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How Well Have the Vikings Drafted?

2014 NFL Draft
Easily the most dramatic draft pick the Vikings have made was moving up into the first round to pick Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I did a write-up earlier on how most NFL draft picks are busts, which begs the question, how well have the Vikings done? Here are some answers.

First, using the same draft metric compiled by Pro Football Reference in the first article, the Vikings have been a hair above average. Let me explain.

In the 1996-2015 draft period, the league average draft pick scored 12.7 (on the low-end of players considered “average”). The Vikings, by contrast, eeked out a 12.91 average score per draft pick, ranking them 14th in the league in picking winners - again just above average and basically tied with Seattle, who came in at 12.92. The top team during this period was Pittsburgh, with a 16.37 average score per draft pick, and the worst team was- you guessed it- Cleveland with a miserable 9.55 average score.

During this 20 year period, the Vikings drafted a total of 160 players. Of those, using the same categories as the draft metric above:

  • 18.1% (29 players) never played for the Vikings (most didn’t make the cut)
  • 33.1% (53 players) were considered Useless players of basically no value to the team
  • 17.5% (28 players) were considered Poor players with underwhelming careers
  • 15.0% (24 players) were considered Average - decent choices but nothing special
  • 8.75% (14 players) were considered Good - most likely starters but not impactful
  • 5.6% (9 players) were considered Great - above average starters over many years
  • 1.875% (3 players) were considered Legendary - elite players over many years

Comparing these results to league averages, the Vikings were worse in drafting players that never played for them- by about 1.5%, but this was offset by not drafting as many Useless players, bettering the league average by nearly 4%. But, the Vikings also were worse than average in drafting Poor players- doing about 2% worse than the league average of 15.3% in this category. But overall in these 3 ‘Bust’ categories combined, the Vikings had a total of 68.7%, while the league average was 69% - not much difference. If you exclude the few draft picks that were immediately traded, the Vikings were even closer to the league average.

Where the Vikings outperformed the league during this period, was in drafted average players (15% vs. 10.5% league average) and legendary with nearly twice the league average of 1%. On the other hand, the Vikings underperformed by about 3.5% in drafting “Good” players, and by 1.3% in drafting “Great” players compared to the league average of 6.9%, but outperformed by nearly 1% in the “Legendary” category. Comparing the three top categories combined, the Vikings did worse than league average by about 4%. This was off-set somewhat by their 4.5% outperformance in drafting average players.

In the real world, underperforming in drafting the top tier players is not even remotely off-set by doing better at drafting average players. In particular, the Vikings underperformance in drafting “Good” and “Great” players during this period was a big contributing factor to a lot of mediocre seasons during this same period.

EVALUATING RICK SPIELMAN’S PERFORMANCE

Beginning with the 2012 draft, Rick Spielman had final say on draft picks, whereas prior to that it was done by committee. Given that, let’s look at how Spielman has done with the final say (all indications being that the Wilfs defer to Spielman on draft picks), and compare results with league averages.

The first step is a review of all the Vikings draft picks since 2012. Admittedly a good number of these picks are too early to evaluate, particularly those of the past couple years, but most have at least something to go on. Using the same general criteria and categories as the PFR draft value, mainly starts and games played and some general measure of relative performance in this case, here is how I would categorize the Vikings draft picks since 2012:

2012

Matt Kalil - have to say he falls into the ‘good’ category based on number of starts and good rookie year, but as a #4 overall pick, very much a disappointment, mostly due to injuries if you ask me.

Harrison Smith - I’d say Smith has become a ‘great’ pick at this point, with potential to be ‘legendary’.

Josh Robinson - ‘poor’ would be the best fit here. He had more playing time than to be considered Useless, but his performance was very underwhelming.

Jarius Wright - I’d put Wright in the ‘good’ category, although he hasn’t had a lot of playing time in any given year, he has been re-signed and has proven a decent slot receiver, if not often used- especially last year.

Rhett Ellison - Another solid ‘good’ pick. Good result for a 4th round pick.

Greg Childs - Sadly a ‘never-played’ player, whose career was cut short by injury. Spielman took a gamble on Childs, who had known knee issues, but obviously it didn’t pan out.

Robert Blanton - I’d call Blanton an ‘average’ pick, better than Robinson, but as primarily a backup who was eventually let go, I would say he wasn’t a ‘good’ pick either.

Blair Walsh - Walsh started very well, made the Pro-Bowl as a rookie, had some good years, but then lost confidence or whatever happens to kickers when they miss kicks more often. Based on starts and performance, a ‘good’ pick, even though he was ultimately fired.

Audie Cole - Cole was an ‘average’ pick, and a pretty solid 7th round pick. Cole was primarily a special teamer, and performed well there, and did ok when he got playing time.

