Coller: Minnesota needs you, NFL Draft

Matthew Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for BMTN, with more of his work found at Purple Insider.
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A view of the setup at the NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio. 

A view of the setup at the NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Matthew Coller is an experienced football writer who covered the Vikings for 1500ESPN and Skor North for four years. Also a published author, Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, and you can find more of his work at Purple Insider.

It’s been a rough year for Minnesota Vikings fans.

In 2019, the Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints in dramatic fashion in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and then the long-established defense was torn limb by limb and Stefon Diggs was traded in the offseason leading up to 2020. The Vikings winning draft night by picking Justin Jefferson and then Jefferson’s subsequent historic season were about the only things in 2020 that could give Vikings fans some joy. The most exciting acquisition of the 2020 offseason opted out and then the second most exciting pickup ended up being traded at the deadline.

Last season was pretty much over as soon as it began. In an eyeblink the Vikings were 0-2 with two miserable performances against the Packers and Colts. They followed up that act by blowing a lead to the Tennessee Titans, whose woebegone kicker suddenly turned into a marksman. They also lost on a magical Russell Wilson final drive in Seattle, where they’ve had exactly zero fun.

Just when we thought a turnaround was possible, the lowly Atlanta Falcons ran the Vikings out of US Bank Stadium the week after firing their coach.

Wins against Carolina and Jacksonville were somewhat exciting but unfulfilling considering those two teams were among the worst in the NFL. A glimmer of hope for a playoff berth was dashed by late losses to Dallas and Chicago and then the Vikings gave up 52 points to the Saints on Christmas day.

Rough might actually be an understatement. Vikings fans didn’t even get to enjoy Christmas.

This offseason has offered some flickers of excitement. Patrick Peterson is destined for the Hall of Fame so adding a big name always brings along some buzz. Dalvin Tomlinson is good at football. Xavier Woods was a good bang-for-buck signing. But nothing has ignited Vikings fans into a ferver yet.

The independent voices haven’t exactly started planning a parade. DraftKings Sportsbook has them at 8.5 wins. Pro Football Focus rated them the 19th best overall roster heading into the draft.

Nothing has given Vikings fans the hope that they’ve been forced to thrive off for decades.

Until Thursday.

If you haven’t been reading every mock draft and studying all the prospects and possibilities for the Vikings this year, you’ve missed quite the jubilee of speculation. Trade up? Trade down? Beef up the offensive line? What about the five projected first round quarterbacks? What about mid-round quarterbacks? Would Mike Zimmer really draft another cornerback?

The Vikings have sat on the sidelines while the 49ers traded up to the third overall pick and the Denver Broncos acquired Teddy Bridgewater but the sheer amount of movement only builds the drama surrounding the 14th overall pick.

In recent years we have gone into draft night with a pretty good idea of the Vikings’ direction. Last year it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would pick a receiver and cornerback because of Diggs’s and Xavier Rhodes’s exits. In 2019, a future tight end and run-blocking lineman seemed pretty straight forward. This time alone the intrigue is enough to surpass whatever the most exciting thing that happened in the 2020 football season outside of Jefferson’s highlight reel.

The last time we were somewhat surprised was 2018 when the Vikings picked Mike Hughes in the first despite calls for offensive line improvement (they picked Brian O’Neill in the second round).

Even if we go back to 2016 and 2017, the Vikings’ first selections were pretty predictable. They felt they needed a receiver and grabbed Laquon Treadwell in ‘16 and lost Adrian Peterson so they went with Dalvin Cook in ‘17.

If we look a few years into Mike Zimmer’s crystal ball, there are so many options that are defensible. An offensive line selection might bring about a celebration downtown because fans have been so frustrated with pass protection struggles in recent years. There’s also the lingering potential for a shocking quarterback pick at 14 because Kirk Cousins’s contract is up in 2022. And then there’s a question of whether they would pick an exciting offensive weapon based solely on “best player available.”

GM Rick Spielman said on Tuesday that the Vikings have the draft capital to move up or down, depending on their options, which makes it sound like nobody knows exactly how this thing is going to play out. When you add the uncertainty of the top 10 picks and the wrench of five quarterbacks thrown into the mix, it seems anything could happen.

Maybe it will be another cornerback and Vikings fans will be disappointed (even though the pick would make sense). Even then, it would at very least come as a surprise. There hasn’t been a lot of surprises recently either.

So if they don’t pick exactly who you wanted them to pick on Thursday, at least appreciate that this draft provided a lot of anticipation and intrigue. Have fun with Christmas in April because -- as we found out last year -- it might be the most fun night of the season. Unless the Vikings nail it on Thursday, of course. 

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