Ranking Vikings’ first-round picks in Rick Spielman era
FOX Sports North
Hits and misses in the first round of the draft can resurrect or sink a franchise. Over the past 12 seasons, the Vikings have had one guy primarily making those decisions on NFL draft night -- Rick Spielman.
The Vikings switched to a traditional front office in 2012 and promoted Spielman from vice president of player personnel, a role he’d held since 2006, to general manager -- the franchise’s first true GM since Mike Lynn in 1980s.
But even as VP of player personnel, Spielman was the face of the Vikings’ war room.
Out of the 12 drafts he’s led, Spielman has selected 13 different players -- seven on offense, six on defense – in the first round. The Vikings didn’t have a first-rounder in three of the 12 drafts. Spielman swapped the Vikings’ first-round picks in 2008 and ‘17 in trades for defensive end Jared Allen and quarterback Sam Bradford, and the GM opted to trade out of the first round in 2010. He also acquired three additional first-rounders in trades, twice dealing back up into the round during the draft.
Before Spielman makes a big decision at No. 18 overall Thursday night, FOX Sports North ranks all 13 of his previous first-round selections:
13. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State (2011, No. 12)
Minnesota went into the 2011 draft desperate for an answer at quarterback after short-term solution Brett Favre hung up his cleats in 2010. So, at 12th overall Spielman selected Ponder, a Florida State product that most experts had pegged as a late first- or early second-round pick at best. In 36 career starts with the Vikings, Ponder had a 14-21-1 record with 6,658 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, which added up to a 75.9 passer rating. His best season came in 2012 (18 TD, 12 INT) when he rode Adrian Peterson’s MVP season to the playoffs, although a deep triceps bruise forced him to sit out Minnesota’s wild-card game in Green Bay. That didn’t bode well for Ponder’s future. He was unseated as QB1 the following year by veteran Matt Cassel, before Teddy Bridgewater arrived 2014. The Vikings didn’t bring back Ponder on his fifth-year option, and he never played another regular-season snap in the NFL. Ponder was Spielman’s biggest reach in the first round, and also his biggest bust.
Similar to 2011, the Vikings were laser focused on fixing one position in the first round -- this time, it was wide receiver. Minnesota hadn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009. Little did Spielman know, he already had two perennial superstars on the roster in a 2015 fifth-round pick (Stefon Diggs) and a former undrafted free agent (Adam Thielen). Both players had breakout seasons in 2016. Treadwell did not. He caught one pass for 15 yards as a rookie and has amassed just 517 receiving yards and one score over three seasons (40 games). Treadwell isn’t known for game-changing speed and hasn’t improved on his unreliable hands, catching just 61.5% of the passes thrown his way since 2016. Once again, Spielman could have waited for the next round to address the position. New Orleans selected Michael Thomas at No. 47 overall, a player who’s now been named to back-to-back Pro Bowls and led the league in receptions in 2018.
11. Matt Kalil, OT, USC (2012, No. 4)
Spielman traded down one spot from No. 3, giving Cleveland the third overall pick to select running back Trent Richardson. That was a good decision. Selecting Kalil … wasn’t. Kalil had one of the stranger Vikings careers we’ve seen. His first NFL season was promising, as he was part of an offensive line which blocked for Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yards in 2012. But Kalil took a major step back in 2013 and never returned to his Pro Bowl form. In 2014 he allowed a whopping 13.75 sacks and committed 10 penalties. After Kalil suffered a season-ending injury in 2016, the Vikings didn’t make a big push in free agency to bring him back, and he went to Carolina to play alongside his brother Ryan. Kalil missed the entire 2018 season with a knee injury. He’s currently on Houston’s roster, but we’ll see if the former fourth overall pick plays another NFL snap.
10. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (2013, No. 23)
Floyd’s downfall was entirely out of his control. One of Minnesota's three first-round picks in 2013, Floyd played 43 games from 2013-15 and tallied 95 tackles and 9.5 sacks, thriving in Mike Zimmer’s defense as an NFL sophomore. But a routine surgery cost him his playing career. This could easily have been a top-five Spielman first-round pick otherwise. Floyd suffered a paralyzed nerve near his knee during the surgery and his quick first step never returned. It’s turned into a messy situation, as Floyd sued the doctor for $180 million last fall.
Percy Harvin (more on him later) departed for Seattle after the 2012 season, so Minnesota was looking for an exciting weapon to pair with Ponder in the Vikings’ offense. Spielman got one in Patterson, trading back into the first round, giving up picks in the second, third, fourth and seventh rounds. With blazing speed and insane athleticism, Patterson immediately took the NFL by storm as a return man. He was named an All-Pro twice over his four-year Vikings career due to his prowess on kickoffs. There was just one problem: Patterson never got the hang of running routes. He might be a top-five returner, all-time (he actually ranks second with a 30.0 yards per return career average), but Spielman’s intentions were to draft a game-changing receiver at No. 29. Patterson returned to the NFC North this offseason, signing with the rival Chicago Bears.
