Ever since Rick Spielman was promoted from his nebulous purgatory within the ill-conceived and ill-fated Triangle of Authority to full-time GM, the reviews back have been... well, at times, wildly mixed. Some have hailed him as a shrewd genius, others have called for his head on a stake (few so virulently as perhaps myself post Winfield-gate*).
One area where he typically gets solid fan-love is in the draft; specifically, his ability to grab numerous 1st round picks- and usually at very decent prices. (The Patterson trade with New England being perhaps his only truly ‘pricey' swap.) In his 3 drafts, he has managed 6 first round picks (and, without coincidence, has yet to draft in the second round even once).
While there is always more to building a team than the draft alone, it can be argued that this infusion of top-level draft talent has helped to turn the team around in a major way- even if not all of these first rounders have panned out to their fullest expectations. But on the whole, how has Spielman truly fared in the draft? Great teams do more than succeed in the first round. While every single pick is a gamble, there is still the highest chance of success in the first round (although many analyses show that the difference between the bottom of the first and the top of the second can be negligible). Spielman deserves credit for maximizing his chances of success by netting so many first round picks, but if he's truly a ‘great' GM when it comes to the draft, he shouldn't have to rely on it.
Determining draft success at this point is fraught with danger. First off, there should be a period of time before a draft is truly analyzed. If we are to look at what Spielman has done at this point, then we need to essentially throw that ‘rule' out the window, because he's only had 3 drafts as a full-time GM. And yes, that's what I'm focusing on- while he has participated in drafts previously, I'm loathe to attempt to ‘grade' him on them because of that damn ToA. While we can all try to find reports, read on ‘sources close to the principle', etc. to determine which pick was who's idea, you're never going to truly know what happened in that war room. And that does include Leslie Frazier's first year, although I doubt he attempted to force his opinions like Brad Childress surely did. This means Spielman is both escaping arguably the worst recent pick (Christian Ponder) and also not getting credit for a solid one (Kyle Rudolph). Only once Spielman was a full time GM does he, in my opinion, deserve both full credit and blame for the drafts- or, at the least, am I able to have firm evidence that he deserves said praise and blame.
Furthermore, in order to ‘grade' Spielman, I felt a need for some sort of measuring stick. This is not totally necessary, but I do feel it helps for perspective's sake. Yes, you can grade off the results alone- were the players he drafted successes or failures? But this can ultimately lead to a rather subjective overall ‘grade', because some will expect him to have an absurd 100% success rate (impossible), or argue that ‘the draft is a gamble, so even just a 51% success is OK' (which I would disagree with). To try and cut through that, and to put the gamble that is the draft in some sense of context, I'm going to try and set the bar as high as possible.
To do so- and this is of course in and of itself somewhat subjective and likely to be trashed by some- I'm going with a relatively simple measurement: the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. Yes, that's a tad bit lazy, but these two teams have arguably been the most successful over the past 3 years- the period of time we're judging Spielman in. All 3 years they have both made the playoffs, and both have a Super Bowl win each throughout. And both teams are known for being relatively shrewd in their drafts, particularly with success in later rounds (although the Patriots also do ridiculously well after the draft when developing their UFAs- which might almost be a knock on their drafting abilities, as it could be argued that they shouldn't have to develop those guys if they were drafting a bit better).
The method I used is fairly straightforward with the comparisons. I charted all three team's picks over the past 3 years, and looked at two different aspects- first, how successful were the players they drafted, and second, how many made/ remain on their respective teams?
To determine success, I looked at overall player grades, averaged for their years played. See where this immediately can become flawed? Players drafted in 2012 have 3 years under their belts- for many, the ‘minimum threshold' for grading a draft. Players drafted, however, in 2014 have only one; actually, none of the Vikings 2014 picks even have a full season of playing under their belt (Barr, Bridgewater, and McKinnon- the only 3 to become a starter at any point- did not play the entirety of the season).
