Last night, my buddy Evan 'Tex' Western from APC shot me an email and asked for some quick impressions about that memorable first round. And on the thread over there, the commentariat got into a discussion about drafting for depth.
So I thought to myself what's better--drafting for quality, or drafting for quantity? Both philosophies work if the guy in charge sticks to his game plan. Packers GM Ted Thompson is a master of the former, rarely foraying into free agency, and using draft after draft to build a deep roster. When he trades, it's usually down in the draft to accumulate picks.
He has the luxury of a top shelf quarterback, and some solid core players on both sides of the ball, so Thompson uses the draft to find good players to fill in the roster and to add to the two and three deep.
But depth doesn't matter if you don't have talent, and the Vikings have had to take a slightly different approach. When Spielman was hired in 2006, he wasn't in charge of all roster decisions, and the Vikings under Brad Childress used free agency to try and rapidly re-stock the talent level and make a championship run. They went out and got guys like Steve Hutchinson, Jared Allen, Chester Taylor, and Brett Favre, and rapidly rose from 6-10 to the cusp of the Super Bowl.
But when it all fell apart, it fell apart fast. Those players rapidly aged, and by the end of 2011 the Vikings were old, had very little talent outside of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, and were staring at a long rebuilding process.
But Rick Spielman is a firm believer in accumulating picks and building through the draft, too. Only when Spielman finally assumed full control over the roster, he had to accumulate picks to move up in the draft to acquire top shelf talent, and then fill out the depth later.
And that's what he's doing. In the last three years, he's used nine first or second round picks, to include five first rounders, to replace aging veterans or journeymen with solid starters. Last year, the Vikings ended up with two first round picks, this year they ended up with three. And he essentially transformed the 'core' group of players in three drafts. Adrian Peterson is still the focus, but instead of a core group of Peterson, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Steve Hutchinson and Kevin Williams, you now have a slew of young early picks surrounding Peterson and Greenway--Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, and now Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Yet, the Vikings still find themselves with five picks heading into tomorrow, with plenty of players available that can fill out the roster and add depth. And Spielman has been effective there, as well. Since 2010, he's found late round guys like Brandon Fusco, Chris DeGeare, Mistral Raymond, Jarius Wright, and Blair Walsh to fill out depth and find some hidden gems.
And it's working. The Vikings went from 3-13 and one of the oldest teams in the NFL in 2011 to a 10-6 playoff team, and one of the younger teams in the NFL, and they're only getting younger. And better.
Many times, teams choose between quantity and quality, but can rarely do both. Rick Spielman seems to be doing both just fine, thank you very much.