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Assessing the Spielman Drafts

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A look at how well Rick Spielman has done drafting for the Vikings since becoming GM

Minnesota Vikings Press Conference Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

For many years after Rick Spielman joined the Vikings organization, from 2006-2011, he was VP of Player Personnel and part of the somewhat infamous ‘triangle of authority’ along with then head coach Brad Childress and owner Zygi Wilf. Together they made draft decisions by committee, in lieu of having a single General Manager responsible for making draft picks.

But beginning in 2012, Spielman was promoted to General Manager, and given final authority on draft decisions. And so, with 6 drafts under his belt now as a bona fide GM, and a seventh coming up this week, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at how well Spielman has done drafting for the Vikings since becoming GM.

How to Properly Assess Draft Picks - and the GM Who Made Them

There are many factors to consider in assessing the value of a given draft pick, not all of which are controllable by the GM who makes the pick. Future injuries to players without an injury history being the most prominent of the uncontrollable factors.

But in determining the value of each pick, and how well a GM did in selecting that player, it’s important to consider ‘initial quality’ to use a car-rating term, as well as price, or where the player was drafted. Key measures of initial quality include whether the player made the team, if he was a starter or backup/special teams or practice squad, and if he was a starter, how well he played his first year. All those factors should be weighted according to where the player was drafted. A first-round pick is expected to start his first year, a fourth-round pick or later is not.

As an example, consider three QBs: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. All three are Hall of Fame-quality QBs. Manning was drafted #1 overall, Rodgers near the end of the 1st round (#24), and Wilson in the 3rd round (#75 overall). All three were famously great picks, considering the careers that followed. But comparing them, Manning struggled his first year, Rodgers was a backup his first three years, while Wilson started as a rookie and had the 4th highest passer rating in the league. Fans can argue which is/was the best QB, but clearly Wilson was the best draft pick in terms of initial quality and value.

The other thing to consider in terms of assessing the overall track record of a GM’s draft picks, is that the success rate of NFL draft picks is similar to the average batting average in baseball. Most draft picks are outs. Last year I did a write-up on a study of NFL draft pick success over the past 20 years, and the results were very sobering. Only about 20% of draft picks were considered ‘good,’ ‘great,’ or ‘legendary,’ while nearly 70% were considered ‘poor,’ ‘useless,’ or ‘didn’t play for the team.’ Just over 10% were considered ‘average.’ This study was somewhat flawed, as it didn’t consider what round a player was drafted, only how long the player was on the team that drafted him, how many games he started, and then how well he played. That tended to make a first-round pick like Christian Ponder look much better than it was, and a 7th round pick like Audie Cole look worse than it was. Nevertheless, the overall results demonstrate just how difficult it is to get a ‘hit’ on an NFL draft ‘at-bat’.

Additionally, most draft picks that make the team initially don’t have much longevity.

But overall, saying a GM sucks because this pick or that pick was a bust, or even citing a more extensive list of bad picks, is kinda like saying Rod Carew struck out over 1,000 times, so he sucked. You have to consider a GM’s success on a relative curve, where having a third of your picks make the team and contribute in at least a mediocre way is above average.

It’s also hard to attribute a player that did not have as big an impact due to a previously unknown injury as the fault of the GM for drafting that player. Teddy Bridgewater, Shariff Floyd, and Matt Kalil come to mind in that regard. For guys who had a known injury issue- like Greg Childs or Michael Mauti for example, it’s important to consider how high (or low) the player was drafted. Taking a 7th round flyer on a guy with a high ceiling but definite injury concerns might not be such a bad pick, considering most healthy 7th round picks don’t make the team.

Similarly, it’s hard to give a GM high marks for drafting a player relatively high whose success came later in their career, like Drew Brees (#32 overall) or Terry Bradshaw (#1 overall). Even for mid-round players who eventually become decent starters, more credit goes to the coaches than the GM for developing the player in his early years to become a starter.

