The Current Problems that Hinge on The Vikings’ 2018 Draft Class

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
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Coming off a stellar 2017 season, the Vikings were looking to finally get back into the Super Bowl. The beatdown against the Eagles was, in a word, disheartening. With John DeFilippo as the new OC and Kirk Cousins the new QB, hopes were high that the team could not only mirror their previous performance but actually improve on it.

Unfortunately, the season fizzled to a modest 8-7-1 finish. More concerning for Minnesota in 2023, though, is that the Vikings’ 2018 draft class also didn’t pan out.

Their opening selection was for corner Mike Hughes. For a lot of fans, it was an eye-rolling selection given that Minnesota was already playing with All-Pro Xavier Rhodes, 11th overall pick Trae Waynes, and 2nd-rounder Mackensie Alexander. Still, Mike Zimmer had a point: there’s no such thing as too many corners.

Mackensie Alexander
Oct 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander (20) celebrates his sack during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

From there, the team made a variety of picks to address all kinds of positions. Take a look at the overall draft haul:

  • Mike Hughes, CB, 30th.
  • Brian O’Neill, OT, 62nd.
  • Jalyn Holmes, DE, 102nd.
  • Tyler Conklin, TE, 157th.
  • Daniel Carlson, K, 167th.
  • Colby Gossett, iOL, 213th.
  • Ade Aruna, DE, 218th.
  • Devante Downs, LB, 225th.

Obviously, having hindsight on our side makes things much easier to evaluate. The armchair GM with hindsight in tow is better equipped than the NFL GM with a robust scouting department who is trying to predict the future.

Nevertheless, it’s fair to wonder about the Vikings’ 2018 draft class.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

There are a pair of major successes in Rick Spielman’s picks: Brian O’Neill and Tyler Conklin. The OT is still in the building, the lone remaining player from the group. He has established himself as being among the NFL’s preemient right tackles, a true stalwart for Kevin O’Connell’s offense. The late-season injury is definitely concerning, but his on-field play is the exact opposite. He’s an excellent player at a premium position. Great pick.

Conklin, moreover, did a nice job. When given the opportunity, he proved to be a reliable option in the passing game for the Vikings. And, in the end, he departed for the New York Jets on a sizable deal. As a result, Minnesota got a compensatory pick in return. Getting solid play from a 5th-round TE and then a pick is a success.

Nov 14, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Tyler Conklin. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.

Otherwise, there is a fair bit to be disappointed about.

Hughes is still only 26, folks. Had he worked out, Hughes could still be the CB1 in Minnesota, alleviating much of the current concern about the corner depth. His quickness and smaller size leads to him playing in the slot, currently a need for the Vikings. Partnering him with Byron Murphy, Akayleb Evans, and Andrew Booth Jr. would be a pretty good spot to be.

Before the 2021 season kicked off, Spielman shipped Hughes and a 7th to Kansas City in exchange for a 6th (which turned into Jalen Nailor). Hughes played for the Chiefs and then went to the Lions. He has since signed with the Falcons.

Corner conundrums aside, the most disappointing result from that draft is Daniel Carlson. The issue isn’t his ability, or lack thereof. Rather, it’s that he’s now drilling kicks for the Raiders, not the Vikings.

After a disastrous Week 2 performance against the dreaded Packers, the Vikings decided to move on from the still-young Carlson. The young man didn’t even make it to a 3rd game with the Vikings before the decision was made to move on.

Jan 15, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson (2) with his second field goal as punter A.J. Cole (6) holds during the second quarter in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Now 28 years old, Carlson has become an NFL All Pro. That’s right, he has been an All Pro for 2-straight seasons. It was the second team in 2021 before hopping up to AP1 status in 2022. Last season, he completed 34 of 37 field goals for the Raiders, drilling 11 of 13 from 50+. He missed just 1 lonely extra point all season. For 3 consecutive seasons, Carlson has a FG% above 90%.

Meanwhile, Greg Joseph went 26 for 33 on his field goals and 40 for 46 on his extra points in 2022. The South African kicker may rebound and become a great option for Minnesota, but the years of instability at kicker are ultra discouraging when we remember that arguably the best in the business was in the building.

Nailing 2 of the 8 picks means the Vikings’ 2018 draft class wasn’t a complete disaster. Nevertheless, it’s tough to realize that only a single player remains on the roster and two of the main areas of uncertainty – corner and kicker – may have had their solutions from that group.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will get a chance to further fortify the roster 3 weeks from today. The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 27th and runs until Saturday, April 29th.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Spotrac helped with this piece.