Vikings fill needs, focus on athletes on draft’s third day
By Brian Hall
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — As he maneuvered through the NFL draft on Saturday, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman certainly had his eye on filling team needs.
Trusting his coaches to develop players, Spielman also had a specific focus on athleticism.
Minnesota, after trading out of the third round and holding the second pick in the fourth round, selected Ohio State defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes to start Saturday’s third day of the draft. Later, the team added two former basketball players as part of a six-player, final day haul.
“Sticking with the athletic traits we’re looking for and relying on this coaching staff to develop a lot of this young talent,” Spielman said. “A lot of the traits that they have, you can’t teach, you can’t coach, but you can sure develop them.”
Spielman continued to move around the board on Saturday. The Vikings then made a pair of trades with the New York Jets, adding tight end Tyler Conklin from Central Michigan and the first kicker taken in the draft in Auburn’s Daniel Carlson in the fifth round.
Minnesota added guard Colby Gossett from Appalachian State, Tulane defensive end Ade Aruna and California linebacker Devante Downs.
Holmes, a 270-pound defensive end at Ohio State, likely will play inside for the Vikings. He ran 4.82 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, sixth among defensive ends.
Conklin and Aruna were both former basketball players.
Conklin left behind a scholarship at Northwood University as a basketball player to walk on to the football team at Central Michigan. Aruna came to the United States from Nigeria to play high school basketball before switching to football prior to his senior season.
Conklin had the second-best mark among tight ends in the vertical jump and 60-yard shuttle at the combine.
Aruna also flashed his traits at the combine. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound end was second among all defensive lineman in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.60 seconds and had the top vertical jump and broad jump.
“We’ll have a hell of an intramural team,” Spielman joked. “All these guys are long. All these guys can jump out of the gym. All these guys can run. When you have those traits, to me and to this coaching staff, our philosophy if we can get athletes in like that, it gives you a chance to hit on some guys that can be pretty special.”
Spielman referenced the team’s selection of defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third round in 2015 after Hunter had 1½ sacks as a senior. He’s developed into a starting end and has 25½ sacks in three seasons.
Aruna’s basketball background even included a matchup with NBA forward Andrew Wiggins where Aruna was responsible for defending the eventual Minnesota Timberwolves player.
“As soon as we got down to the stadium to play that game, my coach told me, ‘Hey, I want you to guard Andrew Wiggins. He’s going to be your assignment tonight,'” Aruna said. “I told him, ‘No problem, if that’s how you want it I will get it done, just like that.’ I gave him one of the lowest scoring games of his high school career, that night.”
EXTRA POINTS: Carlson could replace Kai Forbath as Minnesota’s kicker after hearing his name selected in the fifth round. Carlson was a three-time finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the best kicker in college football, and was a second-team All-American the past two seasons.
Forbath re-signed with the Vikings in March on a one-year contract after an inconsistent season in which he led the NFL with five missed extra-point attempts and hit just 84.2 percent of his field-goal attempts.
In four years at Auburn, Carlson was perfect on 198 extra-point attempts.
“At this next level, extra points are backed up a little so it is going to take that much more focus and hopefully that can continue to keep that streak alive and take pride in making sure I am mentally locked in,” Carlson said.
He hit 80.7 percent of his field-goal attempts, including an 87.5 percent mark in 2016 before hitting 23 of 31 (74.2 percent) last season.
Spielman said Carlson and Forbath will compete for the job during the summer.
CURLING FOR PICKS: Minnesota’s fourth-round pick was delivered via the St. Paul Curling Club from the U.S. Olympic men’s gold medal-winning curling team. The team led by captain John Schuster, a Minnesota native, announced the pick of Holmes.
Holmes was selected 102nd overall, which was the same pick Washington used to get quarterback Kirk Cousins in 2012. In his first chance at free agency, Cousins signed a three-year contract worth $84 million in March.
STILL NEED: Minnesota went for need during the three days of the draft, hitting the most important spots along the lines and at cornerback. Perhaps more work is needed after the Vikings weren’t able to come away with an expected immediate starter on the right side of the offensive line.
One spot Minnesota didn’t address was safety, where it returns All-Pro Harrison Smith along with starter Andrew Sendejo. The top backups are Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse.