What if the Minnesota Vikings had only drafted offensive players over the past five years?
As the best two offenses in the NFL get ready to do battle for a Super Bowl title, it’s worth asking whether the Vikings’ draft philosophy, which focused heavily on defense over the past five seasons, was the right way to build in today’s atmosphere.
But is it just hindsight to criticize the Vikings for loading up with 10 defensive picks in the first three rounds of the draft since 2012 or would they actually have been a better team by going all-in on the offensive side?
There is no way to know what Minnesota’s draft board looked like, but we can see who would have been available at the time. So we can look at the next three offensive players drafted after each defensive player the Vikings selected and, using Pro Football Focus ratings, compare the results (PFF Ratings and Vikings’ actual pick in parenthesis).
23rd – WR – Laquon Treadwell
54th – (Mackensie Alexander) WR – Tyler Boyd (73.0, 61st), C – Cody Whitehair (87.2, 6th), G- Max Tuerk (N/A)
The Vikings probably thought their interior line was OK with Alex Boone, Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco, but Whitehair turned out to be one of the best at his position as a rookie. Boyd was a reliable receiver for the Bengals with 54 receptions for 603 yards and Tuerk did not see the field. Two of the three picks would have been more valuable than Alexander.
11th – (Trae Waynes) T – Andrus Peat (69.8, 44th), WR – Davonte Parker (79.6, 26th), RB – Melvin Gordon (82.5, 5th)
45th – (Eric Kendricks) C – Mitch Morse (81.1, 21st), Jake Fisher (43.5, N/A), Ameer Abdullah (74.9, N/A)
88th – (Danielle Hunter)Chaz Green (N/A), Jeff Heuerman (73.8, N/A), TJ Montgomery (74.3, 19th)
Peat has not become a great tackle despite his draft status, but he is 23 and played better than any Vikings tackle this season, while Parker and Gordon are legitimate impact players. As for the second and third rounds, none of the available players would have come close to the impact Kendricks and Hunter had on the Vikings this season.
9th – (Anthony Barr) TE- Eric Ebron (50.6, 49th), Odell Beckham (84.3, 12th), Zack Martin (88.3, 3rd)
32nd – Teddy Bridgewater
72nd – (Scott Crichton) RB- Tre Mason (N/A), C – Travis Swanson (81.9, 17th), C – Spencer Long (79.5, 22nd)
96th – Jerick McKinnon
While the Ebron pick has gone bust for the Lions, Beckham and Martin are legitimate superstar players. Barr appeared on the track to be a superstar, but had a tough 2016. As for the third-round pick, Mason had troubles with concussions and is no longer in the league, while the other two have become average NFL centers. This draft would have been much better for the Vikings had they gone all-offense.
23rd – (Sharrif Floyd) WR – DeAndre Hopkins (80.0, 25th), Travis Frederick (90.4, 2nd), Justin Hunter (66.6, N/A)
25th – (Xavier Rhodes) Zach Ertz (75.0, 18th), Giovani Bernard (69.1 31st), Geno Smith (N/A)
29th – Cordarrelle Patterson
So, the Vikings had a chance to pick the two highest rated Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen, had they gone pure offense. Hunter is a bust, but Hopkins has become a top-notch receiver, while Floyd has struggled to stay healthy. The second pick has been a home run for the Vikings as Rhodes has developed into one of the best players at his position, while neither Ertz or Bernard is special.
4th – LT – Matt Kalil
29th – (Harrison Smith) WR – AJ Jenkins (N/A), RB – Doug Martin (66.8, 44th) – David Wilson (N/A)
66th – (Josh Robinson) RB – Ronnie Hillman (64.5, N/A), WR – DeVier Posey (N/A) – TJ Graham (N/A)
Picking an offensive player instead of Harrison Smith would have been a major flub, though Martin did have several good seasons before falling off in 2016. The third round pick would have been a bust either way.
Clearly the Vikings could have selected some terrific offensive players and would have ended up with a few serious busts had they gone all-in on the offensive side, but the question isn’t whether there were good players available, it’s whether the likes of Zack Martin or Melvin Gordon would have been more valuable toward winning than defensive stars like Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. It’s also about how far the drop off would be in terms of wins or points allowed from a player like Smith or Rhodes to a free agent or late-round pick replacement.
What muddies the waters is the quarterback position. Given better offensive linemen or Odell Beckham alongside Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen or Melvin Gordon, how much would Sam Bradford’s (or Teddy Bridgewater’s, if healthy) play have been elevated?
Not that there is a huge debate anymore about whether offense is winning in the NFL, but one way to put it is this: How much better are you in terms of points above average if you are the best offensive team vs. the best defensive team?
Line up the 1-32 rankings in terms of points above average allowed and scored, and the No. 1 rated Broncos defense saved 61 fewer points above average than the Falcons’ offense did over an average offensive team. Likewise, the worst offense was 24 points below average more than the worst defense. Even the teams in the middle are mostly worth more points above average on defense than the teams in the middle on defense.
|DEF points above average||OFF points above average||Difference||Rank|