Continuing the determination of ‘success' also requires a bit of a sliding scale based on where they were drafted. Becoming a starter at your position (in theory) from any round could be construed as making you a success; however, becoming ‘only' a backup can mean a failure or a success depending where you were taken at. Cordarrelle Patterson, for example, looked downright like a bust last season when he was demoted (and then demoted again) to backup. Audie Cole, on the other hand, who has only ever started due to injury, could and should be called a success for becoming a solid, (mostly) reliable backup- this of course being because Patterson was a first round pick and Cole was a seventh. To me, any player taken in the 4th round or below making the team as a reliable backup and/or a ST ‘starter' is a success. Players taken in the 1st and 2nd rounds are expected to make bigger impacts, while the 3rd round is a bit of a gray area- yes, becoming a reliable backup here isn't a total ‘failure' but many teams identify guys in this round with the hope that they can develop into starters down the road. (Which, again, throws us for a bit of a loop because we're now analyzing picks that haven't had that full chance yet.)
Furthermore, any player that doesn't make the team is an immediate ‘failure'. Yes, I do naturally understand that teams don't always- or even often- keep all of their drafted players after final roster cut-down. But you as a GM are at the minimum expecting this- or else why did you draft them? Some may argue that's unfair, but this is one of the reasons why we're using a ‘measuring stick'- while Spielman gets a ‘fail' for Kendall James, Bill Belichick also gets a ‘fail' for Jeremy Gallon (their final 2014 pick, who did not make the cut). Therefore it's fair in the sense that the measurement is across the board, and he's being compared to those we could crudely consider successes regardless. However. There is a flaw here when it comes to that that is worth pointing out- it is easier to make a talent-deficient team than a talent-rich one. When running this piece by some fellow Vikings bloggers, our own MarkSP18 and Viking Territory's Arif Hasan did both bring this up. I'm not particularly fond of grading a draft on that point overall (although again, there is a secondary chart included in all teams' analysis here showing that- simply for information's sake) because, well, your 'starter' might be awful. Jeff Locke would be an example for us, whereas Justin Britt would be an example for the Seahawks. (The Pats don't actually have an example of that over the past 3 years- the 4 starters they have netted all also graded out as 'high'.) But again, the point remains for backups too- it's easier to be a backup for a bad team than for a good one. Sadly, in many ways our beloved Vikings have fallen into the former category, whereas the comparisons here are quite the latter (particularly the Patriots, who were probably more solidly built prior to the beginning of this analysis period than the Seahawks). A great example of this would be Josh Robison- he's an entrenched backup, and arguably even a starter if you like the idea of listing three starting CBs because of the increasing use of nickel formations (although note that I did not go this route and listed him as a backup). Yet Robison would be very unlikely to make the team at all as a Seahawk, and at best might pass muster as a dimeback for the Pats. Therefore, do keep this in mind when looking in particular at bottom round picks. While the Vikings have retained the vast majority of the players taken at all rounds over the past 3 years, the Seahawks as comparison have kept one player drafted in the 6th or 7th round since 2013 (their insane 2012 draft does feature 3 guys still on the team from the bottom two rounds, including starters Jeremy Lane and JR Sweezy- seriously, they KILLED that year's draft). This could potentially skewer the results some, because again drafting a guy who doesn't make the team is an automatic 'poor'.
That said I am still keeping that measurement for two reasons. First, frankly there's not a very good way to judge whether a pick was ‘good' or ‘bad' when a guy doesn't make your team; the point, your talent aside, remains that you effectively wasted a pick. I don't care how good your team is, you're drafting guys you at least hope can make the practice squad. And it's not like there isn't room on these teams, either- Julian Edelman was a 7th round pick and is a starter for the Patriots. They have holes, just like any other team in the ‘age of parity'; but the point does still remain that some of the guys that didn't make the cut for these two teams could have had a spot on the Vikings, and therefore it is still fair to admit that the results could appear skewed in the latter rounds.
