In a draft that saw eight offensive linemen go off the boards before the Vikings picked, Minnesota was able to capitalize by selecting a player no one saw dropping to 23—not even Spielman himself.
"I went through a thousand scenarios and for that 23rd or 25th pick... I can tell you honestly [Sharrif Floyd] was not in any one of those scenarios. I know there was some conversation as he fell to potentially even move up, but as names kept falling off the board, we had more than enough options to just sit there and let everything fall to us. And when Sharrif fell to us, it was something that was very unexpected that he would come that far. We had him very high on our board."
Floyd is an undertackle who plays between the tackle and the guard of the offensive line, primarily tasked with rushing the passer in the Vikings' relatively traditional Tampa-2 offense. As I've detailed, Floyd is an elite talent that fell to the Vikings in a fit of fortune more than anything else. Neither Spielman nor head coach Leslie Frazier could contain their excitement at grabbing Floyd.
How exactly did the Vikings find a way to grab the highly-touted Florida prospect? If there's a red flag that no one knows about, Spielman is keeping mum.
"[He's] very clean. There was no personal issues, no off-field issues; what we look for bringing into our building." He instead offered an alternative explanation. "I think because there was a really big run on offensive linemen in that first round, so some of those offensive linemen pushed down some of that defense. It worked in our favor because a lot of our needs we were trying to fill were on the defensive side of the ball. I think that the run on offensive linemen had a significant part of Floyd falling to us."
Frazier told the assembled media that this was all part of the process and they put in just as many hours into long-shot prospects like Floyd as they do prospects projected to go where they pick. "Rick and the scouts and our coaches go through the vetting process with all those guys just to make sure, because you never know, just like tonight. So, you want to be sure you've done your homework and you're prepared if for some reason things don't go quite like you anticipated. Fortunately for us, we were prepared and we got a good football player."
Floyd's fall has been surprising to a number of analysts, including those at ESPN, SBNation's NFL Draft crew, and the Bleacher Report draft team. While the general consensus has been that Floyd's short arms (31¾") may have caused the fall, comparisons from NFL's best analyst, Greg Cosell, seem to indicate that it may not matter. Predicting Floyd as the top pick in the draft, Cosell had this to say:
"I think Sharrif Floyd is going to be an All-Pro type player right from Day One. I've spoken to people in the SEC who say he's as good a kid as he is a player, and that's really important when you draft someone No. 1," Cosell said.
"He's my favorite player that I've seen on tape, and I've seen an awful lot of players. He's an explosive athlete playing defensive tackle. He has really light feet," Cosell said. "He's so gifted physically that he can play anywhere on the line, and I think he will become, like J.J. Watt, a much better pass rusher in the NFL than he was in college football."
And that pass-rushing talent is exactly what Spielman wanted when he pulled the trigger on the Floyd pick at 23.
"I think he has the combination not only to play the run but to rush the passer as well. He's a young player that's only going to get better," Spielman said of the Florida prospect. "He'll have a great opportunity to come in here and work with our defensive staff and with our defensive line. We expect a lot of big things from him, not only next year but future years as well."
As for whether or not the Vikings planned to play around with rotating Sharrif Floyd and Kevin Williams or putting Floyd in at the nose tackle spot, Spielman was noncommittal but firm about where his true talents lie. "Coach Frazier can answer that [question] about rotation, but right now I'm just trying to gather [Floyd]. I think he has the flexibility to play inside at the nose, but his true position is at 3-technique because of his natural quickness and athletic skill set."
The Vikings weren't done at 23, of course.
Without so much as entertaining an offer to trade down, the Vikings immediately put in their pick for Xavier Rhodes at pick 25.
"He was very high on our board at the corner. I know we really tried to emphasize getting bigger corners. That was kind of our main criteria. We had talked about it because we had four or five other players we were strongly considering, but him and Floyd were one of the players we said we would not trade out of, and then [we would] try to fill out the rest of the needs as we go through the draft."
Rhodes is well known for his physical play and man coverage skills at Florida State, although his instincts in zone coverage have been put into question. Spielman again was willing to acknowledge that Rhodes was stronger as a man cover corner, but took care to point out that Rhodes was talented enough anyway and fits the other schematic needs for the Vikings.
"He plays a lot of press," Spielman acknowledged when asked about Xavier's experience and ability in zone play. "He's a shutdown press corner—as big a corner as you can get. And he can run. He has ball skills. And he can play in run support. All the things we're looking for in this scheme."
