2020 Minnesota Vikings Draft Review: The Fourth Rounders and Beyond
We conclude our 2020 Minnesota Vikings draft review series by analyzing the final 11 picks as a whole. The Vikings had three selections in the fourth round, two selections in the fifth round, two in the sixth round, and four selections in the seventh round. We’ve talked about the condensed off-season affecting the earlier picks, and that was taken into consideration by the Vikings brain trust with the final 11 selections. With less hands-on training, Minnesota looked to take swings on many players, hoping to successfully hit on a majority of them to help fill a roster hurt by free agency.
Almost every Vikings fan could agree that the team hit on their first four selections. Unfortunately, the luck began running out from the fourth round and beyond. While players like defensive end D.J. Wonnum had some splash plays throughout the season, there wasn’t enough to show any real chance of starter-potential in the near-future. Players who were projected to be depth guys like linebacker Troy Dye and cornerback Harrison Hand were thrust into the starting lineup following a slew of injuries and found, at best, mixed results throughout the season. And the one player selected on Day 3 of the draft that was essentially handed a major role from the first day of camp, K.J. Osborn, was a massive disappointment. As a kick returner, he added little pop. As a punt returner, he struggled with muffed punts and fumbles. By season’s end, he was benched.
Normally players selected on the final day of the draft aren’t counted on to contribute much outside of special teams in their rookie seasons. But the Vikings maneuvered up and down the draft to accumulate picks and target needs. As a whole, no one was a home run pick and most didn’t prove that they should be in the starting lineup going forward. With so many swings, the Vikings didn’t get enough hits with their 11 picks.
The Hits: DE D.J. Wonnum
Many fans believed that the Vikings had hit a home run in Wonnum, thinking that they had found the next Danielle Hunter. Those who broke down film still saw a work-in-progress who got to the quarterback on unblocked plays. That is, of course, unsustainable moving forward, and Wonnum has a long way to go technically to become a full-time starter.
However, it’s important to remember that Wonnum was a fourth-round pick, and he wouldn’t have been asked to play as many snaps as he did had Hunter not missed the season. In fact, Wonnum played at least one-third of the defensive snaps in 13 of the 14 games he was active. With three sacks, including one on Aaron Rodgers to seal a victory in Week 8, Wonnum had enough production and splash plays to warrant the fourth-round selection.
The Misses: DT James Lynch, WR/KR K.J. Osborn
Defensive tackle James Lynch made his NFL debut on Sunday NIght Football against the Seahawks. He got a sack on Russell Wilson, and it appeared that things were going to trend upwards for the fourth-round pick who was in danger of being cut in training camp. However, Lynch never made a significant play the rest of the season. While Wonnum was on the field about half the time he was active, Lynch never played more than 16 percent of the defensive snaps in a game all season. At this point, Lynch is a longshot to be on the roster next season.
Receiver/returner K.J. Osborn was the most glaring miss of the draft. The Vikings were looking for a replacement for Marcus Sherels, but Osborn never lived up to the billing, and honestly, fell flat on his face. He only returned 14 kicks for 303 yards, a 21.6 yard average. It was unspectacular, but most kick returners are in today’s NFL.
Unfortunately, the punt return game was another story. Osborn only returned seven punts for a paltry 27 yards. Worse yet, he fumbled two of these punts away in a three-game span. After he, ahem, dropped the ball against the Jaguars in Week 13, Osborn was stripped of his duties the rest of the season. He is also a longshot to make the team next year unless the team can’t find any returner that can fall forward for two yards on a punt.
A Work In Progress: LB Troy Dye, CB Harrison Hand
Linebacker Troy Dye and cornerback Harrison Hand were each put in tough situations in 2020. Neither was expected to be in the starting lineup as rookies, but injuries to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks gave Dye an expanded role. It wasn’t pretty (he was turned around on a bootleg touchdown pass against the Bears in Week 15), but he wasn’t the only guy on defense that was not in an ideal situation. Because of this, it’s hard to say he truly played poorly since other players on the field were playing poorly as well. He may not have long-term starting potential, but he could maybe be a fourth linebacker who can start a game or two in a pinch.
Hand was in the same boat. His first game action came in Week 6 against the Falcons. By the end of the game, injuries had him inexplicably covering Julio Jones one-on-one. It wasn’t a pretty sight to see, but the Vikings were in a position where they had to put young players in these spots.
However, the Christmas Day game against the Saints offered some hope moving forward. Hand intercepted Drew Brees and was one of the few defenders making plays that day. He only played defensive snaps in four games while playing special teams snaps in all 13 games he was active. Like Dye, Hand may not be counted on to start any time soon, but he showed he can play in a pinch and showed he could become a reliable special teams player. He is an interesting player to watch moving forward.
The Rest: OL Blake Brandel, S Josh Metellus, DE Kenny Willekes, QB Nate Stanley, S Brian Cole, G Kyle Hinton
The only player who made any notable impact on the field was Metellus as a special teams player. As a sixth-round pick, fans can be encouraged by his play, but he didn’t appear on defense very often. If he has a future on the team, it is strictly special teams at this point. Outside of Brian Cole, the rest of the selections ended the season on the practice squad or injured reserve.
I’ve graded each player in this series hard, and that’s not ending today. The team only truly hit on one of the 11 selections. At this point, they may have three depth players from the 11 picks if Harrison Hand and Troy Dye can play more ideal roles in 2021. But misses with James Lynch and K.J. Osborn hurt because they both could have filled needs in 2020. Instead, the team will look for improvements at both defensive tackle and returner, and neither player is safe.
Hopefully, this off-season could get players more on-field time and player development could be accelerated in 2021 with some of these players who didn’t contribute much in 2020. Still, many holes that the team is looking to address this off-season could have been filled had they hit on more of their Day 3 selections in 2020.