Perhaps one of the most important measures of the GM’s draft picks, however, is not just what percentage made the team, but how many turned into truly good or great players- something that in reality is only partially attributable to the GM who drafted the player, but nevertheless has an out-sized impact on a team’s success. Drafting an elite quarterback, whether #1 or #199, is the ultimate grand-slam in the NFL draft, but drafting any perennial All-Pro or Pro-Bowl player is at least a home-run, regardless of position. Considering only about 30% of all draft picks are ‘hits’ and only 20% are multiple-base hits, any GM batting over .333 is adding significant value. Averaging just .100 on Great or Legendary players is pretty good too.

Lastly, there is the value a GM adds or subtracts by draft trades. Most trades come pretty close to the draft value chart point values, but there are other more subjective considerations as well that can make a trade an added value or not. It’s easy to say trading up for Harrison Smith was worth it, and trading up for Cordarrelle Patterson was not, based on how the picks turned out. But what’s harder to know is whether either player would have been there for the Vikings had they not traded up, and who they would have actually drafted with the lost pick (not who the best player available was, given the benefit of hindsight). Trading down is a bit easier, perhaps, to value, as you know who was drafted in-between traded picks, and ultimately who was picked (or missed). Trading back one in the Matt Kalil deal for example is easy to grade as an added value, as the Vikings got who they would have picked (by all accounts) at #3 anyway, and gained 3 picks in the process.

With all that in mind, let’s assess how Rick Spielman has done over his first six drafts, with two assessments for each pick: the GM assessment, and the player assessment. The former just looking at the value-added by the GM based on ‘initial quality’ and ‘price’ adjusted based on where the player was drafted, and also the value the player has added over his career so far.

Player Grades are as follows:

Didn’t make the Team (DMT) - Players that didn’t make the final cut or even practice squad.

Useless - Players that never made the active roster, or had only very limited playing time on special teams.

Poor - Players that made the active roster, but failed to meet expectations based on where they were drafted, and/or failed to remain on the active roster more than a year or so.

Average - Players who made the active roster multiple years, and more or less met expectations based on where they were drafted during their rookie contract.

Good - Players that made the active roster multiple years, including their rookie year, were starters or played significant snaps as a rookie as well, and met expectations based on where they were drafted.

Great - Players that were starters beginning their rookie year (or played significant snaps), exceeded performance expectations throughout their rookie contract, possibly including a Pro Bowl or All-Pro season honor.

Legendary - a ‘Great’ player with multiple Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors. Basically a player with a Hall-of-Fame career performance to date, and/or considered a top player at his position over many seasons.

GM Grades are as follows:

A: Player made team and exceeded draft round value his first year or two.

B: Player made team and exceeded draft round value during rookie contract.

C: Player made roster and met draft round value during rookie contract.

D: Player didn’t meet draft round value, was cut prior to end of rookie deal, or late round pick that didn’t make it to practice squad.

F: Player did not make roster and was not a Day 3 pick.

+: Trade involved and added value

-: Trade involved and subtracted value

Draft Round Expectations are as follows:

1st and 2nd round picks: starter or significant snaps beginning his first or second season. First round picks should typically be first-year starters or have significant snaps.

3rd/4th round picks: eventual starters/significant role players during rookie contract. Significant role player could be a special teams specialist and primary backup, or rotational player on the defensive line, for example. Starting expectations higher for lower-value positions, and higher picks in this range.

5th/6th/7th round picks: depth/special teams player with decreasing performance expectations for later round picks.

UDFAs: In grading UDFAs, the expectation is that none make the roster or contribute in any significant way. When that happens, the GM gets a C and Players are graded Useless. If one or more UDFAs make the roster, the grades improve accordingly. But these are all essentially ‘extra credit’ picks that can only add to draft class grades and not contribute to ‘missed’ or ‘blown’ picks because the expectation is that UDFAs will not make the team.

Keep in mind several statistics when it comes to expectations for draft picks by round, contained in this study:

  • Average length of an NFL player’s career is 3.3 years, whether starter or bench-warmer.
  • 30% of NFL starters were drafted in the first round. 60% of NFL starters were drafted in the first three rounds. 70% in the first four. Only about 15% of Day 3 picks become starters - about the same percentage as UDFAs (think quantity, not quality).

So, with all that in mind, let’s evaluate Mr. Spielman’s drafts since he became GM.

