Combine provides valuable evaluation time
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rick Spielman left his draft bunker for a short time last week, exiting the confines of the room where the Minnesota Vikings are conducting draft preparation to enter a meeting with reporters on Friday to discuss the upcoming Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Spielman, Minnesota's second-year general manager, seemed filled with a nervous energy. He and his staff had been sorting through names of draft-eligible players, and Spielman said the team was actually ahead of schedule in the evaluation process despite a record number of underclassmen entrants.
"I've just heard 250-some offensive guys that we're just slashing away at," Spielman said. "I've got another 350 defensive guys to get through over the next couple days. Right now, those guys I'm kind of honed in and focused on."
This is Spielman's time. He believes in building the Vikings through the draft and enjoys the scouting, evaluating and drafting side of his job maybe more than any other aspect. Minnesota's personnel and coaching staffs have been heavily involved in evaluations before heading to Indianapolis this week and will have the team's initial draft board set before leaving.
The Combine will up the evaluating ante.
"It's probably the biggest event heading into the draft," Spielman said. "It's the first time you're going to get all the Olympic numbers on these guys: the height, weight, speeds, the first time that we'll get in front of a lot of these guys, especially the juniors. We'll get all our medical, our psychological, both areas that we test in those. It's probably my most exciting time besides the day of the draft, going to the Combine, because there's so much that you get accomplished there."
The Vikings will get to watch an unusually deep group of players, especially after a record 73 underclassmen declared for the draft. Offensively, Spielman said the draft is strong with offensive lineman and receivers. He called the defensive line depth "pretty unique" this season, and he isn't the only one excited to see the players tested over the next week.
"This draft is a little bit different than previous drafts, because of all those junior underclassmen that have declared this year," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "I think we probably have better depth than we've had in the last 10 years. I'm really impressed with our depth."
The time in Indianapolis will be busy for Spielman and the Vikings. Aside from interviewing players and watching them perform in drills, Spielman and assistant general manager Rob Brzezinksi will also use the trip to further the discussion with agents regarding the team's free agents, such as right tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton and linebackers Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley.
The Combine will be important for Minnesota considering all of the draft-eligible juniors. The Vikings have prepped, per usual, by scouting tape and watching the various college all-star games. But seeing and speaking to players at the Combine will help finalize opinions.
And since he's there, Spielman wants to see the players work out. Skipping workouts, without a legitimate reason, is a negative in Spielman's mind.
"I've always been a little stickler about guys not coming in to work out," Spielman said. "I think it's been a lot better. I know just speaking with the agents, the agents try to get these kids prepared to come and work out at the combine. Some guys won't work. We usually try find out why. If it's a legitimate injury, then it is what it is. But I always felt very strongly that if a guy's coming to the Combine and he's had ample amount of time to prepare, why wouldn't you come in an compete with everybody at your position?"
Psychological testing has taken on added significance, and Spielman said the medical evaluations are perhaps the most important tests at the Combine. Spielman said other teams will pass players medically that Minnesota will fail, but the GM puts his trust in the team's doctors.
"If they are sitting there telling me we can't take a player because of a medical, I'm going to listen to them," Spielman said. "I need to trust their judgment and if they say this guy is a medical fail for us, then that's what we go with. That's one area where I won't say no, we're still going to take this guy."
Spielman said no players have been "red-dotted" — Spielman's version of demonstrating on the draft board a player that has criticial issues— for any reason yet but mentioned some are "teetering" right now.
Now the Vikings will get one of the final pieces to the draft puzzle, the Combine, to figure out which players won't teeter much longer.
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