With a 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, coming out of an SEC school in the middle rounds of the draft, the Minnesota Vikings had an ideal model in mind for South Carolina defensive end D.J. Wonnum.
That’s Danielle Hunter, who became last year the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks.
Wonnum, who was Minnesota’s first pick on Saturday in the fourth round, will require plenty of development to even come close to the trajectory Hunter has been on since he was taken in the third round out of LSU in 2015. The Vikings have long believed in and benefited from their ability to maximize production out of defensive players, though, so Wonnum made plenty of sense at the 117th overall selection. The departure in free agency of starter Everson Griffen and backup Stephen Weatherly made that position important to fill through the draft.
”Definitely, the measurables are close. I think Danielle might have been a little bit faster as far as straight-ahead 40, but this guy is a self-made . leader,” college scouting director Jamaal Stephenson said. ”We had a chance to talk to his head coach down there, and they just raved about the kid.”
Wonnum’s conversation at the NFL scouting combine with defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who’s now the co-defensive coordinator, included references to Hunter.
”He told me I had the tools. I’ve just got to bring it out of me,” Wonnum said.
Thirteen picks after Wonnum, the Vikings added another promising prospect for their front four with Baylor defensive tackle James Lynch. He accumulated 22 career sacks in three seasons, including 13 1/2 sacks in 2019, both program records. The Vikings still have Shamar Stephen and some other draft picks from recent years in the mix at the position known in schematic jargon as the 3-technique, but Lynch ought to push for playing time immediately.
”I feel like playing inside is my natural position, and I bring a mismatch to offensive guards and whoever I’m going against,” Lynch said. ”I can do different things to confuse them and try to get to the quarterback as fast as I can.”
Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes rounded out the reinforcement of the front line. Oregon linebacker Troy Dye was the last of Minnesota’s trio of fourth-round picks. In the fifth round, the Vikings took Temple cornerback Harrison Hand and Miami wide receiver K.J. Osborn. In the sixth, they selected Oregon State tackle Blake Brandel and Michigan safety Josh Metellus. Their seventh-round choices were Willekes, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, Mississippi State safety Brian Cole and Washburn guard Kyle Hinton.
After making two picks in the first round on Thursday, one in the second round and one in the third round on Friday, the Vikings started on Saturday with a whopping 13 selections. They wound up with 11 players, stashing two picks away for 2021 in trades with Chicago (fourth round) and Baltimore (fifth round). They now have three fourth-rounders next year.
With 15 players, the Vikings made more picks than any team since the draft was trimmed to seven rounds in 1994. Cleveland made 14 selections in 2016. General manager Rick Spielman, who has long valued quantity in the draft, was glowing afterward – particularly given the extra challenge of conducting the entire operation via video conferencing due to the coronavirus-imposed sequestering at home for all staff.
”We did not have any glitches at all throughout the whole process,” Spielman said.
The Vikings largely addressed their most pressing needs, starting with three cornerbacks and two safeties. They chose three offensive linemen, though Hinton, from a Division II program, was the only guard, the spot of greatest concern. Dru Samia, a fourth-round pick last year, will figure heavily into the interior competition with Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier and perhaps Hinton.
The Vikings made Stanley, a three-year starter who went 27-12 and finished second in program history with 68 career touchdown passes, their first quarterback drafted since Teddy Bridgewater in the first round in 2014. The last time the Vikings used a pick after the first day of the draft on a quarterback was John David Booty in the fifth round in 2008. Stanley, who will compete with Jake Browning for the No. 3 spot behind Kirk Cousins and Sean Mannion, threw only 23 career interceptions in an offensive scheme at Iowa with some similarities to the Vikings.
Osborn will factor in to the mix at a suddenly inexperienced wide receiver group beyond Adam Thielen that was enhanced on Thursday by LSU’s Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick. Osborn also has significant special teams ability, including returning both kickoffs and punts, and his off-the-field interests are among the most unique of this class.
He’s been pursuing his master’s degree in criminal justice, with a post-football goal of working for the FBI or the Secret Service.
”I’m not really sure if I should be announcing that,” he said, jokingly, then adding: ”I want to be the guy going in there helping save lives and protect the president and protect the country.”
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