It’s been well chronicled that this is a very important offseason for the Minnesota Vikings. While they (and virtually the entire NFL) struggle to work through what will likely be very limited cap room, the draft is a surefire way to improve upon their lackluster roster in 2020. With the Senior Bowl now less than two weeks away, here are three players the Vikings should keep an eye on for the middle rounds of the draft.
Dillon Radunz- North Dakota State OT
The Vikings are once again at a crossroads with their current LT, Riley Reiff. He was very nearly cut last season because of cap issues, and it could very well happen this offseason. Because of that, the Vikings should be keeping an eye on Dillon Radunz.
Radunz could become the steal of the draft. He went into 2020 touted as one of the best left tackles in college football, but he had very limited opportunity to showcase what he brings to the table due to NDSU’s fall “season” being a grand total of one game. Because of this and the fact that he played in the FCS, some believe he could fall into the third round. If he does begin to fall, the Vikings should consider either moving into the second round or taking him with their third round pick.
Throughout his time at NDSU, Radunz was known for his prowess as a run blocker; something the Vikings struggled mightily at despite Dalvin Cook’s impressive numbers. Riley Reiff particularly struggled as a run blocker, posting a PFF grade of 60.8. Radunz is also very competent as a pass blocker; his 6’6” frame and long arms are ideal for an NFL tackle. If he performs well against some of the better edge rushers in the college game, one can only dream about what the pair of Radunz and Brian O’Neill could become for the Vikings.
Jamie Newman- Wake Forest QB
Kirk Cousins is more than likely going to be at the helm through the 2022 season, but that doesn’t mean Minnesota can’t begin looking at a young prospect for the future. Would you rather pay Cousins again, or have a young prospect groomed and ready to go?
The last time we saw Jamie Newman play a meaningful football game, he was losing the Pinstripe Bowl to Michigan State in the 2019 season. He transferred to Georgia at season’s end, but then opted out of the 2020 Covid season. A full year has passed since we last saw Newman on the field, and his draft stock has taken a hit as a result. Needless to say, the Senior Bowl is important for him.
Newman, while raw, has all the traits you’d want to see in a young quarterback prospect. He has a crazy strong arm, and he used it often. In 2019, 19.8% of his throws were for 20+ yards, and PFF graded him second in deep throws behind only Joe Burrow. He can also run, and his size makes that a problem for defenses as he stands at 6’4” and 235 pounds.
Watch this run:
Now watch this throw:
There is no doubt the kid has talent. The biggest question mark going into the draft is his accuracy. Admittedly, it’s a very valid question. He finished the 2019 season with a mere 60.8 completion percentage and threw 11 interceptions over 12 games.
Even so, many of the struggles came as a result of losing WR Sage Suratt during the eighth game of the season. In the first seven games, Newman completed 67.2% of his passes and threw 20 TDs compared to five INTs. It’s certainly a concern when his level of play drops off so much because of the loss of one target.
However, a couple years under the wing of Cousins and the Vikings could help him blossom into a very good player. The Vikings more than likely will wait until a future draft to find a quarterback, but if Newman falls into the fourth or fifth round, as this profile suggests, it will be interesting to see if they take a swing.
Elerson Smith- Northern Iowa DL
Elerson Smith is another FCS player who had his collegiate career cut short due to Covid. Shortly after, he declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. During the 2019 season, Smith dominated all competition that stood in his way. He racked up a statline to the tune of 63 tackles, 21.5 TFL, 14 sacks, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups, and two blocked kicks on special teams. Look how Smith not only gets into the backfield with ease here, but he uses his tree branch-esque arms to knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.
Standing at 6’7”, Smith is an absolute beast in the pass rush. He is a little on the lighter side at 255 pounds, but his length, quickness, and technique make up for it. Again, he is not being projected very highly because he missed the 2020 season. While he dominated competition in 2019, it was still FCS competition, which also hurts his draft stock.
Still, NFL teams love guys that not only help along the defensive front, but also make plays on the special teams. Vikings fans should especially be excited about the prospect of adding a strong playmaker to what was an abysmal unit in 2020. Oh, and the best part? Smith grew up in Minneapolis. This is a match made in heaven. The Vikings should do whatever they can to use a later pick on him.
Overall, we know the Vikings biggest needs are along both the offensive and defensive lines. I think both Radunz and Smith could help improve these units greatly, and they could be had at an amazing value.
As for Newman, like I said, it’s probably too early to be seriously thinking about Cousins’ replacement. While I wouldn’t go into the third round to take him, I think he’s worth a glance with a later pick. I see a ton of Josh Allen in Newman’s game, and we all know that after a rough start, the tides have completely shifted in Buffalo. A very similar phenomenon could take place in Minnesota if they choose to take a shot.