Vikings Throwback: Adding a franchise QB in the 1999 NFL Draft

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Daunte Culpepper
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Daunte Culpepper /

A year after making it all the way to the NFC Championship, the Minnesota Vikings decided to use their first-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft on a quarterback.

It’s Thursday and the 2020 NFL Draft is here. But before we find out who the Minnesota Vikings will be selecting with all of their picks, let’s look back at one of their most memorable drafts from the past.

Coming off a 15-1 season in 1998, which ended in a very tough disappointment, the Vikings decided to trade quarterback Brad Johnson to the Washington Redskins after Randall Cunningham had a magical performance in 1998.

Given how good Minnesota’s offense was, it was expected by most that they would draft a defensive player first in 1999. Instead, the Vikings used their top pick on Central Florida quarterback Daunte Culpepper, which was a bit of a shock.

With their second selection in the first round (29th overall), Minnesota took defensive end Dimitrius Underwood. Unfortunately, Underwood proved to be an immediate bust and he didn’t even make the Vikings’ final roster in 1999.

One player who was still available for Minnesota at pick No.11 in 1999 was former Florida defensive end, Jevon Kearse.

But the Vikings ended up passing on Kearse and he went on to finish with 14.5 sacks during his rookie season with the Tennessee Titans. With his success and the fact that Culpepper spent his rookie year as Minnesota’s third-string quarterback, it looked like a very bad move after one season.

Had the Vikings taken Kearse in 1999, maybe they would have reached the Super Bowl and perhaps even won it. We will obviously never know.

A number of people within Minnesota’s organization actually wanted Kearse to be the pick for the team at No. 11. However, others, including head coach Dennis Green, wanted to draft Culpepper since Cunningham was 36-years-old at the time.

Cunningham started the first six games of the 1999 season for the Vikings, but he was unable to replicate his success from the previous year. Minnesota then replaced him with Jeff George in the second half of the team’s sixth game and he went on to start under center for the rest of the year, including the team’s two playoff matchups.

Neither Cunningham or George were brought back in 2000 due to salary cap reasons and Culpepper was given the keys to the Vikings offense. He did not disappoint in his first year as Minnesota’s starting quarterback, throwing 33 touchdowns and earning a Pro Bowl invite.

Culpepper remained the team’s starter during the next five years, throwing 135 touchdowns and 86 interceptions in 80 starts while also earning two more trips to the Pro Bowl.

In 2004, Culpepper had his best season as he threw 39 touchdowns and a league-high 4,717 yards. If not for Peyton Manning‘s 49 touchdown passes that year (NFL record at the time), Culpepper likely would have been named the league’s MVP in 2004.

He ended up forcing his way out of the Twin Cities after the 2005 season. Despite the way everything ended, choosing Culpepper over Kearse turned out to be a smart decision for the Vikings.

Kearse recorded double-digit sack totals during his first three seasons in the NFL. But he later dealt with injuries during his remaining eight years in the league and wasn’t ever the same player he was during the early portion of his career.

In the second round of the 1999 draft, Minnesota selected tight end Jim Kleinsasser who became a fan favorite in his 13 seasons with the team. He was one of the best blocking tight ends in the league throughout his career.

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Unfortunately for the Vikings, their remaining selections in the 1999 NFL Draft did not pan out as well as Culpepper or Kleinsasser.