Since becoming the lead voice in the Vikings' draft room, general manager Rick Spielman (left) has gone in with the hope of having 10 available draft picks each year. This year, Minnesota has seven draft picks. Thus, a trade or two isn't out of the question for Minnesota.
Addressing the media for his annual pre-draft press conference, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman stood at the podium at Winter Park and spoke for nearly 10 minutes before taking his first question.
Spielman thanked the scouting staff and the team’s coaches and then had a message for the rest of the NFL: If you want Minnesota’s No. 11 overall pick in the first round, come and get it.
"As of today, it’s very wide open on any direction that we are going to go," Spielman said, before adding: "As always, I’m looking forward to potentially moving out of that pick if at all possible."
While the weeks leading to the draft are filled with diversions and sometimes flat-out lies from NFL people, Spielman can be trusted with this statement. History supports his theory.
Spielman works the draft board as much as any general manager in the league. He’s traded, and traded for, first-round picks in each of the last three drafts. A similar occurrence this year, with Spielman saying the talent gap is minimal from the seventh or eighth picks into the 20s, would be a move right in Spielman’s wheelhouse.
"I can tell you at this point, and we’ll have it resolved by Thursday, we are wide open on any direction that we’re going to go," Spielman said. "There is no one set, honed in, we’re taking this position and moving forward. We are going to go, I think this draft is a little unique, after we developed our draft board, and you look at maybe those top five or six players, and how we graded this draft, I think from when you get seventh or eighth player down to the 20th player, I don’t know if there’s that much difference. We think that they are all very talented, but they are all very close in talent."
Which all leads to Spielman telling the NFL the 11th pick is up for grabs.
The Vikings head into the draft with needs in the secondary, at linebacker, at left guard and receiver. Spielman said he’s intrigued by the "tweener" prospects, the ever-growing number of edge pass rushers coming from college who might not fit into the standard definition of the defensive end or outside linebacker in the 4-3 scheme Minnesota typically employs.
Only one offensive lineman who is being considered a guard, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, is considered a first-round talent and Scherff might be gone before the Vikings’ pick at No. 11. Safety and middle linebacker seem equally scarce with first-round options, though there are possibly several strong linebacker options on the second day of the draft.
However, as many as seven receivers could be picked on the first day. Likewise, possibly five cornerbacks could be selected in the first round. Minnesota, during mock-draft season, has been linked most often to Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, a quality player who would seemingly fit well with coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings. But there might not be much separating Waynes from Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, Washington’s Marcus Peters, Louisiana State’s Jalen Collins or maybe a late riser like Connecticut’s Byron Jones. Spielman identified 13 "tweeners" in the edge pass-rushing role.
"It makes it easier to trade down because if you have specific, if you have three or four options, OK, then you can trade down and still get the player," Spielman said of the separation in picks in the middle of the first round. "Now to me, I look at it as you get a player plus another player."
Spielman knows how to navigate the draft. Last year, Spielman moved back one spot and still picked Anthony Barr with the ninth pick. Then Spielman saw the opportunity and moved back into the first round to ensure the team got quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. After one season, both players look like cornerstones on defense and offense, respectively.
A year earlier, Spielman did the same. He picked defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd with Minnesota’s own selection at No. 23. As part of the Percy Harvin trade, Spielman used Seattle’s pick to add cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Spielman then surprised everyone — he was called away from a press conference once his staff got word a trade was accepted — and added a third first-rounder in receiver Cordarrelle Patterson by trading four picks to the New England Patriots.
The wheeling and dealing, while always part of Spielman’s modus operandi, gained notoriety in 2012. Spielman traded back from No. 3 to No. 4 and still got the player he coveted in left tackle Matt Kalil. After somehow talking the Cleveland Browns into moving up one spot for running back Trent Richardson, Spielman had more firepower in picks to again be assertive in the late part of the first round. Spielman then made the move to jump back into the first and select safety Harrison Smith.
Since becoming the lead voice in the Vikings’ draft room, Spielman has gone in with the hope of having 10 available draft picks each year. Spielman then uses the picks as collateral for his maneuvering. This year, Minnesota enters Thursday with seven total selections in the three-day draft.
Spielman said he doesn’t "anticipate" moving up in the draft from No. 11. But the option to move back is enticing, with the talent level available and the prospect of adding more picks.
"Right now, I don’t know if we have the full currency you need to manipulate in the draft," Spielman said. "We may just stick at 11 this year and there’s a player that falls to us that is just too good that we’re not going to pass, we’re just going to take him and see what happens after that. Like every year, you never know what happens on draft day. You try to pick through and analyze and put yourself in a million different scenarios and situations, but you don’t know until you actually get in the game and get rolling."