The Vikings haven’t Drafted a Meaningful Defensive Starter since 2015 and why it Matters

2015. Back when Drake’s hotline bling was the hottest song of the year, the Stephen Curry led Warriors dynasty was yet to begin, and Gangnam Style was still the most viewed video on YouTube. That was the last season the Vikings drafted a pro-bowler on defense. The Minnesota Vikings obviously have a drafting problem. A problem leading to some serious holes on the team’s roster that require addressing over the next few seasons.

Whether it be the numerous misses at cornerback, the increasingly concerning age of their linebackers or the constant need to dip into free agency on the defensive line, the Vikings have shown a significant weakness in acquiring defensive talent via the draft. While this issue is a serious one, the new addition of defensive coordinator Brian Flores and the draft style of general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could prove to change the team’s recent bad luck.

Drafting History
To start, let’s go over the recent picks made on the defensive side by current GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his predecessor former GM Rick Speilman.

  • Round 1. Lewis Cine – Safety
  • Round 2. Andrew Booth Jr. – Cornerback
  • Round 3. Brian Asamoah – Linebacker
  • Round 4. Akayleb Evans – Cornerback
  • Round 5. Esezi Otomewo – Defensive End

There is no doubt that the jury is still out on this draft class. While there is still promise for the players selected, injury took its toll on this class. There is yet to be a player selected in this draft that has proven to be a meaningful starter. Fingers Crossed!

  • Round 3. Chazz Surrat – Linebacker
  • Round 3. Patrick Jones II – Defensive End
  • Round 4. Camryn Bynum – Safety
  • Round 5. Janarius Robinson – Defensive End
  • Round 6. Jaylen Twyman – Defensive Tackle

This one is let’s just say… challenging to say the least. While the Vikings did select a starter in Camryn Bynum who did play every single snap for the Vikings this season, he finished with a PFF grade of 58.2 which is far from ideal. The remaining players are either in rotational roles with Patrick Jones II or were cut in the 2022 offseason with Surrat, Robinson and Twyman.

  • Round 1. Jeff Gladney – Cornerback
  • Round 3. Cameron Dantzler – Cornerback
  • Round 4. D.J. Wonnum – Defensive End
  • Round 4. James Lynch – Defensive Tackle
  • Round 4. Troy Dye – Linebacker
  • Round 5. Harrison Hand – Cornerback
  • Round 6. Josh Metellus – Safety
  • Round 7. Kenny Willekes – Defensive End
  • Round 7. Brian Cole – Safety

This mammoth sized draft class certainly provided a great deal of quantity, while lacking in quality. Few quality starters came out as a result. Gladney was supposed to be the fix at cornerback but a domestic abuse situation resulted in Gladney being cut in 2021. Cameron Dantzler has certainly shown some promise but with both injuries and inconsistent play, the question as to whether or not Dantzler can consistently line up against quality receivers is yet to be answered. The remaining players similar to the 2021 draft class are either no longer with the team or are used for bench depth.

  • Round 5. Cameron Smith – Linebacker
  • Round 6. Armon Watts – Defensive Tackle
  • Round 6. Marcus Epps – Safety
  • Round 7. Kris Boyd – Cornerback

This draft class is certainly a rough one. Only Boyd remains with the team, only seeing the field as a special teams player. Watts was cut in the 2022 offseason with both Smith and Epps being cut earlier on.

  • Round 1. Mike Hughes – Cornerback
  • Round 4. Jalyn Holmes – Defensive End
  • Round 6. Ade Aruna – Defensive End
  • Round 7. Devante Downs – Linebacker

Going to sound like a broken record at this point but the 2018 draft produced zero current defensive starters for the Vikings. Mike Hughes certainly displayed his talent throughout his time in Minnesota but a combination of injuries and stretches of poor play led the Vikings to trading Hughes to the Kansas City Chiefs for a 6th round draft pick.

  • Round 4. Jaleel Johnson – Defensive Tackle
  • Round 4. Ben Gedeon – Linebacker
  • Round 7. Ifeadi Odenigbo – Defensive End
  • Round 7. Elijah Lee – Linebacker
  • Round 7. Jack Toncho – Cornerback

This draft produced one meaningful starter for a period of time in Odenigbo. Odenigbo had a career year in 2019 with a 73.2 pass-rush grade per PFF. Odenigbo left the Vikings in free agency in 2021.

  • Round 2. Mackenzie Alexander – Cornerback
  • Round 5. Kentrell Brothers – Linebacker
  • Round 6. Stephen Weatherly – Defensive End
  • Round 7. Jayron Kearse – Safety

Probably the best defensive draft for the Vikings since 2015 (which says more about the other drafts than this one). This draft featured Jayron Kearse who played at a high level while with the Vikings as a “big nickel” safety. Kearse left the Vikings in free agency to sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Alexander started for several seasons for the Vikings but left the team in free agency in 2022 after a subpar season as the team’s nickel cornerback. Stephen Weatherly spent his time in Minnesota as a rotational pass rusher for the seasons 2016-2019 and signed with the Vikings once again in 2021. While still being the team’s “best” defensive draft class since 2015, the Vikings have not retained a single starter from this class.

Why does this matter?
It has been established that the Vikings’ recent defensive selections have been what the generous would call subpar, but why does this matter? Well the most important consequence has been the Vikings’ spending on defense. A major component of consistently drafting well is a player’s rookie contract. Rookie contracts are locked in place and are always team friendly. When the Vikings have consistently missed on so many defensive selections, not only is that a treasure trove of wasted draft capital but that is also a missed opportunity to surround your roster with team friendly deals.

In the 2022 season, the Vikings spent $102 million on defense, ranking 15 of 32. Despite spending more than average the Vikings finished 30th in points allowed. While some of the lackluster results generated by the defense can be blamed on ex-defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, being forced to spend big dollars on small results is a recipe for disaster.

Signs of Improvement?
While Adofo-Mensah’s first draft was not an instant home run, the Vikings have established a new identity with the players they target and that identity is speed in the secondary. Below are the 40 yard dash times of the Vikings 2022 picks on defense.

  • Lewis Cine – 4.37 Seconds (97th percentile among safeties)
  • Andrew Booth Jr. – 4.38 Seconds (88th percentile among corners)
  • Brian Asamoah – 4.56 Seconds (94th percentile among linebackers)
  • Akayleb Evans – 4.46 Seconds (64th percentile among corners)

With a loaded defensive draft class stocked with plenty of edge rushers and cornerbacks, and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Brian Flores, the Vikings should expect to see some massive changes in their defense. Whether these changes are for better or worse is yet to be seen. For all things Vikings related, keep it right here on
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