Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has been drafting for two years, and, like quarterbacks who come into the league, he gets a few years to prove himself. If by the third year it hasn’t clicked, that’s it, give up.
In April’s draft, Spielman blew expectations out of the water. An unbelievable draft two years in a row is noteworthy for the GM. The consistency of the players drafted and the value on every pick was right on the money.
Spielman turned a 3-13 2011 team into a 10-6 playoff team one year later. This comes after a roster overhaul which gave Leslie Frazier a chance to reintroduce the Vikings as a team to be reckoned with in the NFC North. He is in fact is the real deal. Of course we still need to see if this year’s draft picks pan out, but the value of this year’s picks are promising if the team was looking to fill holes in the depth chart.
Spielman’s draft in 2012 was successful in multiple ways. He built a team around the best running back in the game. This is a team that was built for the 2012 season and years to come. His first round selections in the draft started 16 games in 2012. Guard Matt Kalil from USC and safety Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame fit the team and are class acts to boot. These are the type of guys the Vikings wanted to fill their roster with when Leslie Frazier took over the team in 2011.
The draft was deeper than the first round for the Vikings, drafting Josh Robinson at cornerback in the 3rd along with USC fullback Rhett Ellison and Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright in the 4th round. All three have had significant playing time in 2012. Ellison has become a perfect replacement for Tony Richardson who now plays for the Jets. Wright saw a multitude of playing time with the absence of Percy Harvin for a majority of the season. Robinson who racked up 2 interceptions looks to add to his playing time in his sophomore season.
Perhaps the biggest sleeper of the Vikings draft was the kicker out of Georgia drafted in the 6th round. The analysts said there was no need to waste a 6th round pick on a kicker with Ryan Longwell there. Blair Walsh quickly became a respectable kicker and won 2 clutch games for the team. Without Walsh’s hefty leg the Vikings were a below .500 team. Who would have thought a Georgia Bulldog kicker would be the x-factor in the team’s 2012 turnaround? Spielman and Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer calculated the leg of Walsh and felt comfortable having him out there when the game was on the line. Hindsight is 20/20, however Spielman’s 2012 draft proved what great scouting and instinct can do for a team on a makeover.
Coming out of the 2012 season, there were some roster changes that need to be made. Spielman traded the outspokenly volatile Percy Harvin to Seattle for 4 draft picks. The 25th pick, a pair 7th round picks and a mid-round pick in the 2013 draft. The headache was avoided, no pun intended. The next step was to help Christian Ponder with the people around him. The team signs Kansas City Quarterback Matt Cassel then along came the signing of tackle Phil Loadholt to an extension and the free agent signing of Greg Jennings to a $45 million deal along with the move to make Quarterback Joe Webb a full time receiver. This was the position he was drafted at after playing backup quarterback for the past few years. He says he has a new understanding of how to run routes and get open. This all happened in the time leading up to April’s draft.
Then this April’s draft happens, perhaps the best draft the Vikings have seen in a while. Spielman and his scouts had two 1st round picks to use, 23rd & 25th. The Vikings drafted the Defensive Tackle from Florida who was number one on the Vikings board at the time and were utterly surprised that Sharrif Floyd had dropped so low in the round. So Spielman and the team drafted him with the 23rd pick. They also cleaned up their secondary with their remaining first round pick in Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes is a larger cornerback from Florida State who can cover the big receivers of the NFC North.
The biggest surprise came shortly after the media and Vikings staff thought their draft day was over. As Spielman was holding a press conference and Leslie Frazier a radio show, Vikings staff came rushing in Frazier and Spielman were rushed out of their media appearance. The team had received a call from the Patriots to trade into the first round. The Vikings gave up their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th round draft picks and secured Tennessee standout receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to replace the attributes of Percy Harvin. A possible task considering, his skill set and attitude towards the team concept.
Spielman strikes again. Three draft picks in the first round is unheard of. Even though he threw away a majority of his mid to late round picks he kept the rest of the draft to sure up some needs and picked up good value in Gerald Hodges, linebacker from Penn State and helped their depth with the addition of Michael Mauti also from Penn State. They also filled up holes at guard with the late round picks of Jeff Baca and Travis Bond.
The Chris Kluwe situation was handled when the team cut him for some says his outspoken nature affecting the team negatively. Nonetheless they drafted the punter out of UCLA Jeff Locke. Spielman proved the naysayers wrong with his kicker pick last year and hopes to find another gem like Walsh in Jeff Locke.
The instant impact the players the Vikings have drafted and signed through free agency can help the team win now and for years down the road as these high character guys develop as a unit. Spielman hopes to add to the already extremely high level of starts he asks for and receives of his youngsters from last year and now this year’s draft. If this class holds up the same as 2012, lookout the Vikings are a force in the NFC to watch for in the next 5-10 years.
The only question that will loom over Spielman’s head this off-season and into the next is the extension of Jared Allen’s contract, which is a debate for another day. If that doesn’t work out watch how quickly Spielman finds an even younger replacement in the draft. For Vikings fans, things are looking up.