Frazier, too, was excited with the Vikings' picks. "You could hear the noise all the way out here," he said of the fan reaction at Mall of America field, 14 miles away. "What a park, it was terrific. Culminating with the picks we had today, there's no question in my mind we've gotten better."
Specifically, Rhodes looks to be the type of player the Vikings need to address the opponents the Vikings will have to face—excellent and tall receivers like Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson will constantly challenge the Vikings and elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers will plague the Vikings for some time to come. Repeatedly, Frazier and Spielman emphasized Rhodes' size and movement capability, as well as his range and length. Grabbing a ballhawk for a secondary that has long been absent of turnover machines must have been appealing.
Taking a shutdown corner regardless of scheme seems to be the Vikings' MO in the secondary, where Chris Cook was taken in the second round as a corner with experience primarily in man coverage. The Vikings have mixed up coverage schemes with Cook in play, and they've worked with man, zone and pattern-matching concepts. They plan do the same with Rhodes. Frazier specifically mentioned the ability to shift coverages and changing up what they typically do as an advantage to having Rhodes on the team.
The biggest splash move from the Vikings however, may have been the 29th pick in the draft. Trading the 83rd, 102nd and 229th pick in the draft to New England in order move up from pick 52 to pick 29, the Vikings grabbed a player who is perhaps the most athletic player in the entire draft, Cordarrelle Patterson.
The Vikings had talked for some time of moving up to grab Patterson—a player they clearly had on their board as far and away better than the rest of the receiving class—sometime early before the second round. But they knew that they needed to take advantage of an opportunity when it arrived.
"Well we were getting a number of calls from different teams about trading," Frazier elucidated. "We still had quite a few picks left for tomorrow and the next day. So we had teams calling. It was just who would allow us back in the first and New England was that team."
Patterson's raw play doesn't concern Spielman too much, primarily because he can make an instant impact returning the ball—better than even Percy Harvin, who just came off of one of the best kickoff returning seasons in NFL history.
"I think it's a process, with all these young receivers," he said. "But I know that he has some unique skills when you watch the tape on him, whether you put him in the backfield and pitch him the ball, whether you throw him the bubble screen, when you seem him go downfield... you're talking about a 6'1" 215 pound receiver that runs 4.3 that is electric with the ball in his hands. And what he does after the catch and what he does as a returner."
To pound the point home, Spielman added, "What this guy can do, we feel, is much more than Percy can as a returner."
That is a huge added value. Not only will he grow into it and I know we need to develop him as a receiver, but what he could potentially immediately add as a returner."
In all honesty, it all came down to one thing for Spielman: "We felt, besides Tavon Austin, he was the most explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands."
The rawness that had driven Patterson down the boards was an issue, but clearly not too daunting for a team that trusts its receiving coach and the ability of veterans like Greg Jennings to bring people along.
"Greg's the ultimate pro's pro," Spielman said of the newly acquired vet. "I don't know that there's anyone at the position that knows the game like Greg Jennings, so to have a Greg Jennings on your roster to bring Patterson in under his wing and under his tutelage I think is a huge part of this."
Spielman sees a small difference between drafting Patterson and another young receiver, and thinks the coaching staff can bring him up to speed. "Just like all the young receivers that come out—and you know he's going to be a little bit farther behind just the nuances of the game, because he was a JC kid showed up on the campus in Tennessee in July and was there for 4 or 5 months."
And the trade? Initiated by New England, Spielman was asked if the Vikings may have given up too much and how the framework of the deal was set up.
"We go off the point charts and stuff, but then to get another pick in the first round, and to get a player of that caliber that was still there, we felt that he could be that big of a difference maker for us to go ahead and get it done," implying perhaps that Spielman felt that the value of the point chart was not reflective of the value of the player that they were targeting—paying a premium on the chart in order to add value in the real world.
When confronted with the possibility of being unprepared or undermanned at middle linebacker, Spielman seemed unruffled.
"We've got some guys on our roster, but the draft is not over. We probably can answer that a little bit better on Sunday or Monday, but we have some guys on our roster who will compete for the position. We still have some time to bring in a young guy as well." He also alluded to potentially securing a linebacker in free agency if they don't find a linebacker in the draft to start for the Vikings. With Karlos Dansby and Brian Urlacher still available on the free market, it's a tempting possibility. Perhaps the Vikings are simply confident in Erin Henderson's capabilities in manning the defense.
