As the dust settles from the NFL draft and with a slate of rookies coming in for minicamp Friday, the Minnesota Vikings will take their first step toward incorporating these new players onto a veteran-laded team.
The Vikings earned a B grade from ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper for their rookie haul, focusing their efforts on adding youth to their No. 1 defense and making depth additions on the offensive line.
As the Vikings prepare for another run to the Super Bowl armed with one of the best rosters in the NFC, it’s not just early-season favorites Philadelphia, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams aiming to stand in their way.
The Vikings will have to get through a much tougher division schedule than in years past. Minnesota’s NFC North rivals made some impressive additions in the draft that could challenge the Vikings as they look for back-to-back division crowns.
Here’s an overview of what the rest of the NFC North came away with from the draft.
Schedule: Sept. 16 (away); Nov. 25 (home)
Overview: Green Bay earned Kiper’s third-highest grade (A-) for this crop of rookies. New general manager Brian Gutekunst crushed his first draft by addressing immediate needs in a porous secondary, spending the team’s first- and second-round picks on cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. The Packers entered the draft pretty thin at wide receiver and came away with three lengthy, speedy pass catchers from Day 3 who will contend to replace Jordy Nelson and give Aaron Rodgers a handful of options in the passing game.
Biggest steal: CB Josh Jackson (projected first-rounder who they got 13 spots into the second round)
Sleeper pick: WR Equanimeous St. Brown
How it affects Minnesota: The Packers hope stockpiling picks on defense works out better than when they drafted two DBs back to back between Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in 2015. Alexander is expected to fill an immediate void at nickel corner while Jackson will contend for playing time outside and could even be considered for a role at safety. The Packers' pass defense was atrocious last season (even in one of his more up and down performances, Case Keenum still threw for 239 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Week 6), so addressing needs here early was no surprise. Green Bay now has more options to counteract Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, aiming to create the turnovers it lacked last season. “I think when we’ve been at our best in the last 10 years on defense is when we’ve been taking the ball away,” Gutekunst told reporters. “The more stops we can get that way, get the ball back in our offense’s hands, the better we’re going to be. It certainly is an emphasis, and always has been.”
Schedule: Nov. 18 (away); Dec. 30 (home)
Overview: The Bears have made every move this offseason with building around Mitchell Trubisky as the focal point. It started when they hired a top offensive mind in Matt Nagy and continued in free agency when they got the young quarterback a handful of weapons in tight end Trey Burton and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. The Bears came away with a B+ grade from Kiper for all the moves they made to ensure Trubisky will have success in Year 2. That included finding him more protection along the offensive line with James Daniels, who could start at right guard, and trading up to land receiver Anthony Miller.
Biggest steal: C James Daniels
Sleeper pick: WR Anthony Miller
How it affects Minnesota: The Vikings likely will have to game plan for three of these rookies early on, and it starts with the No. 8 overall pick. Roquan Smith is the epitome of the modern-day sideline-to-sideline linebacker and is expected to make an immediate impact (along with Leonard Floyd) in the middle of this young defense. The Bears gave up a lot to land Miller (a 2018 fourth-rounder and 2019 second-rounder) because they anticipate being able to capitalize on his speed to stretch the field and test their opponent’s secondaries. Between free agency and the draft, Trubisky now has a host of weapons at his disposal, something the Bears lacked when they mustered up 10 points against the Vikings in the season finale -- a game which featured two failed goal-line stands. From Burton to Miller, the Bears' passing game got infinitely better this offseason. Chicago’s pass rush could probably have benefited from some earlier attention, but that should bode well for the Vikings' offensive line as it works out protections for Kirk Cousins.
Schedule: Nov. 4 (home); Dec. 23 (away)
Overview: The Lions are tired of their running game constantly getting in the way of their success, so they dedicated their first two picks to fix that. Detroit started the run on interior offensive linemen by taking Arkansas center Frank Ragnow at No. 20 (a player the Vikings were hoping to take 10 spots later) and using a second-round pick on Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson. On Day 3, the Lions looked to the future of their offensive line, drafting a developmental tackle in Tyrell Crosby and furthered their commitment to run blocking by spending their final pick on a fullback. With a limited number of picks to address a bunch of needs, Kiper gave Detroit a grade of B-. Tracy Walker and Da’Shawn Hand are attractive prospects who could eventually fill important roles on a defense that ranked No. 27 last season.
Biggest steal: DE Da’Shawn Hand
Sleeper pick: OT Tyrell Crosby
How it affects Minnesota: This offensive line is going to be a force. Detroit continues to pour its draft capital into improving this unit year after year (remember when the Lions took three OL in 2016?) in preparation for the league’s best run-stopping defenses in the NFL, including one that they have to face twice a year. Minnesota held the Lions to 97 and 53 yards rushing both times they played last season and the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson should continue to make running on the Vikings a difficult test. The Lions probably should have taken a pass-rusher in one of the early rounds or another member of the front seven, but instead they chose to invest in some project-type picks in the later rounds. Under first-year head coach Matt Patricia, Detroit’s defense is bound to look different than in years past. Hand is expected to move to nose tackle and the addition of 3-4 outside linebacker Christian Jones from free agency foreshadows a change on defense, which could make the Lions more versatile up front.