Spielman traded back up into the first round (giving up a second- and fourth-round pick) to select Bridgewater, counting on the Louisville product to become the Vikings’ franchise quarterback. The good news: Bridgewater was much better than Ponder. The bad news: a fluke injury derailed Bridgewater’s Vikings career. Starting 16 games in 2015, Bridgewater threw for 3,231 yards, 14 TD and 9 INT, leading Minnesota back into the postseason. He showed signs of further progression in 2016, but a tragic knee injury during training camp the following year ended his reign in Minnesota. Now with New Orleans, it’s still unknown what Bridgewater can be as a full-time NFL starter. But one thing is certain: He turned out better than former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who the Vikings were reportedly interested in but went 22nd to the Browns.
7. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida (2018, No. 30)
The fans cried foul when Spielman and Zimmer went with a corner near the end of the first round last year. Guards like Will Hernandez and Braden Smith were still on the board, and the Vikings' offensive line was looking shaky at best. Well, the O-line ended up looking worse than shaky, but it's hard to hold that against Hughes, who impressed almost immediately. He snapped up his first interception -- a pick six -- in Week 1, and was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the Vikings' defensive snaps in his debut. He stayed heavily involved through Week 6 -- starting twice -- before a torn ACL cut his season short. It's a small sample size, but if post-surgery Hughes looks anything like that rookie, he could rocket up future lists in a hurry.
Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reservedAP
6. Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State (2015, No. 11)
First, the bad news: The Vikings took Waynes seven picks ahead of Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters, the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. The good news: After a slow start to his pro career, Waynes has developed into an effective complement to teammate Xavier Rhodes, emerging as a solid starter and a high-level defender against the run. Rumors abound that the Vikings could trade Waynes around the draft, and with guys like Hughes on the roster, it's hard to argue with the impulse. Still, Waynes remains a solid pick, even if he nets more picks for the Vikings on draft night.
Noah K. MurrayNoah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
5. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (2014, No. 9)
Selected a few months after the Vikings hired Zimmer, Barr seemed like the perfect piece with which to build a dominant defense. And while there have been a few bumps along the way, it's hard to argue with Barr's resume. It took Barr, who switched to defense ahead of his junior season at UCLA, just two years to establish himself as one college football's best linebackers. He started his NFL career in similar fashion, and has now made the Pro Bowl in each of the past four seasons.
Harrison BardenHarrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
4. Xavier Rhodes, DB, Florida State (2013, No. 25)
Rhodes arrived a year before his head coach did, helping lay the foundation for his boss's dominant defense. By 2016 Rhodes had developed into one of the league's premier shutdown corners, racking up 11 passes defended and five interceptions, the most by a Vikings corner since 2003, while earning his first Pro Bowl nod. He was an All-Pro in 2017, but struggled with injuries and flags in 2018. At 29, Rhodes is looking to return to his elite status in 2019.
3. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida (2009, No. 22)
Various issues conspired to keep Harvin off the field throughout his frustratingly brief NFL career. Chronic migraines, anxiety and battles with both teammates and coaches were among them, but when Harvin was on he was a game-breaker in every sense of the term. The Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2009, Harvin was a revelation when paired with Favre, racking up 2,081 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns while functioning as a receiver, running back and return man. He kept producing after Favre declined and eventually departed, posting similar numbers until an ankle injury derailed his 2012 season and the Vikings decided to move on. In the end, Harvin's exit led to another positive for the Vikings, who traded him to Seattle for a first-round pick in 2013, which they used on Rhodes. Spielman has been enamored of raw speedsters ever since -- Patterson and Hughes certainly fit the bill -- but peak Harvin was a singular talent.
2. Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (2012, No. 29)
Rhodes and Barr were foundational, but "Harry the Hitman" has been the heart of Zimmer's sometimes-dominant defenses for years. Smith seemingly does everything on the field, and does it well. He started 16 games as a rookie, but took off in Year 3, his first under Zimmer, racking up five interceptions in 2014. He's been a fixture in the Pro Bowl over the last four seasons, and earned All-Pro honors in 2017, his best season to date. The best player on the league's best defense that year, Smith earned a grade of 98.8 from Pro Football Focus for his regular-season play, the site's highest rating that season.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2007, No. 7 overall)
The class of 2007 produced plenty of stars, but none have shown brighter than Peterson, who somehow fell all the way to seventh. The holder of nearly every Vikings rushing record of note, Peterson started breaking them almost immediately. He started as a rookie with the NFL's single-game rushing record, racking up 296 yards in Week 9 against the Chargers and finishing the season with 1,341 yards, a number that would quickly become fairly modest by his standards. Peterson ran for more than 11,000 yards in 10 seasons with the Vikings, and is up to 13,318 for his career, nearly 3,000 more than Marshawn Lynch, selected a few picks later, with 105 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for fifth all-time with Jim Brown. Peterson rushed for 1,200-plus yards in four straight seasons before a torn ACL cut his 2011 season short and put his future in doubt. He shrugged off such concerns a year later, rushing for 2,097 yards during the 2012 season and powering Minnesota back to the playoffs. His run with the Vikings ended amidst significant controversy in 2017, but Peterson's on-field accomplishments are pretty incredible.