The Minnesota Vikings almost universally received praise for their handling of the 2020 NFL Draft. After moving Stefon Diggs, they had not one but two first round picks, and used them to shore up their two biggest skill position needs. Wide receiver Justin “Slot” Jefferson and cornerback Jeff “Bulldog” Gladney, were two great picks by general manager Rick spielman. Mike Zimmer also must have approved since he got his defensive back.
Spielman followed these two picks with high upside picks in Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland, Mississippi State’s Cam Dantzler, and South Carolina’s DJ Wonnum. So, a left tackle, another cornerback, and a defensive end. All positions of need, at least in the long-term. The Vikings then spent their next 10 picks, yes that number is correct, on six defenders at various positions of need and four offensive players, most of which were at positions of need.
So, the NFL loved this Vikings draft class and so do I. It’s filled with talent and I think most of it is at positions that the Vikings historically have been able to coach well, offensive lineman notwithstanding. I think it’s a bit of a boom or bust, particularly the middle rounds, but big risks are the only way to succeed in today’s NFL.
In addition to a huge 15 player draft class, the Vikings signed 12 undrafted free agents, many of whom Vikings fans should be very excited about watching battle for roster spots. Here are the five UDFAs of the 2020 Vikings class that I’m most excited about.
Brady Aiello, T, Oregon
Aiello has a tough road to make the roster. He’s in an extremely competitive position that is absolutely stacked with young, raw potential. However, I think he has a better chance than some of the other UDFAs because of the nature of his position.
We can probably assume that at least a couple of offensive linemen are not going to be fully healthy entering the season, and that leaves opportunities on the board for Aiello and his fellow rookie offensive lineman. This is in addition to the fact that Pat Elflien’s starting spot is in question and Josh Kline’s departure leaves, potentially, two starting guard spots open.
I don’t think Aiello competes for those starting spots, but he’s got a chance to make the roster and even if he doesn’t initially, he could play a role due to injury. He’s pretty much on equal footing with all rookie offensive linemen not named Ezra Cleveland, so he only needs to show he’s better than those guys to be first in line if the need arises.
Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M
I wrote a piece last week about why I was excited about UDFA wide receiver Dan Chisena. While I stand behind that piece and how excited I am about him, I think Davis has a better chance of making the roster.
Davis has more polish and played a lot more in college. He put up over 1200 yards in two years for the Aggies and scored 11 receiving touchdowns. He also has the potential to return some kicks. However, if the Vikings are going to use a rookie receiver to do that, they will likely use fifth rounder KJ Osborn.
The reason I put Davis here is because the Vikings have a short list of reliable targets at receiver and the competition is essentially wide open. That gives him a great chance to see the field in 2020. He also already has some money invested in him with the team reportedly floating him a guaranteed $100k to keep him out of Dallas.
Jake Lacina, C, Augustana
The story for Aiello is much the same for Lacina. He has an opportunity with two guard spots potentially open. Lacina also already has ties to the Vikings organization with his father having played in purple from 1999-2002.
Lacina is by all accounts a hard worker and being a local product can certainly help give you an edge. The story of a local kid turned NFL player is really easy to sell, especially in a state that is as close-knit as Minnesota. Heck, we were ready to anoint Adam Thielen as royalty before he even became one of the NFL’s best receivers.
Sure, the story won’t just magically give Lacina a spot, but it could help him in a close race. His NFL pedigree should help too. It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the size and speed of the NFL game coming for division II, but CJ Ham did it and now Lacina is going to try to do the same.
Blake Lynch, LB, Baylor
Contrary to the other names I’ve listed, Lynch is at a position of little need for the Vikings. With the stellar pair of Erick Kendricks and Anthony Barr, the Vikings aren’t hurting for linebackers. Their depth is also still decent with Ben Gedeon, Cam Smith, and rookie Troy Dye all headlining the second string.
However, I think there is a path to success for Lynch. Lynch is a freak athlete and played all over the field in Baylor’s defense. He could slide back to safety and learn Harrison Smith’s role or become the Vikings new “big nickel” with the departure of Jayron Kearse. Both of those things aren’t likely this season, but he should warrant a practice squad spot at least.
Given time, he should at the very least become a special teams standout and he has the athleticism to become a whole lot more. It just a matter of letting himself be moulded by Mike Zimmer.
Jake Bargas, FB, North Carolina
To those of you following the Vikings cap space situation, you will know that the Vikings just signed their pro bowl fullback to a monster 4 year, $12 million deal in 2020. So, why am I including a fullback in this list of UDFAs that I’m excited about? Because it would be boring to list another offensive lineman. Kidding, kind of.
It’s because I think Bargas genuinely has a chance to succeed for the Vikings. He played tight end for the Tar Heels and I think that’s where he ends up in the NFL. However, I think he’s got a shot because of the makeup of the Vikings offense and the tight ends they currently have rostered.
Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr are far and away the starting tandem and Bargas won’t threaten that. After that though it gets murky with Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon, and fellow UDFA Nakia Griffin-Stewart.
Conklin is the obvious frontrunner with multiple years under his belt. However, he’s not a great blocker, something you would want from a guy who is going to see the field in the jumbo package at the goalline. The story is pretty similar with Dillon, but I think Dillon is the most likely cut of the backups.
So between Bargas and Griffin-Stewart, one of them is at least going to find a practice squad spot. I think Bargas could even upset Conklin for the third tight end position due to his run blocking ability. Then the Vikings can run a two fullback set in the NFL in 2020. Again, mostly kidding.