Top Ten First Round Vikings Draft Busts In My Lifetime

August 13, 2022

The Vikings have a pretty good track record in the draft since I’ve been around. Maybe I’m good luck? In 1988, the year I was born, the Vikings took Randall McDaniel. So, naturally, I’ll take a little credit for that. I have a hard time remembering some of the Vikings from the early 90s, so that’s why you see this list that only dates back to 1999. I’m sure there are some busts you all can think of that I’ve left off of this list.

What this list is:

  • First-round picks in my lifetime that have drastically underperformed compared to expectations. They are ranked from 10 to 1, 1 being the biggest bust.
  • For fun, nostalgic analysis. I hope to write about my favorite draft picks at a later time

What this list isn’t:

  • A list of the worst Vikings players of all time. Some of these guys were quite good at times for the Vikings.
  • A list of all of our bad draft picks. While I am aware that guys in the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th rounds have high expectations, I don’t think anything compares to the pressure put on first-round players.

Sidenote: I resisted the urge to look at other peoples’ lists as I wrote this, so this is all my own.

#10: Cordarrelle Patterson (Wide Receiver, 2013, Round 1, Pick 29)

This pick may already have you questioning my methods, but hear me out. Patterson was the third first-round pick of the Vikings in 2013. He was drafted to be a playmaking wide receiver, but as early as training camp there were reports that he was struggling with the playbook.

We may forget that he was never really productive for us as a receiver because he has made the Pro Bowl four times as a returner. Why a bust, then? I don’t like that we gave up first-round draft capital for a return guy, albeit a great return guy. I am happy he seems to have rejuvenated his career in Atlanta, but I will always feel we missed on him in the draft. Some guys who were taken early in the second were Darius Slay, Robert Woods, and Le’Veon Bell. I would have preferred any of those three in hindsight.

#9: Matt Kalil (Offensive Tackle, 2012, Round 1, Pick 4)

Kalil started his Vikings career as a Pro Bowler and we were all pumped. However, he lasted only four more seasons with the Vikings and seemed to always be on the decline. He had one season in Carolina before his NFL career was over.

It seems odd to me as well to have a pro bowler on this list, but again, expectations. You expect your 4th overall pick to be a staple on your team for years to come. Longevity is a tricky thing in the NFL, but that is still what you expect out of your first-round tackle of the future. Kalil had his moments, but for me, he is a Vikings draft bust.

#8: Mike Hughes (Cornerback, 2018, Round 1, Pick 30)

This may seem a bit harsh considering Hughes is still in the league as a starter, but he qualifies as a bust for me. As a first-round pick the Vikings were hoping for him to make an immediate impact on defense, as went returner.

He had some flashes, and obviously has been decent enough to stay on NFL rosters, but for the 30th overall pick, he hasn’t done enough for me. At 25 years old, he can still carve out a more productive career, but I’m not sure I believe in that. Though I do hope I am wrong.

#7: Michael Bennett (Runningback, 2001, Round 1, Pick 27)dff

Here’s another player who started off strong for the Vikes. Michael Bennett came in to replace the too-soon-retired Robert Smith and got off to a great start. He rushed for 682 yards as a rookie, and then his encore performance was good for nearly 1300 rushing yards and a Pro Bowl appearance in 2002.

Unfortunately, he fell victim to the injury bug. After starting in and playing in all 16 games in 2002, Bennett never played in more than 7 games in a season afterwards. He had stints with a few other NFL teams including the Oakland Raiders as his last stop in 2010. I don’t like writing about Michael Bennett as a bust because by all accounts he was quite unlucky with injuries. If he had stayed healthy, we may have been talking about him climbing the Vikings record books. Alas, a first-round pick who only significantly produced in one season classifies as a bust for me.

#6: Chris Cook (Cornerback, 2010, Round 2, Pick 34)

Ok, so I’m going to cheat a little bit. I had a hard time coming up with 10 first-round picks for busts, which to me is a positive for the organization. There were definitely some first-round picks that didn’t pan out, but their circumstances led my away from the bust category.

Chris Cook, on the other hand, was drafted just outside of the first round, so I’m calling that close enough. He was supposed to slot in at corner, and had all of the physical tools to compete with the big receivers of the NFL. Instead, his Vikings career was mired in domestic assault charges. He only managed to play in 40 games in the NFL.