Trevor Guyton - a 7th round pick who ‘never played.’

So, overall for the 2012 draft, Spielman had 2 ‘never-played’, no ‘useless’ picks, 1 ‘poor’ pick, 2 ‘average’ picks, 4 ‘good’ picks, 1 ‘great’ pick, and no ‘legendary’ picks - although Smith still has that potential. As disappointing as Matt Kalil’s career in purple was, having 50% of his picks in the ‘good’ or ‘great’ category is outstanding - way outperforming league averages. I’m not sure any player drafted in 2012 or later can be considered ‘legendary’ at this point- it’s simply too soon no matter how well they’ve played.

2013

Shariff Floyd - with Floyd’s future very much in doubt, I’d say he most likely fits in the ‘average’ category, and an injury disappointment as a first-round pick. Clearly Floyd has the potential to be a good or great pick, but his injuries greatly reduced his starts and playing time - and at this point he may not play again.

Xavier Rhodes - I think Rhodes has earned ‘great’ pick status entering his fifth year as a starting CB and having emerged as a top CB in the league.

Cordarrelle Patterson - as an All-Pro kick returner but totally underwhelming wide receiver in his years with the Vikings, it’s hard to categorize him. I don’t think you can call an All-Pro that led the league in kick-return TDs an average pick, so I’ll upgrade him to a ‘good’ pick according to the draft metric, even though he never materialized as a WR as a Viking. Overall a disappointment as a first-round pick though.

Gerald Hodges - backup LB and special teamer, traded with a year left on his rookie deal, I’ll call Hodges an ‘average’ pick, having played enough to not be ‘poor.’

Jeff Locke - he started as punter for 4 years, most of which he performed at the bottom of the league, before improving last year. An ‘average’ pick.

Jeff Baca - he did actually see the field as a Viking, but only briefly. A ‘Useless’ pick.

Michael Mauti - Spielman took a 7th round flyer on the good, but oft-injured Mauti, that didn’t pan out. He played special teams when healthy, but never made it up the depth chart and was released after 2 years. ‘Useless’ seems a bit harsh, but probably the best fit.

Travis Bond - ‘never-played’ pick placed on practice squad briefly before being signed away.

Everett Dawkins - another ‘never-played’ pick assigned to practice squad briefly before being signed away.

Overall Spielman had 2 ‘never-played’ 7th round picks, 2 ‘Useless’ picks, 2 ‘average’ picks, 2 ‘good’ picks, and 1 ‘great’ pick. I’m not that troubled when 6th or 7th round picks don’t pan out - that is to be expected. But after 4 years, only Rhodes remains from this draft class, if Floyd can no longer play. Overall this looks like a league-average type draft year, maybe a little better. Without Rhodes though, this draft year would have been a significant disappointment.

2014

Anthony Barr - Barr is a ‘good’ pick so far, with potential to be great or maybe legendary. But at this point only 3 years out, nobody gets a ‘great’ rating. He did ok as a rookie, had an excellent second year, but dropped off this past season rather notably.

Teddy Bridgewater - I’d have to give this pick a ‘good’ rating as well- narrowly - as Teddy was steadily improving and had nearly two years worth of starts that were at least above average overall. But his knee injury is obviously a concern. He may go on to be great and possibly legendary if he can come back and regain his form. But based on what he has done to date, he gets the benefit of the doubt over an ‘average’ rating.

Scott Crichton - with his injuries and limited playing time, a ‘Useless’ pick.

Jerick McKinnon - I’d say McKinnon just makes it into ‘good’ pick territory. He has seen more action with AP being out 2 years since he was drafted, but a little underwhelming in some respects on the field. Could go on to be a more solid good pick in the future, maybe great if he’s re-signed and has a Darren Sproles-type career.

David Yankey - I don’t believe Yankey ever played for the Vikings, so he fits in that category. A disappointing 5th round pick Spielman got for trading down one spot in the first-round.

Antone Exum - He’s played enough as a special teamer and backup that I wouldn’t say he’s been a ‘useless’ pick. I’ll call him ‘poor’.

Kendall James - ‘never-played.’ Cut, put on practice squad, signed away a couple days later.

Shamar Stephen - certainly a worthwhile 7th round pick, as he’s proven an Ok backup on the interior DL, bit also missed nearly a year die to injury. I’ll say right now he’s an ‘average’ pick, with some potential to be a ‘good’ one.

Brandon Watts - I believe played a little on special teams before being cut last year. a ‘Useless’ pick.

Jabari Price - I believe has seen some action on special teams as well, but at this point still a “Useless” pick, but perhaps some potential to move up.

