Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer had some of the Vikings best draft picks, and they also had some really bad ones. Of course in the NFL you never really know how a player is going to turn out. The transition from college to professional football isn’t easy. That doesn’t even take into the accountability of position either. One could argue that the transition of quarterback is the hardest. While someone else may argue that going from a college defensive back might be harder of a transition at the pro level.
Vikings Best Draft Picks
Dalvin Cook (2017) – Running Back – Florida State
After Adrian Peterson tore his meniscus in 2016, it was obvious the Vikings would be taking a running back in the draft that off-season. Peterson had an incredible run with the Vikings. But I think the organization saw a light at the end of the tunnel for his tenure in purple. He continues to play to this day, but it was obvious at the time that injuries may linger for the rest of his career. For the rest of that season, the Vikings started Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. We all know how that went.
Dalvin Cook was drafted in the second round at pick 41. Coming off a great career at Florida State, the Vikings knew they had to fill a void. Why not draft a young running back with all the tools needed? Cook could run between the tackles. He could catch the ball and then make people miss in open space. There was the power behind Cook that a lot of people overlooked, but not the Vikings. They found their guy in 2017, but it wouldn’t pay off instantly.
In Cook’s rookie season he blasted off in game one. He ran for over 127 yards and averaged 5.77 yards per carrying. The next three games were a little more modest, but you could tell this kid was a star. Then devastation happened. In week 4 against the Lions Cook tore his ACL mid-game. He had a hell of a game going up until that point too. Before the injury happened Cook had 66 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. From that point on in the season, it would be Latavius Murray in the backfield.
Even with injuries, Cook has a great stat line for his career. In 2018 he only started 10 games and still ran for over 600 yards. But 2019 was the breakout we had all been waiting for. Cook set the league on fire, rushing for over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also added over 500 yards through the air. He would continue that break out into 2020 when he topped his 2019 numbers. Cook ran for over 1,500 yards and tallied 16 rushing touchdowns. In 2021 the yardage piled up again, over 1,100 yards. He also added six rushing touchdowns.
Brian O’Neill (2018) – Tackle – Pittsburgh
If there is one focus that the Vikings tend to struggle with year in and year out it’s the offensive line. There have been more failures than victories in drafting offensive linemen. But it seems that the Vikings got a good one in Brian O’Neill. He was drafted in the second round at pick 62 out of Pittsburgh. At 6’7″ and 310 pounds it’s hard to ignore his presence on the offensive line. Though he didn’t start right away, O’Neill did play between 44 – 66% of snaps in the first five games of 2018.
It was game six of the season where O’Neill really made his presence known. Since week six of his rookie season, he has only not missed one game. Longevity is something that has haunted the Vikings on the line of scrimmage it seems. It’s as though after Adrian Peterson left the consistency went downhill drastically. I’d argue that O’Neill has been but one bright spot on the offensive line since 2018. That’s not great. But even so, that hasn’t stopped Dalvin Cook from having great seasons.
If you dive into the stats part of things, I had a hard time finding the number of sacks allowed. Total sacks allowed as a team is easy to find, but sacks allowed by each individual lineman is a challenge. However, knowing the Vikings line the last five years I’m not sure I want to know. I will say this though, in his four seasons of play O’Neill has 23 accepted penalties against him. That’s an average of just under six penalties per season.
Whether you like him or not, it’s hard not to admit that O’Neill has been more of an asset for the Vikings than not. He has been consistently healthy. He hasn’t had an absurd amount of penalties. O’Neill is also the highest-graded Vikings offensive lineman on PFF at 73.7. In my mind that makes him the best offensive line draft pick in the last five years. But I’m also very excited to see what Christian Darrisaw will end evolve into.
Alexander Mattison (2019) – Running Back – Boise State
Every great running back needs a handcuff right? Especially one that gets hurt at least once per season. That’s what Alexander Mattison is. This is a touchy subject to a lot of Vikings fans. There is a decent-sized percentage of the fan base that doesn’t like Mattison and I just can’t figure it out. Whenever he fills in for Dalvin Cook he seems to do great. Of course, he doesn’t have the speed that Cook has. But he’s a bruiser and will run hard and do his best to get that first down.
Mattison was drafted in the third round at pick 102 from Boise State. On the blue turf, he rushed for 2,829 yards and 33 touchdowns in three seasons. The Vikings knew exactly what they were getting in Mattison when they drafted him. It doesn’t seem like the NFL thought he was starting caliber at the time, or he wouldn’t have fallen to round three. But he has done his fair share of good for the Vikings.
Like I said when Cook goes down, Mattison comes in. He has always “spelled” Cook, but has also started six times in his absence. In those six games, Mattison has a total of 477 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 117 carries. If my math does me right, that is an average of 4.07 yards per carry and about 79.5 yards per start. For a backup running back, I will take it with open arms.
Mattison has been one of the Vikings best draft picks since 2019. The more I think about it, I bet there are a handful of NFL teams out there right now who would take him as their starter. But I’m glad that isn’t an option at this point.
Justin Jefferson – 2020 – Wide Receiver – LSU
The Randy Moss record-breaker. The stud that should’ve started the entire season in 2020. The griddy dancer. However you want to label Justin Jefferson, just don’t forget the respect he deserves. Jefferson danced into the NFL and Vikings history in his rookie season in 2020. In my mind he is the best draft pick the Vikings have had in the last five years second to none. It’s honestly not up for debate.
Jefferson was drafted in the first round, 22nd overall after the Eagles decided to take Jalen Reagor instead. Woof. It would be fun to know what was going on through their heads at the time. That move has to be one of the biggest draft blunders in history.
The only mistake the Vikings made was not starting Jefferson in the first two games of his rookie campaign. Once he started week three it was obvious that this kid was special. He then went on to have one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. Jefferson finished that season breaking two records. He broke Randy Moss’ rookie record in Minnesota that has been held since 1998. In total, he caught 88 balls for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. That wasn’t just Moss’ record being broken. But he also broke the most receiving yards by a rookie wide receiver in NFL history.
Jefferson didn’t slouch in his second season either. This past season Jefferson went on to catch 108 balls for 1,616 yards and ten touchdowns. Hard to think Jefferson could top his rookie season, but he did. What he has done so far in two seasons is impressive. The Vikings haven’t seen production like this from a receiver since Moss. It sure seems as though Jefferson is in store for a historic career in the NFL. I don’t know about you, but I’m all in on watching it.