The 2012 Vikings Draft

1.4: Matt Kalil, LT

Player grade: Average. GM Grade: A+

Both of those grades may seem high, considering Kalil was supposed to be another Ron Yary or Joe Thomas, having been drafted so high. But the reality is that most picks, even first-round picks, don’t become great players, let alone Hall of Famers. Kalil had a Pro Bowl rookie year, and looked to be on the way toward at least a great player career, before injuries derailed that path. One could argue he was not an average player, particularly in light of how high he was drafted, but the fact remains he’s been a starter his whole career, somehow managed to get re-signed, and has been serviceable, but not good, since injuries significantly diminished him from his rookie form.

Spielman gets an A+ because his rookie year fulfilled expectations, prior to injury, and because he manufactured 3 more draft picks by trading back one spot and still getting his man.

1.29: Harrison Smith, S

Player Grade: Legendary. GM Grade: A+

It’s a bit of a projection to call Smith Legendary at this point, but only a bit. He was the highest graded player in the league last year by PFF, a 3x Pro Bowler and a 2017 All-Pro. Apart from a 2013 injury-riddled year, he’s never had a PFF grade below 85, and was the highest graded safety in PFF history last year. A captain and elite player over 6-7 seasons.

GM Grade: A+

Harrison Smith was a home run from the get-go for Spielman, who traded a 4th round pick to get him (effectively one of the Kalil picks he just manufactured), which ultimately saved about $5 million in salary cap in 2015, by getting the 5th year, 1st round pick option.

3.3: Josh Robinson, CB

Player grade: Poor. GM Grade: D

Robinson was a high 3rd round pick that never became a starter or really a significant role player during his rookie contract. His play was generally poor in the snaps he had.

4.23: Jarius Wright, WR

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A

Grading here is a close call, as Wright was a slot/backup WR, but he played that role well. Wright had 1774 receiving yards his first four years. Kyle Rudolph had 1286 by comparison. He never had all that much playing time, but he was productive with what he had. As a late 4th rounder, that makes him good. Similarly, as a significant role player that was productive beginning his rookie year, that exceeds his draft expectations and gets Spielman an A.

4.33: Rhett Ellison, TE/FB

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A

Drafted at the end of the first round, Ellison became a significant role player as a blocking TE his rookie year, made the PFF All-Rookie team, and graded very well throughout his rookie contract

4.39: Greg Childs, WR

Player Grade: DMT. GM Grade: D

Spielman took a gamble that Childs’ knees would hold up so he could realize his potential. They didn’t. Childs was eventually released after injuring both knees in training camp.

5.4: Robert Blanton, DB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: C.

Blanton played out his rookie contract as a special teams player and backup DB with some limited playing time. That basically meets expectations for a 5th round pick, but as an early 5th round pick it did not exceed them.

6.5: Blair Walsh, K

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A+

Walsh was a first team All-Pro his rookie year, had three good years as a Viking, and was the kicker for 4.5 years. He couldn’t maintain the success he had his first couple years, but overall he added more value than most 6th round picks. Spielman picked up this pick by dealing a DE bust (Jayme Mitchell) to the Browns two years earlier, so getting this pick for essentially nothing and Walsh’s early success give him an A+.

7.3: Audie Cole, LB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: A

Cole played out his rookie contract as a special teamer and backup LB. For a 7th round pick, that exceeds expectations. Average is about the highest player grade you can give for a player in that role, unless he gets some special team accolade and is a late round pick.

7.12: Trevor Guyton, DE

Player Grade: DMT. GM Grade: D

Guyton was released at the end of training camp in 2012.

UDFAs

Player Grades: Useless. GM Grade: C

DT Chase Baker made the practice squad in 2012, and the active roster in 2013, but he was the only UDFA to make the team.

OVERALL 2012 GM DRAFT ASSESSMENT

Of the 10 picks the Vikings ultimately had in this draft (2 more than they had when the draft started), six of them were A grades for the GM, three Ds, and one C. If you just count the A grades as successes, and considering the Vikings had 8 picks to begin with, that’s a 75% success rate. Three of the picks were Pro-Bowlers, and 2 All-Pros. Considering the picks and their draft round, there was really only one bad pick- Josh Robinson in the 3rd round. But overall, this is an A grade draft because of the number of successful picks and additional picks acquired.

