Finding the Fits: Vikings betting long term with DE Aruna

Ade Aruna is a raw talent with plenty of athletic upside.Tulane Athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Minnesota's best fit: Ade Aruna, DE, Tulane, selected No. 218 overall (sixth round)

Mike Zimmer knows a little something about coaching defense.

Under his guidance, the Minnesota Vikings finished tops in the NFL in total defense last season, allowing just 275.9 yards and 15.8 points per game.

The Vikings have steadily improved defensively throughout Zimmer's tenure since general manager Rick Spielman hired him from Cincinnati, where he excelled as defensive coordinator, just as he had in previous stops in Baltimore and Dallas.

Zimmer would be the first to tell you that statistics -- team or individual -- mean nothing if games aren't won, but the development of several defenders, most notably edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, have reinforced the coach's reputation as a leader and developer of talent.

And that is where Aruna -- one of my favorite sleepers this year -- fits in.

At a towering 6-foot-5, 262 pounds with 34-inch arms and massive hands (10 5/8 inches), Aruna, certainly looks the part of an NFL defensive end. He tested like one, as well, showing off rare explosiveness in the 40-yard dash (4.60) and vertical jump (38.5 inches) at the Combine.

For all of Aruna's exciting traits, however, he remains sushi-raw when it comes to technique, a by-product of playing just one season of football in high school and largely being asked to take on blocks (rather than slip past them) at Tulane, which used a three-man base front.

Fortunately for Aruna, the Vikings boast enough talent on their defensive line in edge rushers Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Stephen Weatherly that the rookie might actually have time to develop. Schematically, he is much better suited to the relatively simple 4-3 look Zimmer has employed with the Vikings.

Aruna is clearly a project who may take a season or two to produce meaningful numbers. But under the guidance of Zimmer and pushed by the talent surrounding him on this defense, he has a chance to develop into one of the real steals of this draft class.

Other thoughts on the Vikings' 2018 draft class:

Aruna's upside is exciting, but it will be kicker Daniel Carlson likely providing the most immediate impact for the Vikings.

The Vikings traded two sixth-round picks to nab Carlson, making him the first kicker selected in the 2018 draft. Carlson, a three-time Lou Groza Award finalist, impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his leg strength (nailing two 58-plus yard kicks during practices) as well as his mettle and accuracy at the Combine, where he converted every kick attempted.

Carlson was drafted to provide competition for incumbent starter Kai Forbath, who missed 11 combined field goal and PAT attempts last year, ranking 30th in the league. Carlson, over four years as the starter at Auburn, converted 80.7 percent of 114 field goal attempts and made all 198 of his extra point attempts.

Spielman deserves a great deal of credit for sticking to his board with the selection of Central Florida's Mike Hughes in the first round, padding an already gifted secondary with a natural cover corner with dynamite return skills.

Hughes made many critical plays for the Knights last season, including a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final two minutes that stunned rival South Florida, preserving UCF's magical undefeated season and putting an exclamation point on one of the more thrilling games of the 2018 season.

While adding quality corners in a division featuring Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford is always good for business, Hughes is more than that. He is a proven finisher. For a team looking to get over the hump and back to its first Super Bowl in more than 40 years, it is easy to see why the club is so excited about him.

The defense is clearly in good hands with Zimmer, and expectations are sky-high for an offense pairing Kirk Cousins with new play-caller John DeFilippo, hired from the Philadelphia Eagles after serving as the quarterback coach who helped turn Carson Wentz into a regular season MVP candidate and Nick Foles into a Super Bowl MVP.

Cousins, splashy second-year running back Dalvin Cook and Pro Bowl tight Kyle Rudolph all stand to benefit statistically with DeFilippo spreading the ball around. Fifth-round pick Tyler Conklin isn't a speed demon nor is he a powerful in-line blocker. But the tight end is a crafty route-runner with excellent hands, offering Cousins another weapon to attack what has been relatively porous interiors throughout the NFC North.

Finally, don't sleep on sixth-round pick Colby Gossett having something to say about the Vikings' hole at right guard.

Gossett's jump from Appalachian State is a big one, but he handled the step up in competition nicely at the Senior Bowl, showing next-level toughness and strength. Minnesota has leaned heavily on Senior Bowl participants during Spielman's tenure, and 2018 was no different with Gossett the fifth consecutive player from this year's all-star game drafted by the Vikings.

Minnesota's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 30 overall: CB Mike Hughes, Central Florida

2nd Round, No. 62 overall: OT Brian O'Neill, Pittsburgh

4th Round, No. 102 overall: DE Jalyn Holmes, Ohio State

5th Round, No. 157 overall: TE Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan

5th Round, No. 167 overall: K Daniel Carlson, Auburn

6th Round, No. 213 overall: OG Colby Gossett, Appalachian State

6th Round, No. 218 overall: DE Ade Aruna, Tulane

7th Round, No. 225 overall: LB Devante Downs, California

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Holton Hill, CB, Texas

Roc Thomas, RB, Jacksonville State

Jake Wieneke, WR, South Dakota State


Sports Xchange
EditorSports Xchange
New Comment
Sports Xchange
EditorSports Xchange
Sports Xchange
EditorSports Xchange
Sports Xchange
EditorSports Xchange
Sports Xchange
EditorSports Xchange
Sports Xchange
EditorSports Xchange