#5: Erasmus James (EDGE, 2005, Round 1, Pick 18)

James is one of two first-round picks from 2005 on this list. The former Wisconsin Badger only recorded 5 sacks as a Viking, in 28 total games. He was drafted to be a force on the edge of the defensive line, but he struggled with injuries and concerns in the locker room.

Adding insult to injury with the James pick (and a player to be discussed later) in 2005 is that this draft would see Aaron Rodgers go to the Packers at pick 24. Regardless of what we all think of Aaron Rodgers, the talent and production is undeniable. Further, I don’t like to always compare the Vikings and Packers, but it hurts knowing what Rodgers brought them in comparison to what our 2005 picks amounted to.

#4: Laquon Treadwell (Wide Receiver, 2016, Round 1, Pick 23)

I remember being HYPED about Treadwell. All of the talk about his “catch radius” had me buzzing when we took him in the first round. The hype was all-for-naught. Treadwell’s best season for the Vikings was a 35 reception, 302-yard campaign in 2018.

He is still finding his way onto NFL rosters, however, but he has nowhere near reached the expectations for a first-round pick. I do wish him the best, however, and the most Minnesota thing of all time would be him having a career year on a breakout Jacksonville offense.

#3: Christian Ponder (Quarterback, 2011, Round 1, Pick 12)

You knew this name was coming, right? I defended the organization for “reaching for their guy,” even though everyone knew it was too early for Ponder. He had graduated early, and we all thought he would blend his intelligence with a good arm and an ability to scramble when necessary. But this only amounted to 14 wins in 36 career starts.

On the surface, one might posit that Ponder at least had a good 2012 season, as the Vikings went 10-6 and made the playoffs as the 6 seed. But upon further inspection, Ponder fell short of 3000 passing yards, and was carried by Adrian Peterson’s 2097 rushing yards. We lost at Lambeau that year in a game that Joe Webb had to start out of necessity.

#2: Troy Williamson (Wide Receiver, 2005, Round 1, Pick 7)

We spent the seventh overall pick in 2005 on this speedster from South Carolina. While he did eclipse the 1000-yard receiving mark, it was unfortunately over the course of his entire career. His 1131 total receiving yards is a terribly low return for a first-round pick. He was also second in the league with 11 dropped passes in the 2006 season.

For what it’s worth, this article mentions that Williamson reflected on how he wasn’t ready for the pressures of being a number one wide receiver in the NFL – as a replacement for Randy Moss, no less.

#1: Dimitrius Underwood (Defensive Tackle, 1999, Round 1, Pick 29)

I reserved the most bust-worthy rank for a player that never even suited up for the Vikings. Dimitrius Underwood played in a total of 19 games for the Cowboys, but easily is the biggest first-round bust in Vikings’ recent history. Oddly enough, I was asking my dad (another crazed Vikings fan) about who he thought the biggest busts were, and Underwood’s name was the first to come out of his mouth.

A small consolation, I suppose, is that we did not use our first first-round pick on Underwood in the ’99 draft. That pick was the 11th overall, and the player was Daunte Culpepper. It’s just too bad we weren’t able to complement the Culpepper pick with the defensive acumen we assumed would come with Dimitrius Underwood.

Why this article now?

Believe it or not, I did not simply want to bash our former first-round busts. I respect any athlete who has even made it that far (which is much farther than me, but that’s a discussion for a later day). But as we move through training camp and get closer to Week 1, it’s always good to remember that nothing is certain.

I love to overreact to every little insight out of training camp because I am so excited, but I have to remember to keep expectations in check. Our first-round pick this season, Lewis Cine, by all accounts appears ready to dominate offenses for years to come. But I will be okay with mediocrity as long as there is progression.

One last note: I had a hard time coming up with first-round busts, and I think this is because the Vikings have done a solid job from a drafting standpoint. We always tend to focus on the negatives (i.e. this article, hehe) but our issues in not making a Super Bowl during my lifetime don’t seem to be exclusively tied to horrible drafting. What great news!

Anywho, who did I miss on this list? Which players do you agree/disagree with? Let me know @Jlime8 on Twitter.