From a player performance standpoint, had Kalil remained healthy past his rookie year, the grade for this draft class would be as high as the GM grade. But with Kalil’s injury, this draft class drops to a B from a player grade standpoint.

2013 Vikings Draft

1.23: Sharrif Floyd, DT

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Floyd became a starter his second year, after Kevin Williams departed, and had two good seasons before a knee injury and botched surgery ended his career. He started only 24 games in the five seasons he was on the Vikings roster due to injuries.

1.25: Xavier Rhodes, CB

Player Grade: Great. GM Grade: A+

Rhodes started six games as a rookie, and has developed into a shut-down corner. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and was a First Team All-Pro last season. A Great player that could become Legendary. Spielman received this pick in a trade for Percy Harvin. Obviously the value added here by both pick and trade was massive.

1.29: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: D-

Patterson never became a starter as a WR, and his production as a backup trailed that of Jarius Wright, a 4th round pick over his four years as a Vikings. He was a top KR, and earned a Pro Bowl nod in that role, but as a first-round pick, that is not meeting expectations. Rick Spielman traded a 3rd, 4th and 7th round pick to move up 23 spots from the 2nd round to get him, which was a poor use of draft capital in this case, as Patterson had less than a year of experience in D-I football, and was only 2 years removed from Community College.

4.23: Gerald Hodges, LB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Hodges was a backup LB and special teamer for two and a half seasons with the Vikings, and had some starts due to an injury to Anthony Barr, and graded well overall in those starts. But when the 49ers offered Nick Easton and a 6th rounder for him, he was traded.

5.22: Jeff Locke, P

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Locke was basically an average to above-average punter over his four years as a Viking, better earlier in his career in terms of yards/punt. As a late 5th round pick that started all four years of his rookie deal, that’s good enough for a B for Spielman.

6.28: Jeff Baca, G

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: D+

Baca never made the active roster for the Vikings. Spielman traded back seven spots for a 7th round pick. Some decent RBs taken in-between, which the Vikings weren’t in the market for at the time. Very modest value added.

7.7: Michael Mauti, LB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: C+.

Mauti played special teams for a couple years for the Vikings before being cut. He was rehabbing knees and dealing with injuries during that time as well. For a 7th round pick, expectations aren’t that high, and so he gets a passing grade. This pick was part of the compensation for the Vikings’ 6th round pick, along with AJ Jefferson. Very modest added value.

7.8: Travis Bond, G

Player Grade: DMT. GM Grade: D+

Bond was cut at the end of training camp. Part of Percy Harvin trade compensation, so a modest addition to draft capital, but didn’t amount to anything.

7.23: Everett Dawkins, DE

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: C.

Dawkins made the practice squad, but was signed off of it by the Cowboys shortly thereafter.

UDFAs:

Player Grades: Great. GM Grade: A

WR Adam Thielen made the practice squad in 2013 after a walk-on tryout, then the active roster in 2014, mainly as a special teamer, the following year was the Vikings special teams player of the year, and in 2016 became a starting WR, and in 2017 a Pro-Bowler.

FB Zach Line made the active roster as a rookie, and played out his rookie contract, including a one-year tender option, with the Vikings. He contributed mainly in his last two years as a blocking back.

WR Rodney Smith also made the team for a year and a half, but didn’t contribute much.

OVERALL 2013 DRAFT GM ASSESSMENT

Overall, Spielman drafted three eventual Pro Bowlers in this draft- Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen. Rhodes was an even bigger value-added because that pick came via the Percy Harvin trade - a player that had little impact in the league thereafter. Patterson was also a two-time first team All-Pro and Pro Bowler as a kick returner, but never came close to realizing expectations as a first-round pick as a WR. Still, CP84 averaged 1,845 total all-purpose yards a season over his four years as a Viking (rushing, receiving and returning), with 18 touchdowns over that stretch. Not worthy of a late first-round pick (along with a 3rd and 4th rounder), but not without value. But while CP84 ultimately disappointed as a WR, Adam Thielen did not.