This does lead directly to the second measurement- whether players drafted made the team and are still on it. Now we find our issue here returns to the idea of including drafts that are, calendar-wise, less than a year ago: Kendall James aside, all the 2014 picks are still on the Vikings, whereas that will likely change by final cut-downs later this year. Yet again, without a crystal ball, there's nothing I can do about that. And of these players, who became a starter? There's no sliding scale here- either you're a starter, you're a backup, or you're not on the team (this does not include practice squad, which is fine as only one guy in these drafts is on their own team's PS; I opted to not include this because PS's are too damn nebulous, frankly). This is to measure in which rounds our 3 GMs have succeeded in getting their 53 man roster from, and at what levels. Of course, being a starter is not an automatic call for a high-five- as mentioned before, Jeff Locke is obviously a starter, but that was by all accounts thus far a bad pick. Matt Kalil might also be argued to be in the same boat, although I am trying to be optimistic about a turn-around next year. (Mostly because if not... ugh.) Such as it were we're not actually going to bother grading this. It is simply included, again, for overall information's sake. The two issues (your starters might suck, being a backup is easier for a less talented team) simply combine to make that an overall ‘graded' analysis that will totally fail to show who is truly successful at drafting.
So let's get to it. Again, measuring success across the past three drafts, again grading on a sliding scale based on draft order. We'll be going in the order of: Vikings drafts, Patriots drafts, Seahawks drafts.
edit- IT WAS ALMOST AS IF HARRISON SMITH HAD NEVER EXISTED
OK, so here's how it went, along with some necessary explanations for grades (mostly for 2014, which sadly is fraught with subjectivity on my part). Arif and I had a debate on Crichton and Yankey; I initially had them both ranked 'poor' as neither saw the field in what I felt were excellent opportunities to do so. Based on his arguments I did bump Yankey up to average (his feelings are that both were drafted as projects, and that neither were ever nor should have ever been expected to see the field). My issue is that while I can somewhat buy this theory with Yankey, Crichton was a guy who- and again, this is all my opinion- should have been able to enter the rotation on D-line considering how much Zimmer switched out players. Shamar Stephen, for example, saw what could be argued as 'significant' snaps for a rookie drafted in the 7th round; Crichton conversely, for a 3rd round guy, almost never saw the field. With Yankey I feel that with all of the injuries at right guard (remember, it wasn't just Fusco- it was also HIS backup, Ducasse, who ended up injured at one point) it's very odd he only even dressed for one game. While Berger did avail himself decently for being a 3rd string guard, one would still think that Yankey would be getting closer looks there. Conversely, I do understand that Yankey was drafted to be our LEFT guard- and while the transition between guard spots is not as dramatic as tackle spots, it's still not a simple 'plug and play' situation. IF indeed the team was committed to grooming Yankey, and still believe he will be the LG of the future, then I can buy he might even be considered a 'high' draft pick (based on how he ends up playing, of course)- but I'm still not totally sold that's the case. Exum gets an average because while he did see the field, he only did 'OK' at best. Stephen again gets a 'high' because as we mentioned before, there is a sliding curve for these picks- I'm not expecting a 7th rounder to perform like a 1st, and the fact that he not only made the team, but made the rotation (and was decent when on the field) I think warrants consideration. Price gets an average because while he wasn't that great, he was also again a 7th rounder, and I'm at least pleased he was someone worth actually putting on the field (again, not bad for a rookie 7th round pick). Watts gets an average for now, although I did initially consider giving him a poor.
Spielman, despite all his first round bartering, actually drafted the most in the 7th round- 8 picks compared to 7. As said before, he has no 2nd round picks to speak of. His first round picks have netted 5 'highs' and 2 'averages', with no 'poors' as of yet (although Patterson and Kalil are teetering on the edge there- however, both had highly impressive rookie seasons that do factor in). The 3rd round picks are oddly even- one of each rating. The 4th round might almost be his most successful- 3 highs and 1 poor (but keep in mind our sliding scale has begun to drop the qualifications for 'high' at this point). The 5th round has that interested evenness to it again- one of each. The 6th round has 1 high, 1 average, and 2 poor. The seventh round, where he's drafted the most, actually has 2 highs and 3 apiece of average and poor- yet again however recall our standards have dropped to their lowest here.
Overall, Spielman averages 44.8% high, 27.6% average, and 27.6% (again) poor. Having multiple first rounders doesn't hurt his ‘high' percentage, but he actually has done relatively well in other rounds as well, to his credit. (And it's not like all the first round picks got ‘high' grades either.)