The Vikings took a risk grabbing Patterson and moving a number of picks to do it. But, it could very well pay off in both immediate and long-term wins.
Only time will tell.
If you're interested in grades, you can look at what the cast of NFL analysts at NFL.com have to say about the day they had. Michael Irvin thought the Vikings had the best day, and made a statement about how willing they are to manage people as well as teams, while Marshall Faulk was apparently so bored with how obvious it was that Minnesota did well that he simply moved on.
Their headline for their text story? "Vikings Dominate Another Draft." Adam Schein fell in love with what happened:
I thought Sharrif Floyd was the best defensive tackle in the draft. I wouldn't have batted an eye if he had been picked third overall. He slipped to No. 23, and Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman pounced on someone I could have seen him trading up to pick. What a genuine steal. I also loved the needed selection of physical corner Xavier Rhodes with the pick that was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in the Percy Harvin deal (No. 25). Then, to replace Harvin, Spielman traded with the New England Patriots to get back into the first round at No. 29 and nab Cordarrelle Patterson. Though he's not polished as a receiver, Patterson will instantly help on special teams.
Yet again, Spielman got the job done on draft day. This was an A+ draft.
John Clayton at ESPN was aboard the train as well.
Here are the winners:
1. The Minnesota Vikings: General manager Rick Spielman addressed three key needs in the first round. Two were easy. The Vikings got a break when Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd fell to them at No. 23. Some considered Floyd a top-five talent. Apparently, Oakland didn't. Not only did the Raiders trade down from No. 3 to No. 12, but then they took Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden, leaving Floyd available. The Vikings have four starters on their defensive line in the final year of their contracts. Kevin Williams, who is 32, is on the way out. He was scheduled to make $7 million a year for the next two years, but he accepted a paycut. He now has a one-year deal at $5 million. Floyd is his long-term replacement. The second break was having Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes available at the 25th pick. To fill the Vikings' other key need, Spielman gave New England four picks -- a second-rounder, a third-rounder, a fifth-rounder and a seventh-rounder -- for the No. 29 pick and took Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The Vikings still have five more picks over the rest of the draft but can take Friday off; they have no picks in Rounds 2 or 3. The only thing Spielman couldn't do was draft Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.
Although he is wrong about the compensation (it's an early fourth, not a fifth), he seems pretty enamored with what happened.
Will Brinson at CBS Sports like what the Vikings, but mostly because they didn't get Manti Te'o:
Vikings: Was worried the Vikes would end up drafting Manti Te'o with one of their two picks. They didn't, and they ended up absolutely smoking their first two picks, coming away with Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes. That was an absolute A-plus. And what really saved their decision to move back up and grab Cordarrelle Patterson -- despite paying too much for the move -- was that it wasn't Manti Te'o. Giving the Patriots three picks for a two-down linebacker would've been a train wreck; getting a monster playmaker is a strong move, even if they overpaid for him.
And over at Yahoo! Sports, Doug Farrar was praising the Vikings for their aggressiveness:
The Minnesota Vikings became the first team since the 2001 St. Louis Rams to manage three picks in the first round -- there was their 23rd pick, the 25th pick they received from the Seattle Seahawks in the Percy Harvin trade, and the 29th pick they received in a draft-day trade with the New England Patriots. The 2001 haul for the Rams ended in a Super Bowl appearance, and the Vikings are hoping that the additions of Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will increase their chances to advance in the postseason. The last time the Vikings had three picks in the first round was 1967, and they grabbed defensive tackle Alan Page -- perhaps the greatest player in franchise history.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was actually in the middle of a press conference discussing the Floyd and Rhodes picks when he had to excuse himself to execute the trade with the Patriots. Spielman later said that Patterson's skill set made the extra work worth it.
"We had talked about potentially moving up to try to go get [Patterson on Friday] but when something came to fruition tonight while I was talking to you guys, we wanted to jump on that," Spielman later told the media. "We were very, very aggressive to go do that just because I know what he can do as a receiver. But especially what he can do as a potential punt and kickoff returner because he is magic in that area as well."
Walter Football gave the Vikings individual grades: an A+ for Sharrif Floyd, a B for Xavier Rhodes and a B- for Cordarrelle Patterson.
The most important grader, our own Ted Glover, gave Day One a solid "A".
What do you think?