However you want to balance out a first-round disappointment and a UDFA All-Star, a draft that results in a shut-down CB, a thousand-yard WR, an All-Pro KR, a good DT prior to injury, and a few other contributors, is an excellent draft. Spielman gets an A.

2014 Vikings Draft

1.9: Anthony Barr, LB

Player Grade: Great. GM Grade: A+

Barr has made the Pro-Bowl 3 times in 4 years in the league (although one totally undeserved). Still, he was a high quality starter as a rookie, and apart from a down year in 2016 in part due to injury (and ‘coasting’), he been a quality starter and signal caller for the Vikings defense. Spielman traded back one spot for a 4th round pick and still got his target, so added value as well.

1.32: Teddy Bridgewater, QB

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A+.

Bridgewater was not an elite QB as a Viking, but he got the job done with not such a great supporting cast and scheme really. And he was improving before he suffered a devastating knee injury. Spielman traded a 4th round pick to move up 8 spots to draft Bridgewater, which was worth it as he would likely have been gone by #40.

3.8: Scott Crichton, DE

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: D.

Crichton saw limited action as a Viking, but disappointed and never delivered on his potential. He entered the draft after his junior year to help his parents financially, despite being advised he needed to develop more in college and finish his senior year. That was a warning on how much development he needed, which for a high 3rd round pick was too much.

3.32: Jerick McKinnon, RB

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A

McKinnon averaged 725 yards/year from scrimmage (rushing+receiving) over his four years as a Viking. He’s also improved from a backup to starting-quality, as his new deal with the 49ers confirmed. This pick was part of the Percy Harvin trade.

5.5: David Yankey, G

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: D

Yankey made the inactive roster his first year, and then was downgraded to practice squad his second, before being signed away by Carolina. The knock on him was that he lacked core strength, among other things, and he never saw the field as a Viking.

6.6: Antone Exum Jr., DB

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: C+

Exum played some his first two years as a backup, before getting injured and eventually released. Spielman traded back twice with his 5th round pick, picking up two 7th rounders in the process, which turned into Shamar Stephen and Jabari Price.

6.8: Kendall James, CB

Player Grade: DMT. GM Grade: D

James was placed on practice squad after training camp, but two days later released.

7.5: Shamar Stephen, DT

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Stephen made the team as a rotational backup DT and played out his rookie contract. As a 7th round pick, that’s a win. Stephen’s only above average performance year was this past season, and the other three were below average. Nevertheless, his longevity and rotational role for a 7th rounder were above average, leading to an average player grade overall, and a B for Spielman.

7.8: Brandon Watts, LB

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: D

Watts made the team, but never contributed much in his two seasons with the Vikings.

7.10: Jabari Price, CB

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: D

Price made the team for a couple years, but never contributed much past his rookie year, and not much then either.

UDFAs

Player Grades: Useless. GM Grade: C

Only Zac Kerin made the team, but didn’t contribute much.

OVERALL 2014 DRAFT GM ASSESSMENT

Spielman added a Pro-Bowl LB, and what might have been a franchise QB had he not suffered a devastating knee injury. Solid value picks in McKinnon and Stephen in their respective rounds added to the take. Still, there were more misses in the later rounds- including another third round miss- which detracted from the overall result. An overall B grade for Spielman.

2015 Vikings Draft

1.11: Trae Waynes, CB

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: C

Waynes has had a long learning curve, but looks to have finally become a quality starting CB. He allowed only a 21.8 passer rating in man coverage last year, adding to his excellent run defense. Still, from a #11 overall pick, you expect a bigger contribution earlier, and that didn’t happen with Waynes.

2.13: Eric Kendricks, LB

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A

Kendricks has been a quality starter from the get-go. Good pick and value as a 2nd rounder.

3.24: Danielle Hunter, DE

Player Grade: Great. GM Grade: A+

Hunter had 18.5 sacks as a backup rotational DE his first two years, and became a quality starter his third. That is exceptional for a late 3rd round pick. Spielman actually traded back twice- adding a 5th and 6th round pi

ck- while still landing Hunter.

4.11: TJ Clemmings, OT

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: D

Clemmings was a classic mid-round project who only had 2 seasons at RT in college, but all the desired measurables. But he was forced too early into starting duty and failed in repeated seasons. You could argue as a starter his first couple seasons he added more value as a 4th round pick and therefore deserving of a higher grade, but he started out of necessity, not because he earned the job.

