Jim Souhan: By not making mistakes, Vikings lead NFC North in draft success

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MINNEAPOLIS — During the Vikings’ glory years, the team’s top personnel experts favored a motto that was based on coach Bud Grant’s stoic demeanor and patient approach:

“We’ll just hang in there until everyone else in the division falls apart.”

During the 2020 NFL draft, the Vikings appeared take a number of quality players who fill needs. More important for their immediate future: They honored Grant and the glory days by refusing to do anything stupid. That alone set them apart from the rest of the NFC North.

Feel free to mutter the usual disclaimers: No one knows how these picks or draft classes will turn out. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. Good college players flame out in the NFL all the time. Fine.

While none of us can predict the future, we can always assess real-time logic. The Vikings made use of it. Their closest competitors did not.

The Vikings needed help at cornerback, offensive line and receiver, and took productive college players at each position. That might be enough to win the division in 2020.

The Green Bay Packers, the defending NFC North champions, traded up in the first round to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.

Does that remind you of the time the Packers took Aaron Rodgers? It shouldn’t.

In 2005, Rodgers was the most polished pro-style quarterback in the draft. The 49ers took a pretty good quarterback, Alex Smith, with the first pick in the draft. They should have taken Rogers, as should have every other team in the draft, including the Vikings, who chose Troy Williamson with the seventh pick.

Instead, Rodgers fell to the Packers at No. 24.

Love is not comparable to Rodgers. The Packers traded the 30th pick in the draft and a fourth-rounder to move up four spots to take Love at No. 26. Given that Rodgers wants to play until he’s at least 40 and he remains one of the best players in the game, this move could cause problems between the organization and Rodgers, and Love is much more of a project than Rodgers was.

With their second-round pick, the Packers chose Boston College running back A.J. Dillon. At best, Dillon will pair nicely with starting running back Aaron Jones, but using a second-round pick to get an alternate running back for a passing offense that lacks receivers is almost as wacky as taking Love with the 26th pick.

The Packers were in the NFC title game last year and did nothing to put themselves closer to a championship. My early prediction: This draft will move the Vikings ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North standings. Which would guarantee a division title, given the moves made by their other competitors.

The Chicago Bears, two years removed from their division title, didn’t have a first-round pick because of their trade for Khalil Mack. They used their second-round pick to add a 10th tight end to the roster. Cole Kmet had better look like Rob Gronkowski, otherwise that will look like a silly decision for a long time.

Then there are the Detroit Lions. They have had one coach with a winning percentage better than .500 over multiple seasons since Joe Schmidt in the early ’70s. That coach was Jim Caldwell (.563 winning percentage). They fired him to hire Matt Patricia (.297 winning percentage.) They don’t know what they’re doing.

Proof: Patricia ran off a star cornerback in Darius Slay, then had to use his first draft pick to try to replace Slay. Jeff Okudah might be a good pick, but at best he replaces Slay.

The Vikings needed productive plug-and-play athletes, and landed a handful, while their competitors outsmarted themselves. When Bud Grant takes a break from shooting animals to hang on Mike Zimmer’s wall, he may allow himself a smile.


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