Now how does that compare to the Patriots, first up for comparison's sake?
That's a somewhat interesting look there for the latest Super Bowl winner. To begin with the ‘subjective' rankings, 2014 actually was somewhat less difficult- those guys in red? They didn't make the team. Easley and Fleming both had seasons cut short by injury, but didn't look awful for their respective draft orders- so I'm pretty comfortable with their average. Stork did very well as a starting center. Zach Moore, in my humble opinion, performed about as well as you'd generally expect from a 6th round rookie- he didn't do much, but he did do something. James White was pretty tough. He wasn't active during their post season run, and that alone should have warranted him a ‘poor'... but it sounds like the Patriots are still considering him a potential replacement for Shane Vereen should he leave in FA, which if it pans out would make him a ‘proper' 4th round pick (development guy). I gave him an ‘average' for now considering that. Garoppolo, man... now that was the trick. I almost gave him ‘average', but to be fair, he was obviously drafted to be a backup QB... which is exactly what he became. And the Pats were obviously comfortable enough with him to let Ryan Mallett go, and not for all that much compensation either. I'll give him a ‘high' for now, but that might end up being overly generous.
Ol' Billy, as we all know, is kind of a weird drafter. He'll drop clear out of the first round without a second thought, which is exactly what he did in 2013. Interestingly enough, he hasn't drafted in the 5th round the past 3 years. Like Spielman, he's drafted the most in the 7th round, with one more pick there than in the 2nd, 4th and 6th rounds. 1st and 3rd rounds bring up the rear with 3 picks each.
Overall, it's a bit of a toss up which round he did ‘best' at- both 1st and 2nd rounds netted 2 ‘high' picks, but Easley in time could make that 3 for the 1st. (And again, Garoppolo might be a ‘freebie' high in the 2nd.) Tavon Wilson drags down the 2nd round though by being the only ‘poor' amongst those rounds.
Billy's bottom rounds weren't that great, although Nate Ebner has been a solid ST'er- which is a good pick in the 6th. Alfonzo Dennard had previously been a starter as a 7th rounder, which also grants him a ‘high'- and he remains as a reliable backup (no shame behind Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis). They rank as the only ‘high' in the bottom two rounds, with Michael Buchanan getting ‘averages'... again, you might argue that but they've been contributors who were drafted in the 7th round, so that works. Otherwise, the drafts have pretty much been a pile of ‘meh' for the Patriots.
If we're comparing this with the Vikings, one could argue that Spielman has been the better drafter. Yes, I know that the Patriots just won the Super Bowl. But we are only comparing the previous 3 years' drafts here- not on the field success (which also requires more talent that you're going to have in 3 years of drafting, good FA moves, and solid coaching- amongst other things). And while Belichick's needs in the draft are different- after all, he was able to land one hell of a CB tandem in FA and has his franchise QB comfortably in place- it's still not been a great outing for him. To put it into perspective, however, Spielman may only ‘win' because of 2012- which turned out to be a great draft for the Vikings. Comparing 2013 and the ever-tricky-to-analyze 2014, however, they are almost identical. But still, sorry Billy- I'm giving a slight advantage to Tricky Rick here, since we are comparing all 3 years. However, Mark did point out something to keep in mind- and we'll revisit this with the Seahawks- the Vikings did have (obviously) higher picks to work with than a team that's always, at minimum, in the playoffs, and this is worth noting.
I guess if saying Belichick didn't do the best in the draft upsets him, he can console himself with that shiny new Lombardi. He'd probably flame war me in the comments if his fingers weren't too weighed down by SB rings to effectively type.
Overall, Belichick averages 34.8% high, 30.4% average, and 34.8% (again) poor. Quite the mixed bag. Spielman's maneuverings to increase his odds via collecting first round picks might be a stroke of genius, plain and simple.
Now, let's wrap up the comparison with the Seattle Seahawks.
First off... whoa. That's not a great looking draft period. Give them of course credit for winning the NFL in 2012- that draft is what set them up for back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and a win, hands down. Aside from obviously Russel Wilson, they also netted Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Jeremy Lane and JR Sweezy- all starters, and all easily positive marks in my book. Yes, Sweezy didn't have the best start, but he's coming into his own- and remember, he was a defensive lineman who made the transition to guard, which is kind of insane.