5.7: MyCole Pruitt, TE

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: D

Pruitt was the 3rd string TE for the Vikings for a couple years, but never saw much action before being downgraded to practice squad and later signed off of it by the Bears. This was a pick acquired by trading down in the third round and still getting Hunter.

5.10: Stefon Diggs, WR

Player Grade: Great. GM Grade: A+

Diggs became a starter after 5 games his rookie year, and basically has been a thousand yard/year receiver except for the games he’s missed due to injury. One of the best fifth round picks in Vikings history, and Spielman actually traded back 9 spots for a sixth round pick, and still landed Diggs.

6.9: Tyrus Thompson, OT

Player Grade: DMT. GM Grade: D

Thompson was placed on injured reserve and then released at the end of training camp.

6.17: BJ DuBose, DE

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: D

DuBose made the roster as a rookie, was promoted to the active roster his second year before suffering an ACL injury, which landed him on IR and was eventually released.

7.11: Austin Shepherd, OT

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: C

Shepherd had some limited reps his rookie year, and was on and off the practice squad a couple times in later years.

7.15: Edmond Robinson, LB

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: B

Robinson had 4 starts and was a backup and special teamer for two years before getting cut last year. Spielman got this pick and Mike Wallace for a 5th round pick.

UDFAs

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

S Anthony Harris was a UDFA that made the team and has contributed as a backup and special teamer. He has graded well in 2015 and 2017 as a safety. Taylor Heinicke also made the team as a 3rd string QB, and FB Blake Renaud also made the roster for a season.

OVERALL 2015 DRAFT GM ASSESSMENT

This was a very good draft for Spielman. He drafted 4 quality starters in Waynes, Kendricks, Hunter and Diggs. His only bad pick was Clemmings, and the others that didn’t work out were basically the bonus picks he got by trading down. He even got something out of the UDFAs in Harris. Easily an A for Spielman.

2016 Vikings Draft

1.23: Laquon Treadwell, WR

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: D

Treadwell suffered some injuries that derailed his development as a rookie, but after two seasons now he hasn’t shown first-round quality. There is a case that last year he was overlooked several times when he was open (video is indisputable), but so far the production just hasn’t been there.

2.23: MacKenzie Alexander, CB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: D

Alexander has yet to emerge as a starter at slot CB after two seasons. He may yet get there, but not having done so at this point doesn’t make for positive grades.

4.23: Willie Beavers, OT

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: F

Beavers was the highest drafted player not to make an NFL roster in 2016 (he made practice squad). He was later promoted to the active roster before being waived after training camp last year.

5.23: Kentrell Brothers, LB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Brothers has become a special teams ace for the Vikings, and a backup LB.

6.5: Moritz Boehringer, WR

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: C

Boehringer never developed his impressive measurables into anything worthwhile as an NFL WR. Can’t say he wasn’t worth a late-round flyer, but nevertheless he didn’t pan out. Part of the compensation for Gerald Hodges.

6.13: David Morgan, TE

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: A+

Morgan is turning into a decent backup/blocking TE. Spielman parted with a 7th round pick to move up 8 spots get Morgan, after moving back 10 spots to get a higher 7th round pick, which looks to have been worth it.

7.6: Stephen Weatherly, DE

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Weatherly has made the active roster as a rotational DE, but has not been particularly impressive so far with the reps he’s had. This was the compensation for moving back with the 6th round pick.

7.23: Jayron Kearse, S

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Kearse made the team as a special teamer and backup safety the past two years.

UDFAs

Player Grades: Useless. GM Grade: C

Only QB Joel Stave had a brief stint on the practice squad. Nobody else noteworthy.

OVERALL 2016 DRAFT GM ASSESSMENT

This was Spielman’s worst draft so far. It has produced no starters, only some backup/role players to this point. Additionally, he traded his 3rd round pick for a 2017 3rd round pick and a couple other later round picks. Overall, a D for Spielman.

