4 best Minnesota Vikings NFL Draft gems of the past 10 years

Former Minnesota Vikings DE Danielle Hunter
Former Minnesota Vikings DE Danielle Hunter / Michael Owens/GettyImages

With the 2024 NFL Draft less than two weeks away, the national media continues to guess who the Minnesota Vikings will take with their two first-round picks. As exciting as that may be, Minnesota fans know that value can be found in later rounds of the draft as well.

Team history is full of players that were taken later in the draft who performed as if they were first rounders. Fran Tarkenton, Dave Osborn, Scott Studwell, Wade Wilson, Steve Jordan, Terry Allen, Brad Johnson, Matt Birk, and Nate Burleson are just a few of the memorable names that Minnesota found in the third round of the NFL Draft and beyond.

The past decade has also unearthed value for the franchise on the second and third days of the event. Below is a ranking of the Vikings’ biggest draft gems (picked in the third round or later) from the last decade.

Best Minnesota Vikings NFL Draft gems of the past 10 years

4. Mekhi Blackmon - CB (USC)

Third-Round Pick in 2023 (102nd Overall)

Two rounds after selecting USC’s Jordan Addison, Minnesota took Blackmon, also from USC. Blackmon had been a first-team All-PAC-12 in 2022 after netting 66 tackles, three picks, and 12 passes broken up. NFL scouts graded him with a 5.83, meaning he was projected to be an average backup or special teamer.

Blackmon was a backup for a majority of his rookie year, but he also started three games and had 41 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception, eight passes broken up (which led the Vikings) and one fumble recovery.

When the 2023 season concluded, Pro Football Focus (PFF) placed Blackmon (as well as teammate Ivan Pace Jr.) on its All-Rookie Team. PFF noted that Blackmon was the only rookie to play 400 snaps and not miss a single tackle. He was also graded by PFF with a coverage grade of 71.7, third best among rookie corners.

3. K.J. Osborn - WR (Miami)

Fifth-Round Pick in 2020 (176th Overall)

With their 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft, Minnesota drafted LSU receiver Justin Jefferson. Then, in the fifth round of the same draft, the Vikings added another receiver in Osborn. His selection shocked a number of NFL evaluators who had graded the receiver at 5.53, or a “priority undrafted free agent.”

As a rookie, Osborn got very little playing time but then started nine games in 2021. That season, he caught 50 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns. He then grabbed 60 passes for 650 yards and five touchdowns in 2022, while Minny went 13-4 and lost in the Wild Card round to the Giants.  

Last season, Osborn had to compete for catches with Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and rookie Jordan Addison. However, he still managed 48 receptions for 540 yards and three scores. On March 19, Osborn signed a free-agent contract with the New England Patriots. In four years with the Vikes, Osborn had 158 catches for 1,845 yards and 15 touchdowns. 

2. Danielle Hunter - DE (LSU)

Third-Round Pick in 2015 (88th Overall)

As luck, or fate, would have it, Hunter was taken two rounds earlier in the same draft as Stefon Diggs. He was an intriguing prospect from LSU with three years of playing experience.

As a Tiger, Hunter had 142 total tackles, including 21 tackles for a loss, and just 4.5 sacks. NFL personnel weren't overly impressed with Hunter and gave him a 6.20 grade, meaning that he would eventually be an average starter.

That grade proved to be wildly inaccurate. After six sacks in his rookie year, Hunter posted double-digit sacks in five of the next seven seasons (he didn't play in 2020 due to injury). 2023 was his best so far, as Hunter bagged opposing quarterbacks 16.5 times.

During his time in Minnesota, Hunter had 462 tackles and 87.5 sacks. He was also a four-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro once. Earlier this year, Hunter signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Texans.

1. Stefon Diggs - WR (Maryland)

Fifth-Round Pick in 2015 (146th Overall)

Diggs played three years for the Terps before foregoing his senior year for the NFL Draft. Injuries ate into his playing time at Maryland in 2013 and 2014. He caught 150 total passes for 2,227 yards and 14 touchdowns and added two more scores as a kick returner. 

Before the 2015 draft, NFL scouts gave Diggs a 6.10 grade as a “good backup that could develop as a starter.” One scout even wrote that Diggs didn't have the “strength or speed to excel as an outside receiver and was better suited in the slot.”

Actually, Diggs was just fine lined up on the outside as a Viking. Minny selected him in the fifth round, and his 52 receptions as a rookie turned into 84 catches in 2016. That number jumped to 102 in 2018 as Diggs and Adam Thielen solidified themselves as one of the best receiving duos in the NFL.

Although Diggs was traded to Buffalo after the 2019 season, he will always have a place in team lore due to the “Minneapolis Miracle.”

Only 10 seconds remained in the 2017 divisional round game against the New Orleans Saints, and it looked like the Vikings were going to lose. However, quarterback Case Keenum heaved a 61-yard desperation pass in Diggs’ direction. The receiver caught the ball and waltzed into the end zone, giving Minny an improbable 29-24 win.

In five seasons with Minnesota, Diggs had 365 receptions, 4,623 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Honorable Mentions: Jerick McKinnon - RB (Third-Round Pick in 2014), Pat Elfein - C/OG (Third-Round Pick in 2017), Camryn Bynum - S (Fourth-Round Pick in 2021).

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