NFC North Rookie Preview: Minnesota Vikings (Offense)

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Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

#14 WR Stephan Diggs (Maryland, 5th round)

One of my favorite day 3 picks. Diggs probably should have went back to school and may have been an early day 2 pick if he had, but Vikings took advantage of his poor decision and got a potentially dangerous playmaker in round 5. Diggs is an explosive receiver who is a threat to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball. His receiving technique needs some work, but he is big (6’0 | 195) and fast (4.46) enough to eventually become a weapon as receiver.

I expect Diggs to eventually see some snaps in the slot, but early on he could be a dynamic kick and punt returner. Injuries have been a bit of a concern with Diggs whose season was cut short by a lacerated kidney last year, but he is one of the quickest players coming out of this year’s draft with elite change-of-direction skills. I know it’s a stretch, but Diggs skill-set reminds me of a poor man’s Randall Cobb. Diggs is at best the Vikings 5th WR, so probably won’t see many offensive snaps this season, but has the potential to be an impact player before the end of his rookie deal.

#72 OT Tyrus Thompson (Oklahoma, 6th round)

Another of my favorite day 3 picks, Thompson was a day 2 talent who fell due to concerns over his work ethic and lack of strength. Despite those concerns, Thompson has a lot of talent and was very effective as the Sooners starting left tackle. He has prototype size (6’5 | 324) and arm length (34 7/8″) and at times, like his matchup against Baylor’s Shawn Oakman, dominated the best competition CFB had to offer. Thompson wasn’t consistent though, following dominant performances with lackluster ones too often.

When Thompson is on his game he uses quick feet, long arms, above-average strength and surprising lateral agility to stone defenders in pass protection. He’s not as proficient in the running game, but has good power and the agility to seal off defenders on the 2nd level. When playing up to his potential, he’s a legit starting tackle prospect, the problem is that he plays below his talent level way too often and sometimes doesn’t appear to be giving 100% (or even 50%) on the field. If the Vikings can find a way to motivate Thompson consistently, he could give starting LT Matt Kalil a run for his job. If not, Thompson could be out of the league in a few years.

#74 OT Austin Shepard (Alabama, 7th round)

Was an effective right tackle for the Crimson Tide but lacks NFL athleticism, strength and has sub-par arm length. I thought Shepard was a lock to be at worst a day 3 pick, but after the 2nd worst bench press and 7th shortest arm length of all O-linemen at the combine I wasn’t surprised Shepard dropped out of the draft. The Vikings signed him as an undrafted free agent and Shepard does have some traits that could earn him an NFL future.

Shepard had solid fundamentals with good feet in pass pro and an innate understanding of blocking angles in the run game. He will most likely have to move inside to guard due to his short arms, but that is the thinnest position on the Vikes O-line which may give Shepard a better chance to contribute early in his career. Shepard is considered an afterthought by most, but he was successful as a tackle in the SEC which is nothing to scoff at. His arms aren’t going to grow, but if Shepard can add bulk and get stronger, he has a shot to become a solid NFL guard.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

#9 WR Jordan Leslie (BYU, UDFA)

Wide receiver is no longer a week spot for the Vikings after the free agent signing of Mike Wallace and the development of Charles Johnson. 2013 1st rounder Cordarelle Patterson is now the 4th WR on the depth chart and 5th round pick Stephan Diggs is ahead of Leslie for now at least. One thing Leslie has in his favor is elite size (6’3 | 215) and speed (4.41). What he doesn’t have is a track record of production to match his physical traits. Leslie never had a college season with a thousand yards or over 55 catches, though he was fairly consistent finding the end zone with 6-7 TDs in each of his last three seasons. I thought Leslie would get drafted based on his size/speed ratio and the Vikings could have yet another solid rookie from this year’s class.

#6 QB Taylor Heinicke (Old Dominion, UDFA)

The Vikings are set at QB with Teddy Bridgewater and veteran back-up Shaun Hill, but are lacking a 3rd QB to develop. Old Dominion isn’t a traditional football power, but they have been a dangerous team the last few seasons due to Heinicke. He lacks prototype NFL size (6’1 | 213) and arm strength, but has above-average pocket awareness and accuracy. Moxie is the best word I can find to describe Heinicke’s best trait. He makes the right throw in clutch situations and has a knack for using his feet to find the right passing windows. Despite his impressive skill-set, he’s small with a weak arm and will have to set the world on fire in the preseason to have a shot at sticking around on the Vikings roster. The fact that the Vikings don’t have a developmental QB besides Mike Kafka gives Heinicke a shot to make the practice squad, but his long term prospects are bleak.

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