What separates good teams from great teams in the NFL? Well the truth is, there is a lot, and we could argue about which is most important, whether it be a Head Coach, a GM, a Cap Wizard, or the players themselves. For the sake of this article, lets focus on the draft and how truly important it is to develop your late round draft picks.
Most fans probably watch Day 1 of the draft and can recognize names and have some idea of who their team might find interesting. By Day 2, you might still see some familiar faces, but by Day 3, it’s mainly a crap shoot. However, for NFL teams Day 2-3 may arguably be the most important days. After looking at past data to determine the success rate of draft picks by round, the most simplistic one I found that was from a few years ago. (https://www.arrowheadpride.com/2015/2/20/8072877/what-the-statistics-tell-us-about-the-draft-by-round)
They breakdown the odds of finding a starter in each round at the respective position.
The numbers show us the following outline for finding consistent starters (consistent starter is defined as whether the player started at least half of their career, which doesn’t necessarily correlate to success, example: Christian Ponder)
1st Round – OL (83%) LB (70%) TE (67%) DB (64%) QB (63%) WR (58%) RB (58%) DL (58%)
2nd Round – OL (70%) LB (55%) TE (50%) WR (49%) DB (46%) QB (27%) DL (26%) RB (25%)
3rd Round – OL (40%) TE (39%) LB (34%) DL (27%) WR (25%) DB (24%) QB (17%) RB (16%)
4th Round – DL (37%) TE (33%) OL (29%) LB (16%) WR(12%) DB (11%) RB (11%) QB (8%)
5th Round – TE (32%) DB (17%) WR (16%) OL (16%) DL (13%) RB (9%) LB (4%) QB (0%)
6th Round – TE (26%) OL (16%) DL (13%) WR (9%) DB (8%) RB (6%) LB (5%) QB (0%)
7th Round – DB (11%) OL (9%) QB (6%) WR (5%) DL (3%) LB (2%) RB (0%) TE (0%)
Afted analyzing that information, it really highlights how impressive it is that we have so many players drafted in the 3rd round or later. They are either starting and/or contributing for us, or they have become an integral part of our success thus far this season. A quick run through of all of those players since 2015.
Danielle Hunter– Drafted in the 3rd round, according to the article, had a 27% chance of becoming a consistent starter. Well it’s pretty clear that he has surpassed that and more, as this is a huge year for Hunter. He had just recently signed to an extension and is in now in the mix for DPOY at the age of 24. Let that sink in for a second. Twenty-four! A lot of credit goes to Andre Patterson as he has developed and worked with Hunters skills, and yet the crazy thing is, he is still getting better.
Jaleel Johnson– He’s not a starter, but a consistent rotational player for our dominant D-Line. He was drafted in the 4th round, and someone who has gotten to work with Defensive Line guru Andre Patterson. Johnson has continued to progress each year, and has shown his worth on the football field. Mike Zimmer has a ton of faith in him, and if something were to happen to our starters (Bless All the Knees!), he will have no problem giving him more snaps.
Ben Gedeon– Another 4th rounder, with only a 16% chance of being a consistent starter. I remember this draft pick when it happened, fans scoffed at this, but with good coaching and development, Gedeon quickly transformed into a starter for the Vikings. He has been good, even though he typically only plays in base defense. He lacks burst, but he is efficient against the run, and isn’t a huge liability.
Danny Isidora– The verdict is still out on this 5th round pick, but he has shown signs of improvement and some flashes of talent. He is very agile and has the build of an NFL guard, but he does lack strength and consistently gets pushed around. He might not be a consistent starter, but he could continue to be a valuable back up for the Vikings in the coming year. Based on the statistics there was only a 16% chance of being a valuable pick, these next couple years will be crucial for him to continue to develop and prove himself.
Stefon Diggs– Where to begin, we all know and love him! He’s my favorite player. A 5th round pick out of Maryland, a raw receiver with excellent body control. He was touted as an instinctive route runner and he has turned into quite the star. I think some credit definitely goes to the coaching staff for identifying Diggs as someone that could develop into a starter, taking advantage of a kid who chose to stay near home instead of playing for a big Division I school. A lot of credit goes to Diggs who just continues to go above and beyond and hone his craft and his route running. He takes care of his body and is a high energy guy that the Vikings need.
David Morgan- Every team needs someone who is going to do all the dirty work, and get virtually no recognition from the average fan. But let me tell you, this 6th round pick Texas-San Antonio has turned into a valuable piece for this Vikings offense. He has developed nicely and has shown he can line up and block withhis effort being flawless. He also has shown that he can step up and be a pass catching Tight End when Kyle Rudolph is out. This is someone who the Vikings don’t want missing time.
