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Coller: When is it OK to judge the Vikings' draft class?

Read Matthew Coller's column every Thursday at Bring Me The News.
Kellen Mond

Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.

At the end of the NFL Draft, every fan base believes that their team nailed it.

The next morning the experts weigh in and teams write up new depth charts with their valued new assets written in pencil as starters or second-stringers.

Of course, you’ll also hear the draft cynics telling everyone to cool the jets. Someone will inevitably write that you can’t judge a draft class until three years after it’s over.

So you’re all free to grade the Vikings’ 2018 draft now. Have at it!

In reality, even if the book on a class isn’t fully written for a few years, judgments can be made much quicker about how a team’s top selections are turning out.

On draft night it appeared the Minnesota Vikings fixed their offensive line, found an immediate backup QB with long-term potential and snagged a pass rusher or two with a chance to turn into a situational player right away.

One month after the beginning of camp, first-round pick Christian Darrisaw hasn’t practiced yet, Kellen Mond is the No. 3 quarterback with a 43% completion percentage in preseason, Wyatt Davis isn’t in the competition for the starting right guard spot, the Vikings brought back Everson Griffen to bolster their pass rush and Janarius Robinson was placed on IR.

Laying it out that way isn’t to suggest that the draft class has gone up in flames but it shows the dangers of betting on a draft class to quickly jump into the fire.

You could easily see Darrisaw developing into a starting left tackle at some point and Mond getting to the point where he’s trusted as the No. 2 and Davis earning a spot someday.

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Since those things didn’t happen right away, Rashod Hill is set to start at left tackle, Oli Udoh is moving to guard and the backup QB situation is still unclear. It sounded from Mike Zimmer’s comments following the Vikings’ second preseason game that the team would consider looking at veteran backup QBs but there are “monetary” reasons that they might not bring one in.

The domino effect looks like this: While Hill has shown to be one of the better swing tackles in the NFL, he hasn’t played a full season against the league’s most dangerous pass rushers. If he falters and the Vikings bring in Darrisaw, he’ll be tossed into the wolves’ den without any preseason action to get ramped up to pro speed. We’ve seen some rookie tackles succeed in recent years but many have sputtered from the start -- and they weren’t coming off nagging groin injuries.

It’s hard to say whether the right guard situation will play out in the Vikings’ favor. Udoh has a huge frame and unique athleticism but he was also inactive for much of last season and just started playing guard in this year’s camp. When the Vikings attempted to move experienced players like Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers to different positions, it didn’t go as planned. There are bound to be bumps along the way for Udoh.

It’s also hard to predict whether the backup quarterback will be needed at any point. Kirk Cousins hasn’t missed a game due to injury for his entire starting career but this year is different. Consult the elephant in the room throughout camp for more details on that one.

Jake Browning has shown in practice that he can master the offense but hasn’t been able to translate that to even three-quarters game speed during his two preseason games. Now the Vikings are in position to either sign someone else or hope that either Browning or Mond can handle a game or two in case of emergency. But they have to deal with the reality that any extended absence for Cousins would not have 2017ish results.

All of these things highlight how difficult it can be to work around an expensive quarterback contract. In order to build a deep roster with Cousins as the second highest paid QB (in terms of cap hit), draft picks have to hit and oftentimes they have to hit right away.

That didn’t happen last year aside from Justin Jefferson. They ended up starting two rookie cornerbacks in 2020 -- one of which has already been cut after being indicted on domestic violence charges and the other has dropped down the depth chart. The tackle they drafted in 2020 started half the year at right guard and had lots of ups and downs. The Vikings asked DJ Wonnum to play a big number of snaps and Troy Dye to fill in at LB3 when Anthony Barr was out. Neither was ready for those roles.

Even a year later the contributions of the 2020 class -- again, aside from Jefferson -- are questionable.

Now the Vikings did find a way to sign a number of players this offseason but they did so to fill starting spots. They aren’t in a place to build out their depth to two levels of quality in any other way but through the draft.

It’s tough to say whether bad luck or bad process is to blame when it comes to the draft. And it isn’t time to declare the book written on the 2020 or 2021 class. But the struggle to contribute immediately means the Vikings are now in a position to hope and pray for good health for the starters.

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