Obviously Anthony Barr and Ted Bridgewater were the star selections of the Minnesota Vikings 2014 draft.
But the team did pick 8 other players and some of them will hopefully become key players for the Vikings in the future. What follows are 3 players who appear to have flown under the radar a bit among Vikings fans, and who I'm particularly interested in hearing about as training camp begins in late July and the exhibition games start in August. Feel free to give me your opinion of other players you're anxious to see perform in the comments section.
Scott Crichton: In my "Get to Know 'Em" NFL draft series, I identified defensive end as a position the Vikings need more help at. I thought they might seek that help in the 3rd or 4th round of the NFL draft. It turns out I got the need and the round they'd draft a DE right, but not the player they'd draft.
Some draft boards had Crichton as the 5th best defensive end in the draft and the Vikes got him in the top of the 3rd round. He works hard and was extremely productive at Oregon State for three years (22.5 sacks). If Brian Robison slows down in two or three years time or Everson Griffen doesn't live up to his new contract, Crichton is a guy who could take their place. And don't forget Mike Zimmer likes to rotate his defensive ends a lot. Robison and Griffen won't be playing 90 per cent of the snaps like the starting ends did when Leslie Frazier was coaching the defense. We're likely to get some good looks at what Crichton can do starting in game one of the Vikings season.
Antone Exum: NFL teams are looking for the next Earl Thomas - a safety who can hit hard but can also cover guys off the line of scrimmage. One way to find this type of player (although I think Thomas is the kind of talent that is hard to replicate) is to take a cornerback and turn him into a safety. That's what the Vikings are trying to do with Exum. He was a starting cornerback at Virginia Tech who hardly played in 2013 after tearing an ACL in January of 2013. He missed the first seven weeks of the 2013 season, and then sprained his ankle in his third game back and missed the rest of the year.
However, in 2012 who had 16 pass break ups and 5 interceptions in 13 games as a starting cornerback. Exum comes with some injury and character concerns (his commitment to football has been questioned in the past), but he's got talent and he also played safety earlier in his college career, so the position isn't totally new to him. This is the kind of player you take a chance on in the latter rounds of the draft. The Vikes have quite a few safeties on the roster, and I'm fine with Jamarca Sanford starting opposite Harrison Smith. Yet Sanford, Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman don't have the ability to cover receivers one-on-one. Exum has that potential. If he pans out he could be a nice complimentary piece to Smith at the safety spot in a season or two.
Brandon Watts: He was the 223rd pick in the 2014 draft, and like most 7th round picks, Watts will probably never amount to much as an NFL player. But he's a linebacker who also ran a 4.42 40 at the combine. I bet he's faster than most of the Vikings receivers and running backs. That's what makes him intriguing to me. I've read a couple of scouting reports on Watts and he's described as a guy who can go sideline-to-sideline quickly (not surprising for a guy with 4.42 speed) and a linebacker who can turn and run with tight ends easily and drop into coverage well. He's also described as a guy who gives his all on every play. What he doesn't have is great instincts for the position, which is not a small problem.
It's the ability to cover tight ends and running backs that has me interested in Watts. Is there another linebacker currently on the Vikings roster that has his speed and potential in pass coverage? Nope. I don't expect we'll hear much from Watts in 2014. If he makes the team at all it will probably be for his special teams play. But give him some time to learn under Mike Zimmer and company and maybe by 2015 Watts is a guy playing on obvious passing downs with responsibility for covering tight ends in space. And maybe by 2016 he's playing an even greater role for the Vikings. Maybe. Possibly.
Note: I considered including some thoughts on 5th round pick David Yankey, but most Viking fans and draft followers already thought Yankey was a fantastic pick when the selection was made. So I don't think he's flown under the radar as much as the three guys I wrote about above. But by all means, feel free to disagree with me in the comments section.