The Minnesota Vikings entered the final day of the 2014 NFL draft with four draft picks, but General Manager Rick Spielman traded down twice and had six new players. The Vikings selected Stanford guard David Yankey in the fifth round; cornerbacks Antone Exum from Virginia Tech and Kendall James from Maine in the sixth round and Connecticut defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, Georgia Tech linebacker Brandon Watts and North Carolina cornerback Jabari Price in the seventh round.
Yankey, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound guard, can play either tackle or guard spot. He will immediately push Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco for the starting guard spots.
“This is a great fit for the Vikings,” Mike Mayock of NFL.com said in his draft analysis. “They believe in physical players and Yankey is a phone booth brawler. Trust me, I know (Spielman) and (head coach) Mike Zimmer, and this is the kind of player they bang the table for.”
Exum, a 6-foot, 213-pound cornerback, is a versatile defensive back that has good size and press-coverage skills. He spent last season recovering from off-season knee surgery, which hurt his draft stock.
“Exum is a well-built individual, and showed good fluidity in pass coverage and also an ability to track the ball well,” Gil Brandt of NFL.com said in his draft analysis. “Exum was a highly regarded player two years ago, but suffered a knee injury playing basketball in January of 2013. Exum came back to play in the 2013 season, but only played in three games and did not play at the same level as the previous season.”
James, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound cornerback, is physical and athletic. His production increased his first three years playing for the Black Bears, but his numbers took a slight dip in 2013.
“James had a good pro-day positional workout, displaying good recovery speed and instincts,” Brandt said in his draft analysis.
Stephen, a 6-foot-5, 309-pound defensive tackle, was a regular part of the Huskies’ defensive line rotation all four years he played at Connecticut. He took over as a starter as a senior and registered his best season.
“Big, athletic, raw interior defender with underachiever traits who had a fairly nondescript career at UConn, but crude physical tools for a defensive line coach to mold. Developmental prospect who potentially fits in a 4-3 or as a 3-4 five-technique,” per Nolan Nawrocki’s description on NFL.com of Stephen.
Watts, a 6-foot, 225-pound outside linebacker, adds athleticism to the linebacker core. He has the skill set to develop into an asset in pass coverage. In the meantime, he should be able to help out on special teams.
“Watts had a strong (pro-day) workout, showing that he’s a very good athlete who moves well,” Brandt said in his draft analysis.
Price, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound cornerback, was a University of Minnesota commit before backing out and heading to North Carolina instead. He posted solid tackling numbers, but did not have encouraging interception numbers.
“Fairly nondescript cornerback who does not excel in man or zone coverage. Speed and tackling ability play well on special teams, where he will have to stand out to have a chance,” per Nawrocki’s description on NFL.com of Price.