2017 VIKINGS DRAFT

2.9: Dalvin Cook, RB

Player Grade: Good. GM Grade: A+

Cook looked to be living up to his billing as a top offensive player in the 2017 draft prior to tearing his ACL. A a quality starter as a rookie, that gives him a good grade, even if on very limited game action. Spielman had to rush into due diligence on Cook after his surprising fall out of the first-round, and was able to trade up ahead of the Eagles- who would have taken him 2 picks later had he been there- with a 4th round pick. Cook is clearly a first-round talent, so using a 2nd and 4th to get him here was good value.

3.6: Pat Elflein, C

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Elflein earned the starting nod at center as a rookie, although his play was not great. Still, for a 3rd round pick that’s okay for a rookie season. Spielman used a 5th round pick to move up 9 spots to get him, which again looks to have been worth it as the Chargers took Dan Feeney the next pick, and may have taken Elflein otherwise. Still, I won’t say that was added value, just an even trade.

4.2: Jaleel Johnson, DT

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B+

Johnson had very limited rotational reps his rookie year, but looks to get more this year with the departure of Shamar Stephen. Spielman traded back twice before selecting Johnson, yielding a 4th and two 7th round picks in the process.

4.13: Ben Gedeon, LB

Player Grade: Average. GM Grade: B

Gedeon earned the 3rd LB spot and did a decent job at it during his rookie year, and also contributed on special teams.

5.26: Rodney Adams, WR

Player Grade: DMT. GM Grade: D+

Adams was placed on the practice squad in 2017, then moved to the Colts practice squad early this year, and now has apparently retired. Spielman moved down 21 spots for a 5th round pick here, which yielded Danny Isidora. Looking at who was picked in-between, doesn’t appear to have been anybody worthwhile, so modest value added.

5.36: Danny Isidora, G

Player Grade: Poor. GM Grade: B

Isidora made the roster as a backup guard. He had one start and appeared in four games last year, generally not grading well.

6.17: Bucky Hodges, TE

Player Grade: DMT GM Grade: D

Hodges suffered a concussion at the very end of training camp and was placed on IR and then released.

7.1: Stacy Coley, WR

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: B

Coley made the roster and appeared in five games last season as a backup WR. This was an added pick for moving down with a 3rd round pick.

7.2: Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: B

Odenigbo made the practice squad after showing well in training camp and pre-season. Another pick Spielman acquired by trading down in this draft.

7.14: Elijah Lee, LB

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: C

Lee made the practice squad last year, but was signed off of it by the 49ers shortly thereafter.

7.27: Jack Tocho, DB

Player Grade: Useless. GM Grade: C

Tocho has gone back and forth a few times last season on the Vikings practice squad, and currently is signed with a futures contract.

UDFAs

Player Grades: Useless. GM Grade: A

DE Tashawn Bower, OT Aviante Collins, and LB Eric Wilson all made the roster last season as UDFAs, while DT Dylan Bradley made the practice squad, and earlier this year was signed to the roster. Having that many UDFAs make the roster is a good haul, regardless of contributions thus far.

OVERALL 2017 DRAFT GM ASSESSMENT

Spielman traded his first-round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, who used it on Derek Barnett. But the Vikings may have got the better talent in Dalvin Cook, though it took a 4th round pick as well to get him. In any case, it’s still early to make a final assessment, but Spielman looks to have hit on his first four picks, and may have got as many as eight more players that could at least become backup/rotational/special teams players as well. Given that, and that Spielman had only 8 picks and no first-round pick, I’ll go with a tentative B for Spielman, which could change depending on what happens with the picks from here.

Overall Assessment of Spielman’s Drafts

Looking back at these past six drafts, a few things standout:

1. Rick Spielman has done extremely well with his draft picks, and adding value through trades:

Over six drafts, he had ‘hits’ on a total of 40 picks, and misses on 25, counting successful UDFAs as bonus hits. That’s 40 hits on a total of 59 draft picks. That’s a .677 batting average. If you also figure a handful or so of those picks were netted by draft day trades, and Spielman’s batting average goes above .700.

