The 2021 NFL Draft has been completed, and for 259 young men, their dream of playing in the NFL took one big step closer to being realized. It’s worth pointing out what a big deal it is for each of these young men, who’ve worked their whole life so far to get to this point and have a chance to realize their dreams. And for one Viking draftee, Jaylen Twyman, a first off the bus type guy and a guy anyone would feel comfortable entering any sort of back street fight with, his reaction to that culmination was truly touching.
Guy looks like he could bench press my truck. https://t.co/YEBCkoQKSI
— Daily Norseman, Skolcially Distancing Since ’06 (@DailyNorseman) May 1, 2021
— Vikings Central (@VikesCentral) May 2, 2021
Twyman opted-out of the 2020 season to take care of his family, who depend on him financially, which makes it all the more special that he was able to make it into football’s 1% club- an NFL draftee.
Others, like Camryn Bynum, were more elated:
— Camryn Bynum (@Cambeezy_) May 2, 2021
Either way, best of luck to these young men and the rest of the Vikings’ 2021 draft class.
Goals of the Vikings Draft
For the Vikings, after free agency they entered the draft with three starting positions they needed to bring in starting-caliber prospects to compete for: two offensive line spots, and right defensive end. Beyond that, they also needed some depth and role-players to fill out their roster. Wide receiver, quarterback, safety, running back, and defensive line were areas in need of improved depth and competition for special teams specialists was also needed.
The Vikings began the draft with the following draft picks to accomplish their roster goals:
First Round: #14
Second Round: None.
Third Round: #78 and #90.
Fourth Round: #119, #125, #134, and #143.
Fifth Round: #157 and #168.
Sixth Round: #199.
Seventh Round: None.
The Vikings entered the draft with ten picks, but only about league average in overall draft capital, as they didn’t have a 2nd round pick, which is a valuable one that largely offsets the additional picks the Vikings had in the mid-rounds according to the Jimmy Johnson Draft Value Chart.
Rick Spielman, known as one of the most prolific draft pick traders, was surprisingly inactive during this draft. He only made one trade the entire draft, moving down from #14 to #23 with the New York Jets during the first round, picking up two additional third round picks- #66 and #86, while sending the Jets #143.
The Jets used the #14 pick to draft G Alijah Vera-Tucker, while the Vikings used the #23 pick to draft OT Christian Darrisaw, #66 to draft QB Kellen Mond, and #86 to draft G Wyatt Davis. The Jets subsequently traded pick #143 to the Raiders (S Tyree Gillespie) for picks #162 and #200 (CB Brandin Echols). The Jets traded #162 and #226 to the Chiefs (TE Noah Gray) for picks #175 (CB Jason Pinnock) and #207 (DT Jonathan Marshall).
So, ultimately the Vikings got Christian Darrisaw, Kellen Mond and Wyatt Davis, while the Jets got Alijah Vera-Tucker, Brandin Echols, Jason Pinnock and Jonathan Marshall. Considering that AVT was the top ranked guard, Echols and Pinnock were the 29th and 34th ranked CBs, and Marshall the 16th ranked DT, while Darrisaw was the 3rd ranked OT, Wyatt Davis the 3rd ranked guard, and Mond the 6th ranked QB, I think the Vikings came out ahead on that deal.
The Vikings attempted to trade up from #14 in the first round, reportedly for one of the top tackles – Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater – but were unable to come to a deal. At #14, with Darrisaw, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Mac Jones, and Jaelan Phillips on the board, Rick Spielman elected to trade down with the Jets. Ultimately they drafted Christian Darrisaw at #23, while picking up two 3rd round draft picks, to end their evening.
Drafting Darrisaw (6’5”, 322 lbs.) filled one of the Vikings’ roster priorities, as he could be a quality starter for the Vikings at left tackle as a rookie. Mike Zimmer said at the end of the night that one of his goals was to get bigger on the offensive line, which in part explains the Darrisaw pick, and Wyatt Davis on Day Two.
Darrisaw was the 3rd ranked tackle, and had the 2nd best overall season grade from a Power-5 conference tackle in the PFF college era. Darrisaw, along with Alex Leatherwood who was selected before Darrisaw, is one of the few tackles in this draft class with prototypical 34” arm length, measuring 34.25”.
Most media outlets instant grade of the Vikings day one of the draft averaged a A grade, both for the pick and the trade. The lowest I saw was a B+.
