Today: Rick Spielman’s draft strategy April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman lives for this time of year on the NFL’s now seemingly 12-month calendar.
Spielman, who prides himself as a talent evaluator, looks forward to the NFL Draft. He relishes the chance to mine for talent. Maybe even more so, he enjoys the chance to wheel and deal in the biggest trading time of the entire year.
Minnesota enters Thursday’s first round with 11 picks in total, including the Nos. 23 and 25 picks in the first round. Two days before the first pick, while meeting the media for his annual predraft press conference, Spielman was already discussing his willingness to move around in this week’s draft.
He’s played out the scenarios in his mind for months. In fact, he said Tuesday there’s “8,000 scenarios” he and his staff have worked through.
“It was kind of like putting a Rubik’s cube together,” Spielman said. “I can literally say, there were two to three, sometimes four, players that we’ve hammered through. And I can tell you (Monday), we were in with the defensive coaches, hammering through that, one more time; what is the significance between it? But in the end result, by the time we got finished, with the defense and then with the offense and with the scouts, I can honestly say that whoever we end up with, I know they’ll be a major part of this franchise and a major part of this football team next year and even going forward.”
Spielman will enter the draft with more positions of need than is typical for a playoff team, including all along the defense and at wide receiver. The Vikings have the chance to come away with three starters if they play their hand right. Spielman, with his eye always on maximizing the potential on picks, won’t be standing pat.
Minnesota’s GM likes to trade, and a draft that’s expected to feature a lot of trades will surely involve the Vikings’ chief decision-maker.
“There are some teams jockeying potentially in the bottom of the first round to come up to one of our picks at 23 or 25, and that’s something we’re going to be very open to,” Spielman said. “I think if we decide to go ahead and trade back in this draft, because of the depth at the positions of need that we have, we can still get a very similar player and potentially pick up some things, either this year or next year.”
For a look at Spielman’s M.O., one only needs to check back at the first round last year. Minnesota opened the first round with one pick, No. 3 overall, and the franchise’s future left tackle Matt Kalil staring them in the face. Spielman didn’t sit idly by and take the player he wanted. He somehow coerced the Cleveland Browns to give up the fourth overall pick, a fifth-rounder and a seventh-rounder to switch one spot in the draft order. Cleveland wanted running back Trent Richardson. The Vikings still got Kalil.
Spielman had two picks in the first round last year, and neither were Minnesota’s original selections. Spielman says he likes to enter the draft with at least 10 picks so that he has the flexibility to maneuver. After the trade with the Browns, the Vikings made the move to jump back into the first round to grab safety Harrison Smith. Spielman made two other trades during the draft, which netted him, among other things, fourth- and sixth-round picks this season.
“I think that’s what we try to do; have as many of those draft picks as we can,” Spielman said. “As we go through this draft, don’t be surprised if we accumulate more because like I said, if I think we can move down to ‘X’ spot in the first round and still get the same quality of player and accumulate another pick or accumulate another pick for next year, we’ll definitely be looking to do that.”
Since being named the team’s general manager in January 2012, Spielman has tried to change the complexion of the Vikings, getting younger to get more in line with the league trend. Spielman has remade the offense into a young unit, and the next step will be freshening up the defense, especially along the line where five of the top six players are unsigned past 2013. Also of concern is a middle linebacker position that lacks a logical starter and a need for depth at cornerback after Antoine Winfield signed with the Seattle Seahawks.
Whether it’s for ammunition to move around or to grab the next Vikings’ player, Spielman treasures his picks. Now we’ll see which of those “8,000 scenarios” comes about. Spielman getting involved in a trade seems a likely scenario.