But more important than just batting average, is the number of extra base hits Spielman has, to continue the baseball analogy. Kalil, Harrison Smith, Floyd, Rhodes, Thielen, Barr, Bridgewater, Kendricks, Hunter, Diggs and Cook all were big hits for Spielman. Others may add Waynes, Patterson and Walsh to that list as a quality starter, and two All-Pros (it’s hard to count an All-Pro as a single or miss). That would be 14 extra base hits for Spielman in six drafts and 59 picks, or a .237 extra-base hitting average, well above the .200 average league-wide.

Currently there are 11 starters and 13 backups among the players drafted (including UDFAs) since Spielman took over as GM in 2012. In all likelihood that number would be even higher had it not been for a number of devastating knee injuries.

Overall, I gave Spielman three As, two Bs and a D in his six drafts since becoming GM, or a 3.16 GPA - good for a B+.

2. Player success among draft picks has been hurt considerably by knee injuries. Matt Kalil, Shariff Floyd, Teddy Bridgewater (which cost another 1st round pick to replace), have all suffered devastating knee injuries. That’s four first round picks essentially lost in only six drafts. And Dalvin Cook was lost for most of his rookie year as well.

Considering that none of those players had known knee issues (unlike Greg Childs, Michael Mauti, and Tyrus Thompson, who Spielman took late round flyers on, hoping their knee issues would be overcome), that is extremely bad luck with players that have shown they would have likely become long-term quality starters.

Spielman has been able to overcome those injuries to some extent over time, although it’s been expensive to replace Bridgewater. Had Bridgewater continued to improve as many expected, he may have been roughly as good as Kirk Cousins at this point, and re-signing him after his rookie contract ended would have cost close to the same as Cousins (considering Derek Carr’s deal for example). But Spielman was able to replace Bridgewater in 2016 with Bradford- which may have been an upgrade performance-wise. And in 2017 ultimately with Case Keenum, who also did probably as well as we could have hoped for from Bridgewater had he been healthy.

Sharrif Floyd, had he stayed healthy, may have commanded roughly what Spielman paid Sheldon Richardson, and quality may have been about the same too- and Richardson may be better too. We’ll see.

The one player Spielman has not been able to replace adequately is Matt Kalil- rookie year Matt Kalil that is. Riley Reiff is closer to what Kalil became after his injuries at this point, not what he was his rookie year.

Bottom Line

Most of the analyses I’ve read on how the Vikings have done drafting over the past five years (ending in 2016), have put them in the top 10 in the league. One as high as #1, a couple others at #6. But overall the proof is in the pudding.

Looking at the Vikings projected roster this coming season, the only weak spot is the offensive line. Consider this roster, how acquired, with last year’s overall PFF grade:

DE: Everson Griffen*, drafted, 89.2,

DT: Sheldon Richardson, free-agent, 83.8

NT: Linval Joseph*, free-agent, 88.7

WLB: Ben Gedeon, drafted, 76.2

MLB: Eric Kendricks, drafted, 75.1

SLB: Anthony Barr*, drafted, 71.4

CB: Xavier Rhodes*+, drafted, 80.2

CB: Trae Waynes, drafted, 74.1

FS: Andrew Sendejo, free agent, 86.8

SS: Harrison Smith*+, drafted, 97.0

LT: Riley Reiff, free-agent, 48.6

LG: Nick Easton, free-agent, 41.5

C: Pat Elflein, drafted, 43.2

RG: ??

RT: Mike Remmers, free-agent, 69.6

TE: Kyle Rudolph, drafted 73.1

WR: Adam Thielen*+, drafted, 84.6

WR: Stefon Diggs, drafted, 85.4

WR: Kendall Wright, free-agent, 76.3

RB: Dalvin Cook, drafted, 83.0

QB: Kirk Cousins, free-agent, 78.8

* denotes Pro-Bowler

+ denotes All-Pro

Overall, if you assume the RG will be drafted, that makes 13 of the 22 starters on the Vikings roster guys that were drafted. And, depending on how the players drafted this week develop, that number could go higher.

Poll

How well have the Vikings done drafting players since Rick Spielman became GM in 2012?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    One of the 7 best teams in the NFL
    (885 votes)
  • 21%
    8 - 14
    (256 votes)
  • 2%
    15 -23
    (32 votes)
  • 0%
    24-32
    (7 votes)
1180 votes total Vote Now