But after that... ye gods. Jordan Hall is your only truly ‘all around' positive mark here. (Like Gerald Hodges, I gave him starting credit as- prior to his injury- that's who he became, and I predict a chance for him to compete to keep it.) Luke Wilson gets a high grade because of where he was drafted. Justin Britt is a starter, but he was the worst graded RT in the NFL last season. (Some will wonder why I gave Britt an outright ‘poor' but our own beleaguered tackle, Kalil, an ‘average'. Kalil had a very solid rookie season under his belt... that's why. Remember, these grades are averaged out over the period they've played in. Yes, that gives Kalil arguably a very unfair advantage here against Britt- but that's an issue with this whole project, remember?) To continue a bit more with grading a draft that's only had one season, I don't know how you give Paul Richardson anything but a ‘poor'. Even ignoring the deep draft at WR last year, as a second round pick he should have easily claimed a starting spot on their talent-deficient receiver corps... yet didn't.
Like with the Patriots, you can scoff at that and point out their recent run of success. My issue- and this is a bit tangential from our overall point- is that this really isn't actually the setup you want to see for a ‘dynasty'. Yes, they're a powerhouse team right now, but drafts like these past two could doom their future. Christine Michael is an excellent example of this. The Seahawks have looming cap issues this year and next, yet felt the need to offer Marshawn Lynch a hefty contract to return. If Michael was a better overall running back, maybe he and Turbin really could have been the replacement tandem that the Seahawks mentioned earlier in the 2014 season, and the money offered to Lynch could have gone elsewhere. Obviously, however, the Seahawks do not feel confident in that. And while we did discuss earlier that it would be easier for a player to make the Vikings over the deeply talented Seahawks, you still expect a bit better than this. But I digress.
Because of 2012 alone, it's almost hard to push Spielman as the more successful guy here- again, the Seahawks had one of the best drafts in recent memory that year. But just like keeping in Spielman's own good 2012 draft (no comparison to the ‘Hawks tho) bumped him ahead of Billy, keeping in 2013 and 2014 tanks the Seahawks here. John Schneider and Pete Carroll lose out here due to those absolute clunkers. Of course, it is worth noting once more that yes, the Vikings did have higher round picks to work with here (and, of course, that 2 of those 1st round picks we used came courtesy of the Seahawks themselves- thanks for helping us get Teddy, guys!).
The Seahawks average 23.3% high, 23.3% average, and 53.3% poor. This is overall pretty bad. Like... really bad, actually.
So what can this highly flawed analysis potentially show us? First off, Rick Spielman has actually topped to the two best teams from 2014, at least in the draft. Why, then, were the Vikings out of the playoffs and these two teams competing for a Lombardi (one attempting it's second in a row)? Again, building a team only partially occurs through the draft. Both teams have been relatively active and successful in FA (the Patriots, again, putting together an awesome CB tandem through it) and have great coaching staffs. Both also had QBs securely in place throughout these three years, if we include Wilson's rookie year there. We of course have ours now (by all appearances), and have assembled what also appears to be an excellent coaching staff. There's no reason to believe that our success is coming very soon too. Just one more solid draft and it could easily be argued we'd be fielding a team closing in on the talent of these two comparative franchises.
It also shows that Spielman's strategy of collecting first round picks is not really a ‘crutch' per se- he's used that to very effectively shoot his success percentage sky-high. While the Seahawks and Patriots have been practically loathe to draft in that round (they combined have drafted there 2 times less than the Vikings alone over the past 3 years), it conversely could be argued as one of the reasons their draft percentages simply don't compare: 45% high quality picks for Spielman, 35% for Belichick, and 23% for the Seahawks.
So... love him or hate him, our GM has been pretty lights-out over his 3 year tenure when it comes to the draft.
Using probably very questionable analyses anyways.
PS- *(Yes, I used ‘gate' there just to piss off Chris. HAHA SUCK IT hey where did my front page privileges go? And why am I banned?)