Stephen Weatherly– Oh my, one of my favorite on this list! He has progressed each year with the Vikings to the point where he stepped in admirably when Everson was out. He has been a consistent player on the D-Line rotation. A 7th round pick with a 3% chance of being a consistent starter, Weatherly has defied the odds. Another Andre Patterson prodige, Weatherly has shown he has the burst and the strength to bull rush defenders on the edge. If he can continue to develop and work on some additional techniques, he will only continue to get improve.
Jayron Kearse- He started mostly on special teams, and had turned into a stud. Drafted in the 7th round, the 3rd year Safety has turned into a mainstay on this defense. He is brought in mainly on hybrid defenses, Kearse has the size to cover Tight End’s and Wide Receiver’s to help the Vikings defense avoid any mismatches. He also has great awareness for a young player. As he continues to work with DB coach Jerry Gray, he has shown that he is willing to put in the effort to keep improving.
Holton Hill– We all know about this Undrafted Free Agent by now. He went undrafted because of off field issues, but he already is being called upon. Rave reviews were coming out of camp as he continued to impress all his fellow teammates. Hell, he was so impressive Terrance Newman retired pretty much for Hill to have a roster spot. He has been thrust into action and has played very well. With great leaders helping him out, as well as his Head Coach being the cornerback whisperer, Hill should continue to progress into a great player.
Roc Thomas– Another Undrafted Free Agent who has contributed early in his NFL career. As a running back who has great burst when running downhill, he could turn into a very valuable backup or change of pace back for either the Vikings. He played sparingly in Dalvin Cook’s absence and has shown some flashes. He is still young but with the help of his coaches he can continue to progress as he has shown a lot of promise already
Mike Boone- He burst onto the scene this past preseason and he hasn’t looked back. An Undrafted Free Agent out of Cincinnati, Boone has been given a chance to showcase what he’s got while Dalvin Cook nursed a sore hamstring. Boone has shown great explosion when he gets the ball and is a very good receiving back, which can be helpful on third downs. Much like Roc Thomas, Boone is a young guy who can continue to progress into a valuable change of pace back for either the Vikings or another team. Look for RB coach Kennedy Polamalu to continue to work with these two young RB’s in hopes of getting them to be consistent contributors.
Tashawn Bower- Your 2017 preseason surprise here, Bower was an Undrafted Free Agent out of LSU, and had a lot of raw talent much like his counter parts Hunter, Weatherly, and Johnson. Bower relies on his strength mainly and needs to continue to work on additional moves for pass rushing, but with Andre Patterson as his coach the sky is the limit for Bower. He has a great group to learn from, and he has already shown that he can be a solid rotational guy on our D-Line when given the chance. He is probably still a few years away from making a bigger impact, but a solid find nonetheless
Eric Wilson– I did a thread on Eric Wilson this past August on Twitter and fell in love with his potential. An Undrafted free agent from Cincinnati he has impressed coaches and players with his progression as he continues to develop. Sometimes all these guys need is a chance. Wilson has gotten his chance and he’s filling the void of Anthony Barr nicely. He is good in coverage and has great speed. The fact he continues to have such a prominent role on defense is a testament to his development by him and his coaches.
Anthony Harris- And here he is, Anthony Harris. I feel like we’ve been hearing about him for a long time. In the opportunities he has been given, he continued to make plays. An Undrafted free agent out of Virginia, Harris has progressed about as well as you could hope. He isn’t going to be the type to make splashy plays all the time, but he will be where he is supposed to be. He is a disciplined, instinctive safety who pairs perfectly next to Smith. It’s taken him a few years to develop, but I would feel confident with him starting the remainder of this year and next.
Take a look at all of these guys, all fourteen of them. All of them drafted in the 3rd or later, all of them coming into the Vikings organization with raw talent that just needed to be crafted and developed. Some guys still have more to develop while others are developing right before our very eyes, week by week. This is a testament to our coaching staff.
DL coach Andre Patterson
DB coach Jerry Gray
OL coach Tony Sparano (RIP)
RB coach Kennedy Polamalu
WR coach Darrell Hazell
LB coach Adam Zimmer
All of these guys have played an integral part to the development of these young men. And it’s what separates good teams from great teams. Kudos to all of them and let’s keep this ship moving forward. The second half of the season is among us and it’s time for these young guys to buckle up. The lights will shine brighter. The hits will be harder. The wins will feel better while the losses will feel worse. There will be a sense of urgency. But it’s time to get after it and make a run! SKOL!