Whereas the New York Jets relentlessly drafted offensive players and the Dallas Cowboys drafted for defense, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t have a clean, linear philosophy in the 2021 NFL draft. That’s not a problem. What matters is the particular set of selections Minnesota made.
Let’s look at what Vikings general manager Rick Spielman did in the 2021 NFL draft, highlighting his best moves.
Vikings NFL draft chess moves:
3. Chazz Surratt, linebacker, North Carolina
The fascinating part of this pick — at No. 78 midway through Day 2 of the draft on Friday, April 30 — is that Chazz Surratt used to be a quarterback who was converted to linebacker. This gives Surratt a unique feel for the game and an extra appreciation for what quarterbacks see and perceive before the snap. Surratt is an excellent student of the game, a player who can make the right pre-snap read and consistently get the Vikings into the appropriate alignment.
Mike Zimmer is a superb defensive coach. He can always use intelligent players who can cover a lot of real estate and diagnose plays before they happen. Surratt might not be as strong as other NFL linebackers, but he is very fast. He will be especially valuable in pass coverage against running backs or tight ends. He can become a versatile piece which adds to the defense the Vikings have assembled.
2. Wyatt Davis, offensive lineman, Ohio State
The Vikings definitely had to address their offensive line in this draft. They went for reinforcements here at No. 86 in the third round with Davis, out of Ohio State. Rick Spielman picked Davis despite the fact that Davis had suffered a knee injury. Clearly, Minnesota’s pre-draft research and medical evaluations led the organization to think that this injury would not be a significant limiting factor on the field.
Assuming Davis can stay healthy and robust, this is an extra measure of insurance for Kirk Cousins, a shaky if gifted quarterback who produces flourishes of brilliance but lacks the consistency the Vikings need in order to take the next step as a franchise. To be precise, that next step is to win the NFC North and host multiple playoff games, instead of being stuck behind the Green Bay Packers and — as was the case last season — the Chicago Bears. For a player taken outside the top 85, Wyatt Davis could figure prominently in an NFL team’s plans for the coming season and beyond.
1. Christian Darrisaw, offensive lineman, Virginia Tech
The best thing the Vikings did in the draft was to get Darrisaw, one of the best offensive linemen in the 2021 NFL draft class, at a comparatively lower position than many expected. Some mock drafts had Darrisaw going in the top 15 to 20 picks, so the fact that the Vikes nabbed the Virginia Tech Hokie at 23 represents great value. They won’t have to pay nearly as much for Darrisaw as they would have if they had kept their No. 14 pick (which they traded to the New York Jets, who took Alijah Vera-Tucker — another offensive lineman — with that 14th selection).
Beyond the ability to get Darrisaw at 23 instead of 14, the Vikings got a quality player. Virginia Tech had a strong offensive line last season. The Hokies struggled at quarterback but got all the line play they could have asked for.
The Vikings’ offensive line has been a significant weakness in recent years. The combination of the O-line and Kirk Cousins has kept Minnesota from reaching its potential as a team. The defense wobbled at times in 2020, but the quarterback and the offensive line remain the top concerns for this team.
If the Wyatt Davis pick at 86 gave the Vikings insurance for Cousins, the Darrisaw pick was the more significant up-front investment in the 2021 NFL draft.