After the first night of the draft, Rick Spielman seemed to hint that he may use the added 3rd round draft picks to move back into the second round on Day Two. However, once again he was not able to come to a deal, as he said the asking prices were too high and he didn’t want to come out of Day Two with less than four picks. Presumably that meant he was only offering Day 3 picks to move up, which apparently wasn’t enough. Spielman also mentioned that there were several teams wanting to trade up with the Vikings, but once again Spielman decided against making a trade, this time a trade(s) down. His rationale was that he didn’t see as much quality depth in the later rounds of this year’s draft, so accumulating more picks in those rounds wouldn’t be worth moving down with his 3rd round picks.
So, the Vikings were quiet during the 2nd round, electing to stand pat with their Day Two picks.
They started off their 3rd round by selecting QB Kellen Mond at #66, who many consider the best of the 2nd tier QBs in this draft, and one analyst with a very good track record of evaluating QBs relative to their future success in recent years, Chris Simms, had Mond as the 4th ranked QB on his position rankings. Tampa Bay began the brief run on the 2nd tier QBs by drafting Kyle Trask at the end of the 2nd round, and the Vikings took Mond just two picks later, followed by the Texans taking Davis Mills with the very next pick. Mond looks to replace Sean Mannion as the backup to Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings followed up Mond’s selection by picking LB Chazz Surratt at #78. This was a bit of a head-scratcher for me initially – he seemed more of a Day 3 development prospect – but he definitely has some fans in chief draftniks Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay:
The Vikings had four picks in the third round, and while quarterback Kellen Mond (No. 66) will get the pub, the one I liked most is the former quarterback Chazz Surratt, who is a really productive converted linebacker. He should play early. – Mel Kiper Jr.
Surratt has sideline-to-sideline range, fast eyes and great instincts. He is a former QB who has good recognition and the closing burst to make plays. There is a lot of upside when it comes to coverage, and he shows the ability to stay with running backs and tight ends. There’s some nickel linebacker potential there. Minnesota has Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr at the second level, but Eric Wilson signed with Philadelphia. Surratt provides depth there. He was my No. 51 prospect, and the Vikes did a nice job landing him in the third round. He packs more power than you’d expect from a former quarterback, and I think he will play a big role for Minnesota down the road. – Todd McShay
Surratt is a converted quarterback who’s only played linebacker for the past two seasons, so he’s still learning the position. He’s the more modern linebacker- smaller but more athletic- and has shown to be a good blitzer. Some will have seen him on Christian Darrisaw’s highlight reel, getting blown up by the big tackle, but a more complete look at his tape gives credence to Kiper and McShay’s assessment. Lots of analysts really like this pick, betting on his upside despite some inconsistent tape.
It will be interesting to see how Mike Zimmer utilizes Surratt, and whether he could be an eventual starter if Anthony Barr is not extended after this season. At this point he’s a replacement for Eric Wilson, who signed with the Eagles in free agency.
The Vikings next pick at #86, acquired from the Jets, was G Wyatt Davis. He ranked as high as the #2 guard in the draft class on some boards, but he fell because his 2020 season performance declined due to a lower body injury. Davis is a big (6’4”, 315 lbs., 33.875” arms) and experienced guard out of Ohio State with just over 1,700 snaps over 3 seasons. He fulfills another immediate need for the Vikings as a likely starting guard.
In Wyatt Davis, the Vikings got a player who didn’t have the greatest 2020 season, which is why he slipped to Pick 86. He was still the 61st overall player on PFF’s Big Board, so we like the value. There were some schematic issues with the Ohio State offensive line this past season, which led to blatant communication errors that Davis was a part of. That shouldn’t be a concern at the next level. Davis can really block people. That’s the main deal here. In one-on-one situations, he’s as good as anyone; we just would have liked to see him bully people a little more in 2020. He was a great pick at that draft slot, nonetheless. – Pro Football Focus
Four picks later, at #90, the Vikings looked to fill their last immediate need by selecting defensive end Patrick Jones II out of Pittsburgh. Jones had a 5th round grade, so this may have been a bit of a reach for the Vikings in the late third round. The way the draft unfolded, however, I doubt he’d have lasted past the fourth round. Oddly, Janarius Robinson, who the Vikings picked later in the 4th round, had a higher grade on some boards. But Jones had a lot of production at Pitt, racking up 63 pressures in 2019, although he regressed in that regard in 2020. The key for Jones will be add some additional size and strength to improve his power game, as he is already advanced with his toolkit of pass rushing moves – and also graded well against the run. Jones has a prototypical edge rusher frame at 6’4”, 261 lbs., but arm length is a bit short at just under 33”. Athletically he looks fairly prototypical, but he pulled a hamstring during his pro day which negatively effected his results. Overall, the pro day and declining 2020 production caused him to slide in the draft, but his advanced pass rush toolkit and overall production at Pitt is something he can build on.
