coach Mike Zimmer and his assistants have brought in plenty of late-round contributors including fifth round receiver Stefon Diggs, seventh round receiver Bisi Johnson and seventh round defensive ends Stephen Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo. They also have discovered undrafted stars Adam Thielen at wide receiver and Anthony Harris at safety.  

The Vikings’ eight draftees from Rounds 5-7 look like a promising group with lots of interesting players  entering the mix. Let’s take a closer look:

Fifth round--corner Harrison Hand, Temple: transferred from Baylor for family reasons and all three of his interceptions last season came against ranked teams. He can play corner or safety and should be a good special teamer.

Fifth round—wide receiver/kick returner K.J. Osborn, Miami (Fla.): led the Hurricanes with 50 catches for 547 yards and 5 TDs while also being their top kickoff and punt returner. Vikings special teams coach Marwan Maalouf considered Osborn one of the top returners in this year’s draft so he’ll get a good shot at that role.

Sixth round—offensive tackle Blake Brandel, Oregon State: started 48 games at left or right tackle and could play guard but his 6-7 height seems more conducive to tackle. He’ll need to become more consistent in pass protection.

Sixth round—safety Josh Metellus, Michigan: I like his production with 74 tackles last season (including 11 against Alabama in the Citrus Bowl) plus two interceptions, seven pass break-ups and four tackles for loss. He steps into a good spot with the Vikings having no returning backup safeties and he played corner at the Senior Bowl. He also should help on special teams.

Seventh round—defensive end Kenny Willekes, Michigan State: Vikings co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Andre Patterson has had a lot of success tutoring late round picks so Willekes will be interesting to watch. He’s a two-time All Big Ten player who had 10.5 sacks last season and had a school record 51 tackles for loss over his college career.

Seventh round—quarterback Nate Stanley, Iowa: I like this pick and see Stanley challenging for a roster spot and perhaps the backup QB job down the road. Stanley had a lot of success as a three year starter with a 27-12 record and won all three of his bowl games. I was impressed with his poise when he led the way as the Hawkeyes knocked off the then unbeaten Gophers last season.

Seventh round—safety Brian Cole, Mississippi State: starter in secondary with Vikings third rounder Cameron Dantzler and was a versatile playmaker with 65 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, 12 QB pressures and one interception. Will compete for backup safety and special teams role.

Seventh round—guard Kyle Hinton, Washburn: started at tackle last season but Vikings plan to play him at guard. Competed in college track-and-field in the weight throw and discus. He’s an interesting developmental prospect for O-line Coach Rick Dennison.   

There’s a good chance for almost all these draft picks to make the team either on the 53 player active roster or the 12 player practice squad, which is an increase from 10 in 2019 so two additional spots are available.   

As for the undrafted free agents signed by the Vikings, count on several of these players also making either the active roster or practice squad. Headlining this group are three players who received significant guarantees which always helps their chances to make the team: wide receiver Quartney Davis from Texas A&M received $100,000 guaranteed; Oregon offensive tackle Brady Aiello has $45,000 guaranteed and Baylor linebacker Blake Lynch was signed with $40,000 guaranteed. Another prospect to follow is O-lineman Jake Lacina (Augustana), the son of former NFL offensive lineman Corbin Lacina who started 41 games at guard for the Vikings from 2000-2002.

Perhaps the Vikings can benefit from the next undrafted sensation as was the case with Thielen and Harris and as I was fortunate to do as Vikings GM in 1990 when I signed future Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle out of Texas A&M-Kingsville for a $5,000 signing bonus and rookie minimum salary contract.   

This 2020 rookie class comes on the heels of the Vikings excellent 2019 draft class which had 11 players make the active roster or practice squad, led by offensive contributors in center Garrett Bradbury, tight end Irv Smith, Jr., running back Alexander Mattison and wide receiver Bisi Johnson. On defense and special teams, defensive tackle Armon Watts, corner Kris Boyd and snapper Austin Cutting contributed and several other 2019 draftees could play larger roles this season including guard Dru Samia and tackle Oli Udoh.

That’s a nice influx of talent over the past two years for Spielman and Zimmer.

Around the NFL Draft Observations:

1.As a sign of optimism amid COVID-19’s impact on the sports world, the NFL is releasing the 2020 schedule this week with the early September season openers unchanged so far. I’ll examine the schedule more closely next week in terms of specific dates and prime-time national TV matchups but suffice it to say that challenges will abound.

How about this list of star quarterbacks Minnesota will face on the road—Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), Tom Brady (Tampa Bay), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Russell Wilson (Seattle), Deshaun Watson (Houston) and Philip Rivers (Indianapolis).

Throw in home matchups with QBs Dak Prescott (Dallas), Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Teddy Bridgewater (Carolina) and Rodgers plus home-and-home with Matthew Stafford of Detroit and possibly Nick Foles in Chicago (if he supplants Mitch Trubisky). Quite the slate of signal callers for the Vikings defense and their young cornerbacks to contend with.

Jeff Diamond was the NFL Executive of the Year in 1998 after the Vikings' 15-1 season. He also is former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports/business consulting, media and speaking work including corporate and college speaking on Negotiation, Management, Leadership and Sports Business--contact him at diamondj4@comcast receiver off

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