Monday, Sep. 20, 2021

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Zim Looks for New WR to Play Now


Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer made known his expectations for first round draft choice Justin Jefferson last night on KFAN Radio. “He’ll be able to come in and should be able to play right away.”

The Vikings selected the former LSU wide receiver at No. 22 in last night’s NFL Draft. Zimmer praised Jefferson’s ability to play inside and outside in an offense. He also mentioned Jefferson’s work ethic in practice, competitive nature and intelligence.

Jefferson has a reputation for making difficult catches and the Vikings considered him one of the best wide receivers in the draft. “Quite honestly, we tried to move up and were hoping that he would be there,” Zimmer said.

Minnesota acquired another first rounder in TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney at No. 31. Zimmer told KFAN the 5-foot-10 Gladney needs improvement with his playing technique but expressed enthusiasm about his new defensive player.

Mike Zimmer

“He’s very quick. Good accelerator, has a lot of speed,” Zimmer said. “He’s a little on the shorter side. (But) of some of the other guys (in the draft) he had longer arms and longer wing span. But he’s a very competitive kid… .”

Will Jefferson and Gladney ultimately be judged as productive players for the franchise? General manager Rick Spielman is in his ninth season with the Vikings and led last night’s opening round decisions. Looking at his eight previous drafts, Spielman hit the success button more often than not, but a few misses standout now when the Vikings have needs at cornerback and wide receiver.

Cornerback Trae Waynes and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell were first round selections in 2015 and 2016. Neither is with the team and they didn’t even come close to being impact contributors for Minnesota. Spielman drafted cornerback Mike Hughes No. 1 in 2018 and while opportunity waits in 2020, Hughes has struggled with injuries and has made only five career starts at a position of ongoing need.

Those three players haven’t benefitted Minnesota much, but five others have from earlier drafts. That includes last year when the Vikings made Garrett Bradbury the highest drafted center in franchise history at No. 18 in the first round. He was a starter in his rookie year and while evaluators say he has lots to improve on, he’s a first round success story right now.

The Vikings didn’t have a No. 1 pick in 2017 but let’s count running back Dalvin Cook to Spielman’s credit. At No. 41 in the second round he was the first player chosen by the Vikings that year, and he is the team’s best weapon on offense.

Spielman had two first rounders in 2014, linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. At No. 9 in the first round of the draft, Barr was the second highest linebacker the franchise ever drafted and has been a Pro Bowler. Bridgewater was on track to become the club’s starting quarterback for years until a devastating knee injury in 2016 eventually caused the Vikings to move on.

Spielman maneuvered for three first rounders in 2013 in this order: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver-kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. All three gave the Vikings help, with Rhodes becoming (at times) a shutdown cornerback playing one of the most important positions in the NFL.

The Vikings didn’t hit a homerun with their No. 4 pick in 2012, selecting offensive tackle Matt Kalil, but no one will deny Spielman a gold star for choosing safety Harrison Smith with the No. 29 selection of the first round. Smith is still a starter and has consistently been rated among the NFL’s better defensive players. In 2017 Pro Football Focus ranked him the third best player in the league.

From 2012-2015 Kalil started 64 consecutive games for Minnesota but is no longer with the team, and he never fulfilled the expectations of a No. 4 overall pick.

Worth Noting

With NFL teams done with the draft after Saturday, they will focus even more on college free agents and veteran NFL free agents. It could be a telling week for 32-year-old Everson Griffen who was once an All-Pro defensive end and opted for free agent status last month. Probably a long shot the Vikings will re-sign him.

Former Gopher All-American safety Antoine Winfield Jr. will likely be chosen in the second round of tonight’s continuing NFL Draft. Dan O’Brien, now head football coach at St. Thomas Academy, was a Gophers assistant coach when Minnesota recruited him. Winfield was only a three-star recruit out of high school in Texas but O’Brien said the Gopher coaches knew after the first couple of practices the freshman was going to be an impact player.

“He just had fantastic instincts,” O’Brien said. “It seemed like he would read the quarterback as good as any kid we had, even though he was just a freshman. He was one of those players that just was always in the right spot.”

With 13 verbal commits, including four four-star players, the 2021 Gophers football recruiting class is second in the Big Ten and No. 5 nationally in the latest 247Sports rankings.

Condolences to family and friends of former Gopher and Viking star lineman Milt Sunde from Bloomington, who died this week. Sunde, the Gopher team captain, played his last college game on the surprise date of Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963. The game against Wisconsin at old Memorial Stadium had been moved from the original playing date of November 24 following the November 22 assassination of President John Kennedy. The Vikings drafted Sunde in the 20th round of the 1964 NFL Draft but he had a surprisingly successful career playing for 11 seasons for his hometown team.

Kerwin Walton, the four-star wing from Hopkins, is expected to announce his college choice Saturday. It’s believed his finalists are Arizona, Creighton, Minnesota and North Carolina. After following Walton’s recruiting, the guess here is Arizona will be the choice because of the Wildcats profile as a college heavyweight and the positive experience Zeke Nnjai, a former Hopkins teammate, had this season with the Pac-12 program.

This week projected Nnaji, a power forward, being selected at No. 22 in the first round. Gopher center Daniel Oturu is projected at No. 10, with Apple Valley point guard alum Tre Jones a second round pick at No. 41.

The NCAA has pushed its vote back to June regarding a new policy allowing a one-time immediate eligibility for athletes transferring from one school to another. Even if the policy is approved, it seems likely not to be implemented until the 2021-2022 school year given the late timing and upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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