Vikings Biggest Draft Busts: Dimitrius Underwood

Pick: 29th overall in 1999 NFL Draft

There are many players who come into the NFL and become draft busts. For hardcore fans, they can point to a single play or moment on the field that spelled doom. Whether it’s subpar play or a devastating injury, teams can miss on players for a variety of reasons. In the case of former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dimitrius Underwood, fans never even got to see him fail on the field.

After selecting Daunte Culpepper with the 11th overall pick earlier in the draft, the Vikings selected Underwood out of Michigan State with the 29th pick. They hoped the defensive end would improve a defense that was good enough in the magical 1998 season but unable to win games by itself. However, the selection came even after Michigan State coaches told NFL teams that they didn’t believe that the 6-6, 290 pound Underwood was mentally stable enough to play in the NFL. A sprained ankle injury that forced Underwood to miss his senior season was in question as many believed that wasn’t the reason for his absence.

Possibly believing they could reign in another talented yet troubled player in a year after stealing Randy Moss in the 1998 draft, the Vikings entered training camp with Underwood. However, Underwood walked out of camp after the first day of practice. He claimed he was having a moral dilemma between being a minister and being a football player. He was cut, and later signed with the Dolphins.

A little over a month after signing with the Dolphins, Underwood’s mental issues again came into the public eye. He stabbed himself in the neck after an argument with his girlfriend. Police found him walking down a street bleeding, and Underwood told the officer “I am not worthy of God”. He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and late in the 1999 season, the Dolphins released him.

Underwood spent the 2000 season with the Cowboys, who moved him to defensive tackle. He racked up four sacks and led the team with 14 pressures. Unfortunately, his mental issues resurfaced in January 2001. In Coral Springs, Florida, he twice walked into busy traffic, hoping to be struck and killed. He said that it was “what the Bible wanted him to do” according to one resident.

Unfortunately, Underwood never got right, and he had other encounters with the law that included assaulting a police officer and robbing a paraplegic (yes, you read that right). He was even found mentally incompetent to stand trial for the robbery and in 2004 was taken to a psych ward.

Blame was thrown around by Michigan State officials that the Vikings “didn’t do their homework” after he was released from the team. Minnesota may have known they had a troubled individual on their hands, but it’d be almost impossible to think that a player would walk off the team after one practice.

The Vikings defense suffered from 1999 through 2004, ranking in the bottom 10 in yards allowed each season. Their three leading sackers in 1999 didn’t stick around long after that. Duane Clemons and Chris Doleman each left following the season, and John Randle left following the 2000 season. The Vikings defensive line was in shambles, and the miss on Dimitrius Underwood stung that much worse.

Other Draft Options: DE Patrick Kerney (next pick), LB Al Wilson, WR Kevin Johnson, LB Mike Peterson, DE Mike Rucker, CB Dre’ Bly (all taken within 12 picks of the Underwood selection)

To younger fans, maybe this list may not sting like our previous draft bust pieces, but to the generation that remembers these players, they were all solid. Kerney was selected right after Underwood. Although he got off to a slow start his first two seasons, he recorded 12 sacks in 2001 and ended his 11-year career with 82.5 sacks. Mike Rucker wasn’t the most dominant defensive lineman in the 2000s, but he did rack up 31 sacks between 2001 and 2003. He finished with 55.5 sacks in his eight-year career in Carolina (that’s 55.5 more than Underwood gave the Vikings).

Even though linebacker wasn’t the most pressing need for Minnesota, Al Wilson became one of the league’s best middle linebackers for a stretch in the 2000s. Mike Peterson was a solid linebacker who played 14 seasons and would have been an improvement over Kailee Wong, Greg Biekert, or Raonall Smith in the five-year window after the 99 draft.

Then, at cornerback, the Vikings could have used Dre’ Bly. Cornerback became a major issue from 1999 until 2004 when Antoine Winfield arrived. Bly intercepted 14 passes in four seasons with the Rams, returning three for touchdowns. He also recovered four fumbles with the Rams, returning one for a score. Turnovers are key here as the Vikings ranked dead last in takeaways in both 2000 and 2001. Ouch.

Switching sides of the ball, Kevin Johnson could have become a solid No.3 receiver in Minnesota. Although Jake Reed racked up 44 receptions for 643 yards in 1999, he was 32. He left after the season for New Orleans (he did, however, return to Minnesota in 2001). Johnson had a solid five-year run in Cleveland, amassing 315 receptions for 3,836 yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Final Word on Dimitrius Underwood

The Vikings will never miss on a player quite like they did with Dimitrius Underwood. Outside of players being traded on Draft Day in blockbuster deals, rarely does it happen where a player never takes a snap for the team that drafts them. While they certainly could have done more to figure out what made Underwood “tick”, no one in their right mind could have predicted the bizarre series of events that would unfold.

Minnesota was coming off their best season in franchise history, and with two first-round picks, had the ammunition to get over the hump and get to the Super Bowl. Fortunately, Culpepper mostly lived up to his first-round status before a knee injury ended his Vikings tenure. The miss on Dimitrius Underwood was felt for years to come as the Vikings didn’t have a player post double-digit sacks from 2000 through 2002. This is the most extreme example of a player with “character concerns”, but it is a reminder that there is more to a football player than what he can physically do on the field.