Overall, a couple of ‘good’ first-round picks, one ‘good’ 3rd round pick, 1 average pick, 1 poor pick, 3 ‘useless’ ones, and a ‘never-played’. The later round picks, with the exception of Stephen, didn’t pan out as well for Spielman in this draft class, but just how good this class will be hinges on Barr and Bridgewater. The next two years will likely be decisive for both players.

2015

Trae Waynes - slow start for Waynes, particularly as a #11 overall pick, but he’s getting there. I’ll say he’s an ‘average’ pick right now, with a lot of potential to move up the rankings. A little disappointing for a 1st round pick, but with Rhodes and Newman, the Vikings have had the luxury of bringing him along slowly.

Eric Kendricks - I’ll say Kendricks is already a ‘good’ pick, even though with only 2 years under his belt, that may be pushing it to give him that status. He’s proven an above average starter, so I think that warrants perhaps a bit of a projection to a ‘good’ ranking. Potential to improve beyond that of course as well in time.

Danielle Hunter - I want to give Hunter a better ranking here, but I’ll stick to ‘average’, based on his performance and playing time to date, although I think he’ll move quickly beyond that this year, and clearly has the potential to reach ‘great’ and even ‘legendary’ status. Time will tell.

TJ Clemmings - I’ll rate Clemmings as ‘poor’ so far. He has had nearly two years worth of starts, unfortunately for both team and player really, with underwhelming performance. Clemmings wasn’t ready to assume a starting role as a rookie, having only played RT for 2 years in college, but stuff happens. Starting on the left side at times last year didn’t help his performance. He has potential to move up, but being thrown into the fire too soon has shaken his confidence, and I question his coaching.

MyCole Pruitt - with only a year as a backup TE before being downgraded to the practice squad and signed away, I’d have to give Pruitt a ‘Useless’ rating, although that seems a bit harsh. He didn’t play enough to warrant a ‘poor’ rating.

Stefon Diggs - I feel comfortable given Diggs a ‘good’ rating at this point, again despite only two years (a little less actually) as a starter. As a 5th round pick that is now arguably the Vikings best WR, he’s come a long way in a short time to deserve the ‘good’ rating, with plenty of potential to improve from here.

Tyrus Thompson - was placed on IR then released. ‘a never-played’ cast-off who, like a surprising number of Vikings OL cast-offs, is now with Carolina.

BJ DuBose - I don’t think DuBose ever saw the field before suffering an ACL and later being waived last year. ‘Never-played.’

Austin Shepherd - this pick is perhaps a little technical, but overall a ‘Useless’ pick. Shepherd was drafted by the Vikings, and saw the field on some jumbo packages as a rookie, but was later put on practice squad and signed away, thus ending his status as a Vikings draft pick. However, the Vikings signed him back after he was released by the Chargers and Steelers, and once again is on the Vikings practice squad. However, his status now is basically as a free-agent, not a draft pick, so I don’t think any future performance counts as a Vikings draft-pick, if that makes any sense. Not a bad 7th round pick in any case, and could prove a good backup, maybe even a starter. Who knows.

Edmond Robinson - Robinson has actually started 4 games for the Vikings, in addition to special teams duty. One game he had 5 tackles despite playing only 6 snaps. Nevertheless, at this point, still in ‘Useless’ territory, but with potential to move up the rankings. A good pick late in the 7th round though.

Overall, the 2015 class is still early to give anything more than temporary ratings. But this class has the potential to be an excellent draft class, with at least 4 players that look to be at least ‘good’ picks, if not ‘great’ or eventually ‘legendary.’ As it stands right now, Spielman did an excellent job with this draft haul, with three solid picks at the top, and a big hit with Diggs in the 5th round.

2016

Too early to give anything more than ‘Useless’ rating to any players drafted last year, despite the potential for most of them to become good draft picks, as none of them have played much to date. Here are the picks, for your review:

LaQuon Treadwell

MacKensie Alexander

Willie Beavers

Kentrell Brothers

Moritz Boehringer

David Morgan

Stephen Weatherly

Jayron Kearse

The one thing I’d say at this point is that none of these picks had an impressive rookie year. Treadwell had injury issues and a slow start. Alexander a slow start too. Beavers was technically the worst pick of the draft in that he was the highest draft pick not to make a roster, and now is on the practice squad. The last 5 picks all have good potential, with Kearse proving a pretty good 7th round pick so far based on his showing so far in training camp. My guess is that Treadwell and Alexander will have the most opportunity to move up this year, but just about every one of these picks could move up, or never amount to much. Just too early to tell.

