Vikings stick with offensive approach on draft’s third day
By Brian Hall
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Kirk Cousins’ first season in Minnesota was a letdown for a Vikings’ team full of Super Bowl aspirations, mainly because the offense underwhelmed and couldn’t support another top-five defense.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman set out to help Cousins — the $84 million franchise quarterback — and the offense in this year’s draft, continuing an offensive-heavy approach as Day 3 wrapped up on Saturday.
After taking first-round center Garrett Bradbury, second-round tight end Irv Smith and third-round running back Alexander Mattison, the Vikings started the final day by drafting Oklahoma offensive lineman Dru Samia in the fourth round after trading up to the 114th pick with Seattle.
“Offense was kind of a point of emphasis, and we were never going to pass up a defensive guy if he’s sticking that high on our board, and one of those guys would have fell,” Spielman said after the draft.
“We were never going to not take the best player. But as we went down through the draft, I thought it fell very well for us on the players that we did get on the offensive side.”
It’s the first time Minnesota has used its first four picks in a draft on offense since 1965. In all, the Vikings used seven of their 12 selections to address the offensive side.
Minnesota finished 20th in yards and 19th in points last season. Meanwhile, it was 30th in the league in rushing despite the presence of Dalvin Cook.
“We need to run the ball,” Spielman said. “We need to be better on offense, and that’s where we needed the help. … we don’t have a lot of defensive needs from a starter position.”
Remaking the line was a necessity and the Vikings should have two new starters. Bradbury could figure in at center and Samia will join the competition at guard where free-agent signee Josh Kline is considered to be the lead option at right guard.
“He was an unbelievable interview at the combine, maybe one of the toughest competitors we’ve seen on tape on how he finishes,” Spielman said of Samia. “He fits the zone scheme very well. He has a few technical flaws to clean up, but we think that is correctable with coaching.”
WHO THEY GOT
After trading up for Samia in the fourth round, Spielman still had a slew of later picks after a series of trades. Minnesota traded down four times in the third round on Friday and had seven picks in the final two rounds.
The 12 selections were the most for the organization since the seven-round draft format began in 1994. Linebacker Cameron Smith from USC was the first defensive pick for Minnesota at No. 162 in the fifth round.
Arkansas defensive tackle Armon Watts was selected 190th overall, starting a span of three picks in four spots in the sixth round for Minnesota. Wyoming safety Marcus Epps and Elon offensive tackle Olisaemeka Udoh followed.
The seventh round brought Texas cornerback Kris Boyd, Oregon receiver Dillon Mitchell, Colorado State receiver Olabisi Johnson and Air Force long snapper Austin Cutting.
LIKE A FINE WINE
Smith comes to Minnesota after leading USC in tackles for three straight seasons, the first Trojans linebacker to do so since Dennis Johnson from 1977-79. But it’s his off-field interest that really makes Smith unique.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker has an interest in winemaking and interned at the Melville Winery in California in 2017. He said he appreciates the science of winemaking and is fascinated by the agriculture and farming aspect.
“I still feel like most people look at me like I am going to be a big body heavy cabernet,” Smith said of his preferences. “I just like the lighter, prettier looking pinot noirs that taste really good to me. That whole cluster that adds just a little more veggie to it that I think tastes great. It’s something that it’s always important to have a life outside of football and be ready for whatever happens.”
HOW THEY DID
Minnesota paid attention to its offensive needs, particularly along the line. The biggest remaining needs are depth at cornerback, receiver and defensive line.
Perhaps the biggest lingering question is at tight end, where longtime standout Kyle Rudolph is a $7.625 million cap hit for a team close to the salary cap and Minnesota added Smith.
Boyd was the only cornerback drafted in a spot where Minnesota has last year’s first-round pick, Mike Hughes, still rehabbing from knee surgery and Holton Hill suspended for the first four games. Two seventh-round receivers likely won’t be ready to step in where former first-rounder Laquon Treadwell has been a disappointment.