Vikings swing big in draft again, but success will be determined by Bridgewater
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rick Spielman added 10 draft picks and 15 undrafted rookies, playing the NFL Draft in his usual, aggressive way, trying to alter the look of the Minnesota Vikings.
Yet, Spielman knows his draft will be judged on the performance of Teddy Bridgewater, the hopeful answer at quarterback Minnesota has sought for years.
"Of course you are always going to be judged by the quarterback," Spielman said Saturday after the draft. "Regardless of what you drafted or how many Pro Bowlers or young guys or whatever, it’s always going to come down to how we win or lose games. That’s what you ultimately get judged on."
Despite strong drafts as the Vikings general manager, Spielman’s reputation suffered because of the selection of Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in 2011. He will equally be judged by the success or failure of Bridgewater, the Louisville quarterback who was seen as the top quarterback prospect throughout last season before being knocked for a poor Pro Day.
Minnesota, essentially, gave up a fourth-round draft pick in a deep draft to move up from the eighth pick in the second round to the final pick of the first round on Thursday to select Bridgewater.
"(Offensive coordinator Norv Turner) really, really liked Teddy Bridgewater," coach Mike Zimmer said after the pick. "He’s talked to me several times about it, the potential that he has to be a great quarterback in the NFL. I don’t want to speak for Rick, but we wouldn’t have moved up just to get anybody."
Spielman and Zimmer’s first draft together might be dependent on Bridgewater, but the two also hope to have found at least one immediate starter and more depth, competition and hopeful future starters, particularly on defense.
The Vikings had plenty of needs heading into the offseason, and, with Zimmer in mind, spent most of their resources in retooling a defense that allowed the most points in the league last season. Minnesota added nose tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, linebacker Jasper Brinkley and defensive linemen Corey Wootton and Tom Johnson in free agency.
For the draft, the focus remained on the defensive side of the ball.
Even though the attention will be on Bridgewater, the Vikings tried to fill one defensive hole with UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who was their first choice on Thursday at No. 9 overall. Barr seemed an odd choice at the time. Most analysts believed Barr fit a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker better with his ability to pursue off the edge as a pass rusher with speed.
Zimmer and Spielman didn’t worry about that. They saw Barr as the second-best pass-rusher in the draft behind No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney and believe Barr has the athleticism and versatility to live as an outside linebacker in Minnesota 4-3 defense.
"He has got great hips, great feet," Zimmer said. "He can get into coverage, he can get out of coverage. He can get into breaks, out of breaks. He’s an excellent rusher. So that’s why I’m saying some of those things about this guy and his size. He has got a great first step coming off of the line of scrimmage, he has a great first step in the blitz. So his coverage ability and rush ability and length that he has, I like big guys, I always have liked big guys. He has a lot of unique ability and talent."
Quite possibly, Barr is the Vikings’ only draft pick who will start this season. Barr fills an immediate role, as Minnesota’s linebacker situation is unsettled after veteran Chad Greenway.
However, the Vikings didn’t add another linebacker until the seventh round with Georgia Tech’s Brandon Watts. Minnesota still has decisions to make at linebacker, including the starter in the middle where Brinkley will compete with Michael Mauti and likely Audie Cole.
Due to the trade for Bridgewater, the Vikings didn’t have a fourth-round pick to work with. They used their two third-round selections on likely Year 1 backups. Minnesota went for value with Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton, who is behind Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Wootton right now.
Later, the Vikings picked Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon could carve out a role as a third-down and change-of-pace running back, but he isn’t likely to steal many opportunities away from a healthy Adrian Peterson.
After missing out on the fourth round, Minnesota used its fifth-round pick on Stanford guard David Yankey, another likely backup in his first year.
"The objective is to get the best players on your board," Spielman said. "Everybody has a development stage. Some are right off the bat, some take some time. We feel very strongly about the foundation of what we are building here. We are very excited for these coaches to get a chance to work with them."
Spielman stayed true to his board, but the strategy was at the expense of adding immediate contributors to the weakest spots on the roster.
Most surprising was the Vikings’ wait for help in the secondary. Minnesota didn’t draft a defensive back until the sixth round with Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum. Two cornerbacks, Maine’s Kendall James and North Carolina’s Jabari Price, were seventh-round selections.
Perhaps Spielman didn’t see the right fit with defensive backs with Minnesota’s picks. But, the Vikings enter the rest of the offseason with many unknowns still in the secondary.
Xavier Rhodes is expected to continue his development in his second year and Munnerlyn is a solid, veteran addition. But a secondary that allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL and the most touchdown passes will have to hope for improvement from within and with the coaching of Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.
The draft was deep at cornerback, and Minnesota focused on athleticism with its two seventh-round picks. Aside from four first-round picks, the crop of safeties in the draft wasn’t particularly deep, and Zimmer maybe sees more potential with the players on the roster than what was in the draft.
"I know that everyone is going to have their board differently, but we had our board developed and I’m always going to stay true to that board," Spielman said. "I’m not going to go take a corner and safety if I have a defensive end that we have graded very highly off the board. I’m always going to stay true to the board, and that’s still taking the best player available.
"I also knew as I sat and watched the board come to us, there was a lot of depth in those later rounds with some of those athletic DBs that we felt confident we were going to be able to get the chance to swing at. We were definitely able to do that as a result."
Bridgewater will define the Vikings’ draft — and maybe Spielman’s future — and Barr adds a possible Day 1 starter. However, Minnesota still has questions to answer heading into the summer.
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