Vikings likely to draft defensive players early

Today is the final day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to tonight’s beginning of the NFL Draft.

April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview

Today: Forecasting the first-round picks

Using terms like “8,000 scenarios” and “Rubik’s cube,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has been trying to predict what will unfold in the first round of the draft as much as the rest of the NFL-crazed world.

Spielman has more inside information but is playing the guessing game along with the rest of us, trying to find out just what might transpire before Minnesota is slated to pick at No. 23 and No. 25 in tonight’s first round.

Uncertainties abound this year, from the lack of no-doubt, sure-fire top picks, unknowns surrounding the quarterback position, a sense of less elite talent but more overall depth in this draft class, and what is expected to be a period of heavy trading in the first round.

As of Wednesday, reports were the Kansas City Chiefs, who own the No. 1 overall pick, still were trying to decide who they were selecting. So, imagine the exasperation in Spielman, who might not be selecting for hours after Kansas City finally makes its decision.

It’s a lot of time for “Trader Rick” to get antsy. If the trading does intensify, expect Spielman to keep his name in the action.

“The phone has been, whether you believe me or not, but I’m telling you, it’s been the most active it’s been in a while, because of where we’re picking,” Spielman said Tuesday. “And I don’t know the reason why, but there are a lot of teams that potentially are jockeying from the top of that second round. 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. 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.”

Eventually, Spielman will need to pick, whether it comes sooner or later than the Vikings’ slotted picks at Nos. 23 and 25. For what it’s worth, Spielman said he doesn’t see Minnesota trading forward. He’s very open to trading back.

When the Vikings are finally on the clock, look for another familiar Spielman trait to come forward — the appeal of Notre Dame players.

Much-scrutinized linebacker Manti Te’o is a logical and likely expectation for one of Minnesota’s picks. Spielman will likely use the other as trade bait, trading back either later in the first round or into the second to amass more picks, likely in the third round, while still grabbing a player at a premium position like wide receiver or cornerback.

If the Vikings stay in the first round with two picks, they could come away with a starting middle linebacker in Te’o and a cornerback that could play immediately like Boise State’s Jamar Taylor. Spielman also alluded to the possibility of drafting a player with an eye toward getting someone who will develop in 2013 and start in 2014, possibly revealing interest in a defensive end like Florida State’s Tank Carradine or a defensive tackle like North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams.

No doubt, Spielman has run through all of those scenarios in his mind and with the team’s scouting staff.

“(They are) tired of me asking questions not for the first time but probably for the 500th time,” Spielman said. “‘What will we do in this?’ ‘Are you sure in this?’ It goes all the way down. But I know by the time Thursday comes around, and I know where we’re at right now, that everybody in this organization will be on the same page, and we’re going to do and pick the best players we think we can pick that are going to be best for the Minnesota Vikings.”

Te’o will bring with him questions regarding his mental acuity after the girlfriend hoax he endured last year when he spoke of a girlfriend he had never actually met in person and was revealed to be a fake. The ridicule has followed Te’o through the entire draft process.

But Spielman has met with Te’o several times during the past few months, and here’s to betting where there is smoke, there is fire. Spielman, when asked what he’s become clearer on as the draft has neared first answered: “I’ve learned a lot more about what these players are made of.”

Spielman didn’t have to go far to learn about Te’o. He could consult the two Notre Dame players, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, he drafted last year. Or there was tight end Kyle Rudolph, an Irish player drafted in 2011.

“We’ve visited with some of them,” Spielman said when asked if he talks to members of his own team that might have played collegiately with some of the draft-eligible players. “We’ve visited with coaches. We’ve visited with a lot of people, but I also know when you’re visiting with a player or you’re visiting with a coach, or you’re on campus and visiting with someone, take everything into account and you have to take it with a grain of salt, too, because some may see no holes. I’ve been on campuses where guys see too many holes where I didn’t agree with what they were telling me, either. So, you just take in all that information into account to come up with your decision.”

Right now, a linebacker is the only starting position without a true starter. Spielman said Erin Henderson could shift from the weakside into the middle. Spielman knows what he’s looking for in a linebacker.

“Besides everything we feel about the chemistry and everybody we want to bring in the locker room from a football standpoint, I know from a schematic standpoint we’re trying to get a three-down linebacker,” Spielman said. “A guy that has the athletic skillset to play all three downs. I know you see the Cover-2 and a lot of the stuff that we do on defense. Can he flip his hips and cover down the seam and do a lot of things like that.”

Is that Te’o?

Some question Te’o’s ability to cover the deep part of the field and the fact he ran sub-par 40-yard dash times. Teo’s video, aside from a disappointing effort in the national championship game, speaks for itself. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up after a season with 103 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions.

“I think Te’o’s a great athlete, but I think he’s been slammed for not being a great athlete because he hasn’t tested so well,” draft expert Taylor Jones said. “But he is the most fluid and comfortable looking player on tape of all three of those guys (Georgia’s Alec Ogletree and LSU’s Kevin Minter, the other top middle linebacker prospects). It’s kind of one of those things where you have to say, Combine, Pro Day aside, the guy’s just a good football player. I don’t care what his measurements were.

“The girlfriend hoax aside, I’d rather have that sort of off-the-field issue than somebody who is buying drugs and getting arrested for beating their wife and girlfriend. A girlfriend hoax, for me, is easier to handle than the other.”

Spielman has probably made his own decisions about the mental make-up of Te’o after plenty of background research. Here is to believing Spielman is comfortable with what he’s found.

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