The Vikings have built a strong roster largely through quality drafting and talent evaluation. Most of their best assets were drafted or signed as rookies with very few exceptions. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how this year’s crop of rookies fit into that resume.
We will assign grades to the Vikings’ eight draft selections and the five undrafted rookies who contributed substantial time to the active roster this year. Also, these grades are relative to their rookie status, so there is a bit of a grading curve when evaluating their season.
Mike Hughes: B
Hughes’ Vikings career got out to a rip-roaring start as he returned an interception for a touchdown in his NFL debut. From there, his season showed good and bad. Hughes had to adjust to playing a lot of nickel as well as outside, with mixed results. His athleticism and physicality give him clear upside, and he demonstrated strong play-making ability. However, he also had occasional coverage lapses before his season was cut short by a torn ACL in week six. Overall, while his rookie season did not go exactly as he would have liked, fans have to be optimistic about Hughes going forward.
Brian O’Neill: B+
The greatest compliment to O’Neill’s season is that he is far is ahead of schedule. O’Neill was viewed as a project: a big, athletic tackle who lacked strength and technique to be an immediate starter. As it turned out, O’Neill became the starter far earlier than planned, and provided an upgrade to the right tackle position. He still has work to do in the run game, and he is a bit vulnerable to bull rushes. Still, he did not allow a single sack all season and was one of the few bright spots along the Vikings line.
Jalyn Holmes: C
As far as Sundays go, Holmes’ contributions were minimal. He only played in five games, recording just one sack. While he made the 53-man roster out of camp, he was inactive more often than not on game day. That said, Holmes showed some flashes as an interior pass rusher in preseason, and the fact that he was able to make the switch from end to tackle relatively seamlessly is commendable. With another year of development, Holmes has enough upside to expect him to contribute in the future.
Tyler Conklin: B-
As a receiving tight end, Conklin’s season was nothing to write home about. He saw only seven targets, catching five for 77 yards with his best game coming against Miami in week 15, where he caught two for 53. The thing that elevates Conklin’s grade a bit was his performance as a run blocker. The Vikings usual blocking tight end, David Morgan, missed a significant chunk of the season due to injury. Conklin filled Morgan’s role reasonably well, showing surprising polish as a blocker.
Carlson’s full season merits arguably an A grade. He was an excellent kicker this year for Oakland. Problem is that the team that drafted him reaped none of those rewards, and ultimately lost a game largely due to his misses. Whatever blame is assigned for the Vikings’ tie in Green Bay week two, fans will remember it as the game Carlson missed three kicks, including the potential game-winner from 35 yards. Getting cut after two games gets you an F grade.
Another failed draft pick who found footing with another team. Gossett was a sixth-round pick, and there was optimism he would make the roster out of camp. Alas, that did not happen and he landed on the Vikings’ practice squad. The Cardinals signed him to their active roster in October and Gossett ended up starting their last four games.
Ade Aruna: N/A
Aruna looked like he had an outside shot to make the 53-man roster, given his early preseason performance. However, he tore his ACL in preseason week two, and ultimately was placed on injured reserve. Since his failure to make a roster spot was not necessarily due to performance, we will not give Aruna a grade.
Devante Downs: C+
Downs joined the ranks of Jayron Kearse and Stephen Weatherly as seventh-round picks who became contributors for the Vikings. Downs was primarily just a special teamer this season, but he played in 11 games and recorded a handful of tackles in his limited action.
Holton Hill: B
There are not many undrafted rookies who get called upon as often as Hill did this year. At first, he was mostly a gunner and return man. But as corners went down with injuries, Hill suddenly became the go-to replacement. He ended up starteingthree games, played in all 16 and was an altogether reliable fourth corner much of the season. Some key lapses in coverage broke the Vikings down a bit, but that is to be expected for someone as raw as Hill. Overall, this was a strong season for him.
Mike Boone: C
Boone was remarkably productive in preseason, earning himself a roster spot. During the season, however, his role was pretty limited. The Vikings largely stuck with their top two backs, leaving Boone inactive more often than not. Overall, he played in eights games, recording 48 yards on 13 touches.
Roc Thomas: C
Thomas was in the same boat as Boone in preseason. He made some big plays, creating some surprising drama between the two for the final running back spot. Both ended up earning 53-man spots, against expectations. Like Boone, Thomas’ production was limited to the games Dalvin Cook missed. He finished with 51 yards on 10 touches in five games before being relegated to the practice squad.
Chad Beebe: C
The preseason fan favorite, Beebe and Zylstra fought tooth-and-nail for the Vikings last receiver spot coming out of camp. Zylstra’s special teams value ended earning him the selection over Beebe. Beebe still made the practice squad, and eventually elevated to the gameday roster for three games due to injury. In those three games, he caught all four of his targets for 39 yards.
Brandon Zylstra: C+
While Beebe provided more receiving production, Zylstra gets the extra bump in grade for being a useful special teams piece. He only caught one pass for 23 yards, but Zylstra also played in all 16 games and returned five kicks during the course of the season.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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