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Judd Zulgad

Zulgad: Seventeen Vikings drafts later, here’s the top pick from each round

This year will mark the 18th year that I’ve covered the Vikings’ draft.

There have been 156 players taken since my first draft in 2006, starting with Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway being selected in the first round. There have been 18 other opening-round selections.

Brad Childress, with assistance from Fran Foley and then Rick Spielman, ran the draft for five years. Spielman was the main decision maker for the next 11 years and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah assumed the role beginning last year.

Looking back through these drafts there have been plenty of hits and many misses. Below I attempt to rank the Vikings’ top selection in each round of the past 17 drafts.

Let the debates begin.

First round: Adrian Peterson's fall leaves Vikings with an easy decision

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The Vikings had no reason to select a running back with the seventh pick in the 2007 draft. Chester Taylor, who had been a backup in Baltimore, signed with the Vikings in 2006 and rushed for 1,216 yards while adding 42 receptions.

The Vikings appeared set.

But as Adrian Peterson started to slide it became clear that Childress and Spielman were going to have to make a decision. When Washington took LSU safety LaRon Landy with the sixth pick, the Vikings grabbed the talented running back from Oklahoma.

Peterson rushed for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns as he earned Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and served notice that he was going to be one of the NFL’s most dominant running backs for a long time.

In 10 seasons with the Vikings, Peterson became the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher with 11,747 yards on 2,418 carries with 97 touchdowns on the ground and 102 overall. That places him second in franchise history to Cris Carter’s 110 touchdowns.

Peterson’s best season came in 2012 when he became the seventh running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. The Titans’ Derrick Henry joined that list in 2020. What was remarkable about Peterson’s performance was it came after a devastating knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season.

There will be a case to be made one day that standout wide receiver Justin Jefferson, taken with the 22nd pick in the first round in 2020, should be ranked above Peterson on this list. But that day isn’t here yet.

Second round: It's a close race between Eric Kendricks and Kyle Rudolph

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There are five players who are candidates for the best second-round pick the Vikings have made dating to 2006. They are wide receiver Sidney Rice (2007), tight end Kyle Rudolph (2011), running back Dalvin Cook (2017), linebacker Eric Kendricks (2015) and right tackle Brian O’Neill (2018).

The choice here is Kendricks, who was jettisoned by the Vikings in March and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Kendricks started double-digit games in each of his eight seasons at middle linebacker and became one of the top players on Mike Zimmer’s defense when that unit turned into one of the NFL’s best.

Kendricks had 15 sacks and nine interceptions in 117 games (113 starts) with the Vikings. He also broke up 51 passes, forced four fumbles and became one of the key voices in the locker room.

Because Rice had only one excellent season with the Vikings, the real debate is whether Cook, Rudolph or O’Neill belong ahead of Kendricks. Rudolph spent 10 seasons in Minnesota, catching 453 passes for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns in 140 games.

Rudolph’s touchdown total is the most among tight ends to play for the Vikings and his receptions and yards are second to Steve Jordan.

Cook has been selected to four Pro Bowls and rushed for 5,993 yards on 1,282 carries and 47 touchdowns in 73 games over six seasons. He also has caught 221 passes for 1,794 yards and five touchdowns.

O’Neill, of course, has had plenty to do with Cook’s success rushing the ball over the past five seasons.

Third round: It's Danielle Hunter and it's not close

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The Vikings have made 14 third-round picks since 2006 but four of those came in 2021. Seven times in the past 17 drafts, the Vikings have not had a third-round selection and many of the times they have taken a player in that round he hasn’t panned out.

The list includes cornerbacks Marcus McCauley (2007), Asher Allen (2009) and Josh Robinson (2012). The 2021 third-round class included quarterback Kellen Mond, linebacker Chazz Surratt, guard Wyatt Davis and defensive end Patrick Jones II. Only Jones remains in Minnesota.

Fortunately there is one third-round pick who didn’t just work out but likely will end up in the Vikings’ Ring of Honor. LSU’s Danielle Hunter fell to the 88th pick in the 2015 draft before the Vikings picked him.

Despite missing all of the 2020 season and part of 2021 because of injuries, Hunter has 71 sacks in 102 games and has recorded double-digit sacks on four occasions, including last year when he had a team-leading 10.5 in 17 games.

