EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The seemingly endless lead-up to Thursday’s NFL Draft has forced even the most ardent draft fans and evaluators to grow weary, even the NFL general managers.
"We’re tired, too," Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said on Tuesday. "It’s been an extra-long time, but also very prepared."
Spielman and his staff have run through all of the potential scenarios so there will be no surprises come Thursday with the NFL Draft’s first round and Minnesota holding the No. 8 pick. The Vikings are testing out various options, even going through a 4-hour scenario on Tuesday, according to Spielman.
With the draft being moved back about two weeks because of a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall in New York, NFL teams have had to adjust. For Spielman, the extra time was beneficial.
When the season ended, Spielman fired coach Leslie Frazier and went through the process of hiring new coach Mike Zimmer and filling out the staff with Zimmer, which included offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who will have a big say in the likelihood of drafting a quarterback this week.
The record number of underclassmen added another challenge. But Spielman and his staff are ready. The extra time is a challenge in itself.
"I know all weekend I’m just sitting in here shooting more holes in these players," Spielman said. "How many more times and how much more film can you see, and putting this together and that together. The one thing that was beneficial this year was when I was tied up with the head coaching search and the influx of juniors that came out this year. So it gave me a lot of time to get caught up, but it still seems like forever."
Spielman and his fellow general managers are restless.
"I know there’s been a lot of calls coming in just on feelers," Spielman said. "I had three yesterday. I already had two texts today. So, everybody’s just starting to line up their dance partners."
Spielman said he’s received offers for his second-round pick at No. 40 overall and even as far back as the fourth-round.
"And then always, at the end of the text, ‘if our guy is there,’" Spielman added. "Those talks are starting right now. I think most GMs like myself are anxious. It’s kind of early than it’s ever been about the trade stuff, but I think everybody’s just anxious and ready to go."
Many analysts have called this year’s draft deeper than usual, an opinion shared by Spielman. The Vikings’ general manager said the draft is stronger on offense than defense, but sees potential starters on both sides of the ball lingering into the third round.
After running through his scenarios, Spielman said he has a good handle on what to expect Thursday night when Minnesota has the eighth-overall pick. The familiar names have been bandied about, including quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. Many defensive players have been mentioned like linebackers Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosley and cornerbacks Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard and Kyle Fuller.
"I’ve read the mocks," Spielman said. "Everybody reads the mocks because we’re tired of yelling at each other. At night I read the mocks, kind of get caught up on things. You guys are missing some names on our spot at eight, I can tell you that."
One of the names being attached to the Vikings in mock drafts recently has been Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, considered by many one of the best defensive tackle prospects in recent years and a "safe" pick after an outstanding college career.
Of course, Spielman selected Sharrif Floyd at No. 23 overall last year and he’s in line to become the starter after Kevin Williams wasn’t retained in free agency. Donald and Floyd are similar players, who can man the 3-technique defensive tackle position in Zimmer’s 4-3 defense.
Spielman said Floyd’s presence wouldn’t stop Minnesota from selecting Donald. But if Donald is the pick at No. 8, it will have no bearing on Floyd’s future, Spielman said.
"Sharrif Floyd’s going to be a very good football player for us," Spielman said. "When you look at this, you can never have enough pass rushers. You can never have enough defensive linemen. You can never have enough corners and enough cover guys on the back end because of the way the league’s evolving.
Floyd was a surprise last year in dropping to No. 23. Before the draft, he was considered a potential top-3 pick. Spielman didn’t pass up the chance of picking Floyd, despite Williams still being under contract.
Meanwhile, Floyd has lost weight this offseason in preparation for being a starter for the first time in his career.
"We’re very excited about where Sharrif is at this point," Spielman said. "From where he came from where he was last year, the weight loss, the dedication he’s shown, how he’s fitting in this scheme, very excited to see what he’s going to evolve into. But that does not preclude us from taking another in-line pass rusher because how many times during a game you are in nickel situations. You’re going to be probably more in nickel and 4-2 packages than you are in your base package. So the more pass rushers, the more pressure you can get on those quarterbacks, the fresher you can keep those guys, that becomes valuable."
As for the team’s linebackers, Spielman seems prepared to add more competition to the mix in the draft.
"That’s one area we’ll look at," Spielman said. "But I think there’s some value with the linebackers through the middle rounds. There’s going to be some guys there even in that fourth and fifth round that are potential guys.
"The coaches are experimenting now with the current guys we have, development of where (Gerald) Hodges is coming, where (Micheal) Mauti is coming from last year, where Audie Cole fits into the picture. Chad Greenway seems healthy and has had a great offseason so far. We signed Jasper Brinkley back, so . . . They’re trying to figure out all that as we go through. That’s what all this offseason is for."