These two are thought of as recent draft busts for the Minnesota Vikings. Due to their lack of on-field production, they’re criticized constantly as is General Manager Rick Spielman for drafting them. Personally, I find it funny how quickly the cynics move on from one late round pick to the next. Be it David Yankey or Greg Childs or Mistral Raymond, there will always be late round misses. That is indeed why we call them late round fliers.
So let’s turn the argument around and find the times when those draftees ended up being hits! In the later rounds of the draft, Rick Spielman keeps grinding and has unearthed some true gems. So once again, I’ll point out where Rick clearly did get the right guy. On the Vikings current roster, there are many savvy decisions. I reviewed each of Rick’s drafts and have identified the best late-round selections below.
What’s fun about this exercise is that all of the players I’m covering have spent their entire careers with the Minnesota Vikings. Robison is the premier example of this. After his selection in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, Robison was buried behind Kenechi Udeze, Ray Edwards, and Jared Allen. When he got his chance in 2011, he blossomed and has been a mainstay ever since. He’s still wreaking havoc with several clutch strip sacks last year. Choosing from the 24 Defensive Ends drafted in 2007, Brian Robison’s career is in the top five. He’s up there with players like LaMarr Woodley and Charles Johnson. DEs drafted after him include Jay Richardson and Justin Rogers.
Robison is the classic example of how good drafting, good development, good talent, and hard work can take you far in the NFL. Robison and his passion for fishing are a perfect fit in Minnesota! He celebrates sacks by pretending to reel the QB in and uses fishing for charity work and team building. It’s been a joy to cheer for Brian Robison both on and off the field.
Peer across the defensive line and your eyes will ultimately rest on another draft steal, Everson Griffen. The fourth round product from 2010 is another lesson on patience. Griffen was a 2016 team captain but few Vikings fans realize that last year was only his third as a full time starter. First he matured then he flashed skill with limited opportunity and ultimately ended his four year journey with a starting role. No Defensive End drafted after Griffen accomplished this. Would you prefer Greg Hardy or O’brien Schofield instead? Didn’t think so.
Griffen came into the league unfocused but he matured and has become a team leader. Everson is clearly the defense’s main motivator. I find it beautiful when a player develops this way. I find it enjoyable to watch a young man’s growth into a star. Now, we are watching Danielle Hunter displace Brian Robison in the same way Everson Griffen displaced Jared Allen.
Here we are with the third defensive lineman listed in this column. It’s very easy to overlook Shamar Stephen on the Vikings defense. In the midst of all the shuffling at the defensive tackle position, Stephen has exhibited the “next-man-up” philosophy valiantly. As a rookie he provided spell duties for Linval Joseph in 2014. He even got a few starts under his belt when Sharif Floyd missed time due to injury. The next year, a healthy rotation of Joseph, Floyd, and Tom Johnson pushed Shamar down the depth chart. Last year, however, Floyd incurred a serious injury and Johnson struggled. This opened the door for Stephen and he played admirably.
I’m not suggesting he is a stud, or even average, but finding quality depth in the seventh round should not be underrated. Stephen’s production outpaces all other DTs picked after him combined. He has even outperformed Will Sutton, a 2014 third rounder who the Vikings recently acquired from Chicago. Shamar Stephen has done well.
Edmond Robinson was a seventh round linebacker in the 2015 draft. Typically late round LB careers start with a stint on special teams. That is how Robinson made the roster in both 2015 and 2016 and that is where he has made the large bulk of his contributions. Some of the other LBs drafted near Edmond did not even make their teams. Moreover, Chad Greenway’s retirement means that Robinson has a golden opportunity to become a contributor on defense as well. I talked about how I love developmental success stories earlier in this article. Robinson has already done more than the average seventh round LB and I have high hopes that he is that next great draft steal.
Sidebar here: Those other LBs drafted around the Robinson pick include Deiontrez Mount, Mark Nzeocha, and Xzavier Dickson. Those are some names!
While we’re hoping that Edmond Robinson can lock down the WLB position, we already know what Stefon Diggs is capable of. Stefon Diggs should not have been drafted in the fifth round. He should have gone two rounds earlier. This is seen the moment he stepped onto the field in his first year, 2015. Diggs started off with four games totaling 40 targets, 25 catches, 419 yards, and 2 TDs. That’s a ridiculous stat line. Stefon’s success continued over the last two years. Injury is the only factor that has slowed him down. Even so, don’t even bother to look at the WRs drafted after him in 2015. Drafting Stefon Diggs 146th overall may be the best draft pick Rick Spielman has ever made.
Diggs’ swaggering play is captivating. He came in to the league with something to prove and made sure to demonstrate his arrival in some way after almost every catch. Going forward he’s poised to take the next step. His focus is on improved health and a bigger leadership role.
Late round fliers require patience. More importantly they require reduced expectations. Players drafted on Day Three may take four years to develop into starting caliber talent. They may only serve as quality depth. They may not pan out at all (most don’t). When they do pan out, we not only get a great player but we also get a great story.