Hunter has been elected to the Pro Bowl three times and can be a nightmare for opponents to block when he’s rolling. Forget the past 17 years, Hunter is one of the Vikings’ best third-round picks since the birth of the franchise in 1961.

Fourth round: There were some difficult times but Everson Griffen gave Vikings an elite pass rusher

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Defensive lineman Brian Robison gave the Vikings a nice return after being the 102nd pick in the fourth round in 2007, but the nod here has to go to the 100th selection in the 2010 draft, defensive end Everson Griffen from Southern Cal.

Character concerns caused Griffen to fall and the Vikings certainly took a risk by selecting him. He had some off-the-field issues early in his time with the Vikings and, unfortunately, late in his tenure with Minnesota.

But Griffen turned into a pass-rushing force from 2014 to 2017, recording 43.5 sacks in 62 games from the right side and combining with Hunter to give the Vikings one of the NFL’s best rushing duos. Griffen was elected to the Pro Bowl in three of the four seasons and had fewer than 10 sacks only once in that time (eight in 2016). That season he forced two fumbles, recovered three and had a touchdown.

Griffen played for the Vikings through 2019 before splitting 2020 between Dallas and Detroit. He returned to the Vikings for nine games in 2021 and had five sacks.

Griffen’s 79.5 sacks in 156 games over 11 seasons with the Vikings, place him fourth in franchise history. Hunter is next on the list, sitting 8.5 sacks behind his former teammate.

Fifth round: Stefon Diggs did Vikings a favor both with his play and by forcing his way out of town

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is another easy one.

There were injury concerns about Stefon Diggs that caused him to drop to the fifth round in 2015, but it was at that point Spielman decided to put an end to Diggs’ wait.

Diggs was one of two fifth-round picks by the Vikings in that draft — remember tight end MyCole Pruitt? — but it became clear he possessed first-round talent.

Diggs had 52 receptions for 720 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games as a rookie and the next season those numbers increased to 84 catches for 903 yards. It was Diggs who caught the “Minneapolis Miracle” touchdown to lift the Vikings over the Saints in the 2017 playoffs, and while he never managed to play in all 16 games while with the Vikings, he had 365 catches for 4,623 yards and 30 touchdowns in 70 games during five seasons in Minnesota.

A disgruntled Diggs forced his way out of Minnesota before the 2020 season, but even that move worked out for the Vikings. Diggs has been a very good player in Buffalo, but the Vikings turned the first-round pick they got from the Bills into Jefferson.

For that, and what he did on the field, the Vikings should be thankful.

Sixth round: Vikings haven't had a lot of hits in this round but John Sullivan provided stability

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Center John Sullivan is one of the few notable sixth-round selections by the Vikings since 2006, but the 187th overall pick in 2008 certainly worked out.

Sullivan appeared in all 16 games, but made no starts at center as rookie playing behind Matt Birk. When Birk left for Baltimore in 2009, Sullivan moved into the starting role and made 93 of a possible 96 starts over the next six seasons.

Sullivan was the anchor of the Vikings’ offensive line in 2009, when quarterback Brett Favre led Minnesota to the NFC title game in New Orleans. His final season in Minnesota was Mike Zimmer’s first year (2014) as coach.

Among the 27 sixth-round picks the Vikings have made over the past 17 drafts, the only other notable names are quarterback Joe Webb (2010) and kicker Blair Walsh (2012). Wide receiver Jalen Nailor, one of two sixth-rounders last year, looks like he has a chance to be a player.

Seventh round: Hard-hitting safety Jamarca Sanford made an impact

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Spielman always liked having extra seventh-round picks because it was a way to stop a prospect from signing elsewhere as an undrafted free agent. But that doesn’t mean he had a bunch of seventh-round hits.

In fact, we need to go back to a Childress-Spielman draft to find our choice for the best pick in the last round. That would be safety Jamarca Sanford, who wasn’t big (5-10, 200 pounds) but knew how to deliver a hit to opposing players.

Sanford arrived in 2009 as the 231st selection. He was taken one pick before the New England Patriots grabbed wide receiver Julian Edelman. Sanford started 44 of 70 games over five seasons and had his only two interceptions as a Viking in 2011.

Sanford forced seven fumbles and recovered five with the Vikings and had one sack in 2010. Sanford spent time with New Orleans and Washington after leaving the Vikings.

Other possibilities for the head of this class included defensive end Stephen Weatherly and safety Jayron Kearse, both picked in 2016, and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, a 2017 selection.

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