OVERALL SPIELMAN PERFORMANCE

If we don’t count the 2016 draft at this point, as way too early to evaluate, and focus on the previous four years going back to 2012 when Spielman was given final say on draft picks, here’s what you get:

Never Played: 17% (7 players)

Useless: 19.5% (8 players) - some could improve

Poor: 7.3% (3 players) - one could improve

Avg.: 17.1% (7 players) - some could improve

Good: 34% (14 players) - some could improve

Great: 5% (2 players) - and could improve

Legendary: 0% - too soon for any of these draft classes

Overall, the players in the 3 ‘bust’ categories is well below the league average over the past 20 years of 68%, at only 43.8%, which is a huge out-performance - and at least a few current ‘useless’ or ‘poor’ players (not including the 2016 draft) could improve.

On the other hand, the worthwhile draft picks to varying degrees (average or better) represent 56.1% of the total, and 39% were in the ‘good’ or ‘great’ category, and many here could continue to move higher. That 39% blows away the league average of 19.2% in those categories over the past 20 years.

Another measure of how good Spielman has done drafting, and the coaching staff has done developing, players is how many are already well along the path to becoming ‘great’ draft picks- long-term, above average starters. Two (Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes) I’d say can already be counted in this category, and looking at players currently in the ‘average’ or ‘good’ category still playing for the Vikings, eight of them have a chance to make it into the ‘great category’. That’s a total of 10 possible ‘great’ players among 41 draft picks - roughly 25% - which is nearly four-times the league average. Truly outstanding.

There are other measures. Last year, a couple outlets did a piece on which teams were the most successful drafting over the past five years, which include the 2011-2015 draft classes. The 2011 class was the year prior to Spielman having final say, and included generally the worst draft pick the Vikings have made in recent years with Christian Ponder. Nevertheless, the New York Post article ranked the Vikings #3 in the league in drafting over these five years, according to their metrics.

Another piece by Rotoworld ranked teams drafting success using ProFootball Reference’s AV (approximate value) metric, a measure of how much value a player provided during the season, by compiling the total AV of all the drafted players by each team during that same 5 year span. By that metric, the Vikings also ranked very high- 4th I think looking at the chart. One interesting tidbit from this article was that during that span, the Vikings acquired more draft day picks via trades- 27- than any other team, while yielding only 17 in various trades. That gave the Vikings under Rick Spielman more picks during this period than any other team except the 49ers. That is another measure of a GM’s ability, and Rick Spielman scores high again here. Obviously the Percy Harvin trade was completely one-sided in favor of the Vikings. Spielman turned the two picks into Xavier Rhodes- one of the ‘great’ picks above, and Jerick McKinnon- a ‘good’ pick, while unloading Harvin who never did much post-Vikings.

The Rotoworld article goes on to look at just the past 3 years, or 2013-2015. During that span the Vikings also were one of the top drafting teams, and much higher than average, ranking 5th overall in total AV from draft picks, while still having the 2nd most picks during this span. Again, another confirmation that the Vikings under Rick Spielman have been one of the top drafting teams in the league.

An older study in the Boston Globe (2014) had Spielman and the Vikings as one of the best at drafting and developing players.

Part of the success during that 2011-2015 span came by above-average results from the picks in the top 3 rounds (Ponder included) while having about the league average number of picks in those rounds, while gaining more value in later rounds based more on volume- the Vikings had more 4-7th round picks than any other team except Seattle during this span.

That makes some sense. Picks in the first three rounds are fewer and expensive, so you need to make them count. Day 3 picks are largely a crap-shoot, truth be told, so having more cheap picks here gives you a better chance on hitting on a good one. The Vikings under Spielman have been both above average in having their premium picks in the first three rounds work out, while also manufacturing later round picks via trading down, giving them a better chance at finding a day 3 diamond. Stefon Diggs is a great example of one.

I don’t have any data on UDFAs, but that would be another interesting study. The Vikings have at least some success to point to here, namely Adam Thielen, but there are a few others in recent years that have contributed in small ways- and made the team.

In any event, when players like Scott Crichton get released after never making it with the Vikings, late round picks don’t make the roster, or some higher picks like Kalil or Floyd or Clemmings don’t meet expectations, or picks like Treadwell or Waynes have slow starts, it’s easy to point a finger at the GM and castigate him for blowing the pick. Patriots fans have done it for years with Belichick, and many Vikings fans call for Spielman’s head when draft picks don’t pan out.

But the reality is, since Rick Spielman took over as GM with the new structure giving him final say over draft picks, he has been one of the best in league, along with the Vikings coaching staff and scouting department, in achieving draft success.

That success falls well short of perfection, but Michael Jordan had a pretty good career missing just over half his shots, and Rod Carew did pretty well too with a .328 batting average.

Poll

How Do You Rate Rick Spielman’s Performance as GM since the 2012 Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    One of the Best in the NFL
    (224 votes)
  • 53%
    Better than Most
    (677 votes)
  • 21%
    Average
    (267 votes)
  • 3%
    Below Average
    (50 votes)
  • 2%
    Should be Fired
    (37 votes)
1255 votes total Vote Now