Jones will compete for the starting right defensive end spot, in what is shaping up to be perhaps the most competitive spot this off-season, with Jones, DJ Wonnum, Stephen Weatherly, and 4th round pick Janarius Robinson all vying for the starting job.
Overall, most media outlets that graded Day Two picks gave the Vikings a grade somewhere in the range of A- to B, with the Surratt and Davis picks being the most popular overall, and some split on the Mond and Jones picks.
The Vikings entered Day 3 of the draft having addressed all their primary needs by selecting players to fill the open starting job roles, and also selecting a backup quarterback and linebacker. With over half their draft picks remaining, there were a lot of depth and special teams needs yet to fill.
The Vikings started Day 3 by picking RB/KR Kene Nwangwu (kuh-NAY new-WAHN-goo) out of Iowa State. Nwangwu figures to replace Mike Boone on the RB depth chart, while also contending for return duties. Vikings’ RB coach Kennedy Polamalu apparently stood on the table for Nwangwu, which is promising in itself, given his ability to pick and develop running backs. Nwangwu had the highest athletic score in the RB draft class (9.89), and with a 4.32” 40 time, I believe he’ll be the fastest player on the team. Nwangwu could compete for both punt and kick returner duties.
With their pick #125, the Vikings selected CB Camryn Bynum, who they intend to play at safety. I like the Vikings going in this direction for a safety, as the safety class in this year’s draft was underwhelming. Bynum may be a ‘B’ cornerback, as he’s not good in man coverage, but he could be an ‘A’ free safety, as he does well in zone coverage, is a good run defender, and has good field intelligence and football IQ a free safety needs to recognize plays and route combinations, and has been good as a read and react defender.
Bynum should improve the Vikings depth at free safety, which is one of the biggest depth needs for the Vikings on defense, and could become an eventual starter.
The Vikings went back to defensive end with their third 4th round pick, selecting Janarius Robinson (6’5”, 263 lbs.) from Florida State. Robinson is a prototypical athletic defensive end (9.33 athletic score) with excellent length (35.25” arms) and big (10.875”) hands as well. Robinson isn’t as developed with his technique as Patrick Jones, but with good coaching, he may have the higher ceiling in the NFL. He shows good power, and the ability to crash down from the outside in run defense, but needs to develop his pass rush moves. If he does that, he could become a big-time edge rusher for the Vikings. You can see the potential in his tape.
While many of the big names on the Florida State defense failed to take much of a “next step” in 2020, Robinson was making a name for himself. He flashed far more as a pass-rusher than ever before, racking up 25 pressures in nine games. He’s got the power-end body type that doesn’t really ever need to come off the football field and can execute a number of different alignments along the defensive line. While not near the production levels we covet at the position early in the draft, Robinson has the tools to be a more impactful pro than college player. – Pro Football Focus
I wouldn’t be surprised if Robinson earns the starting right defensive end job in time.
The Vikings took a potential 3rd wide receiver and kick returner in Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who apparently was a favorite of Vikings wide receiver coach Keenan McCardell. I suspect the Vikings may look at Smith-Marsette as a slot receiver, as he’s a bit skinny to beat press coverage off the line-of-scrimmage. He isn’t a polish route runner at this point, so initially he’ll likely be more of a vertical threat as he has good (4.43”) speed and has more experience running the vertical routes.
Smith-Marsette’s raw numbers aren’t going to tell the entire story of his game. The number of underthrown deep balls on his tape rivals anyone else’s in the country. He was able to run past pretty much any defensive back in the Big Ten if he got shoulder to shoulder with them. That’s not going to be a question at the NFL level, but it’s the rest of his game that comes with concerns. He’s still very skinny, and I don’t think you can rely on him to get off the line of scrimmage consistently just yet. He may have to start as a vertical slot and hope he adds some strength and nuance to his releases. – Pro Football Focus
He’ll also likely compete for the kick returner spot as well.
The Vikings looked to add depth at the TE spot, with the departure of Kyle Rudolph and the early retirement of Hale Hentges, and selected Zach Davidson from Central Missouri for that purpose. Davidson had one of the highest overall athletic grades in this year’s TE class (8.81), and had tremendous production in 2019 against small school competition.
He’s 6’7”, 245 lbs., with 4.64” speed. Davidson is definitely more of a receiving tight-end than a blocking tight-end, and will need to make great improvement as a blocker, and add some bulk to his 6’7” frame. Davidson also has some value as a backup punter as well.
With their last pick, at the Tom Brady spot, the Vikings chose a defensive tackle rather than a quarterback, going with Jaylen Twyman. He’ll likely be positioned at 3-tech, competing behind Dalvin Tomlinson. He’s described as an undersized 3-tech, but that’s more height (6’2”), than weight (301 lbs.). As you can see in the first video clip, taken when Twyman was 16 years old apparently, the guy has a set of pipes. He had 40 reps on the bench, which was tops for defensive linemen this year. Beyond that, he had a good explosion grade athletically, but poor speed and agility grades. Twyman is more advanced with his pass rush moves, but needs improvement as a run defender. He could find a rotational role in an interior pass rush sub-packages, but his frame may make improving as a run defender more difficult.
B+ seems to be the most popular overall instant grade for the Vikings draft by media outlets, with Pro Football Focus citing the Vikings as the team with the most improved offensive line following the draft, which should be music to Vikings’ fans ears.
Indeed, if Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis turn into quality starters, the Vikings will have finally solved their perennial problem of putting together a solid offensive line. That will be music to Kirk Cousins’ ears, as he’s been one of the most pressured starting quarterbacks in the league since joining the Vikings.
Defensively, there was only one starting spot in flux entering the draft, and by taking both Patrick Jones and Janarius Robinson, the Vikings did a good job at that point in the draft of bringing in competition that could upgrade the position.
Beyond that, bringing in Kellen Mond as a backup quarterback to develop over the coming years is a smart move compared to keeping Sean Mannion as a clipboard carrier. Mond is an ascending, developmental QB that could become a quality starter in time. He also brings value as leverage in contract negotiations with Kirk Cousins, and may help the Vikings to reach a reasonable contract extension with Cousins if he continues to play well.
Chazz Surratt also comes into the Vikings as a backup that could develop into a starter as soon as next season. Extending Anthony Barr at age 30 next year is not certain, and may well depend on his performance this year and a similar salary cap number ($6MM).
Finally, the Vikings were also able to add some needed competition for special team specialist positions. Nwangwu and Smith-Marsette are welcome competition for the returner positions, while in the college free agency, the Vikings signed kicker Riley Patterson and long-snapper Turner Bernard.
Overall, I did not rate this Vikings draft as highly as last year’s draft initially, as I really liked the first four picks of the Vikings draft last year and that provided a positive outlook for the rest of the draft. This year, I liked the Darrisaw pick, but the Mond and Surratt picks I didn’t see as early contributors, and I wasn’t sure about Davis, so I wasn’t as high on this draft for the Vikings initially.
But as I’ve looked more into Wyatt Davis, and the two edge rushers Robinson and Jones, I’m more convinced the Vikings will be able to upgrade the two spots on their offensive line and right defensive end, which were the primary goals of this draft. We’ll have to see how the rest of the picks develop, but if the Vikings were successful with just Darrisaw, Davis, and one of the defensive ends turning into quality starters, this would be a very successful draft for the Vikings, and could be as successful as last year in the long run, albeit not with the superstar pick of Justin Jefferson. I especially like the 4th round picks by the Vikings this year, and Robinson in particular.
Looking at overall success rates for draft picks, 50% of first round picks don’t pan out, and only 16% of picks from round 3-5 pan out. Given the picks the Vikings had in those rounds, if just two of those picks turn into quality starters, that would represent a league average success rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least 3 of those picks turn into quality starters in time, which would be a huge outperformance compared to league average.
Lastly, Rick Spielman was able to add significant value by trading down with his first round pick and still being able to select Christian Darrisaw, who they might have selected at 14 without trading down. The two bonus picks acquired turned into Kellen Mond, perhaps the best of the 2nd tier QBs in the draft, and Wyatt Davis, who was ranked as high as the #2 guard in this draft. Picking up what looks like another quality starting offensive lineman and a quality backup QB, while still getting Darrisaw, provided excellent additional value to the Vikings draft haul, and may have made the difference between an average and above average draft.
Time will tell.
I’ll be doing more detailed break-downs of each of the Vikings draft picks in the coming days.
Update: Below is an initial grading chart for all 32 NFL teams.