The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2019 NFL Draft with several holes on the roster that need to be filled. How the Vikings go about filling them can be done in one of two ways, and General Manager Rick Spielman has done both since he was named the full-time GM in 2012.
Spielman could trade down once the draft gets to the middle rounds, accumulate later round picks, and draft a lot of players hoping that the Vikings can find one or two diamonds in the rough. Diamonds that they hope they can polish and become solid contributors for the Vikings in a season or two.
The other option is to trade draft capital for picks in the early rounds, front load on picks, and hope to strike gold early and often. That might give you the best chance to fill the biggest holes in the roster all at once, or at least close to it.
The big difference between this year and past drafts is that if Rick SPielman picks wrong, it could cost him his job.
With so much potentially riding on this draft, what should he do? You can argue he’s had mixed results, no matter which direction he chooses, so let’s take a look. Oh, one more thing. I’m only going to go up through the 2016 draft. I think it’s still too early to give definitive results on the 2017 and 2018 classes, and this piece would take forever.
In his first year as full time GM, Spielman made two trades early. The Vikes held the third pick in the draft, and everyone knew they were going to take Matt Kalil, the consensus top tackle in the draft. But he traded down one spot with Cleveland, and netted a 4th, 5th, and 7th round pick while still getting the guy they wanted.
At the end of the first round, the Vikings made another surprise move. They gave the Baltimore Ravens their second round pick and a fourth round pick to move back into the first round, at pick 29. WIth it, they took S Harrison Smith, who has become of of the best safeties not only the NFL, but in franchise history.
At the end of the draft, the Vikings ended up with three picks in the first three rounds—Kalil, Smith, and third round pick Josh Robinson. They also had seven picks in rounds 4-7. Of those seven picks, WR Jarius Wright was with the Vikings for six years, and is currently with the Carolina Panthers, TE Rhett Ellison was on the Vikings four years and is currently on the Giants, and Blair Walsh lives in infamy here.
Results: Kalil started off strong but his career quickly took a turn south when injuries began to plague him, while Smith has been a fixture on the Vikings defense since he was drafted. Wright made some big catches for the Vikings, but never really established himself as a consistent WR3 option for the Vikings staff, for reasons that still escape me. Walsh...yeah. Ellison left the toxic environment of the Vikings after the 2016 season for the unicorns and rainbows that is the New York Giants locker room.
The Vikings entered the 2013 Draft with two first round picks after the Percy Harvin trade to Seattle, right before the season began. With picks 23 and 25, Minnesota took Shariff Floyd and Xavier Rhodes, and then Spielman moved back into the first round for the second year in a row. Trading Minnesota’s second, third, fourth, and seventh round picks to New England netted them pick 29, which they used to draft WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson.
When it was all said and done, the Vikings ended up with three first round picks, one pick in rounds 4-6, and three seventh round picks.
Results: Floyd was a really promising pick and he was developing nicely, but then a botched surgery ended his career. Although Rhodes had a down year in 2018, he’s been and will be the Vikings top CB. Ironically, Patterson is now on the Patriots after playing out his rookie contract with the Vikings. He never really developed as a WR here, but was a dangerous kick returner. His detractors say that it was a waste using a first round pick on a guy that was just a kick returner, and that’s true. But on the flip side you could make the argument the Vikings never really employed him to use his strengths on the field as an offensive player, which is also true. As for the later round picks? P Jeff Locke was the fifth round pick, and he was around for a couple seasons. That’s really about it.
The Vikings entered the 2014 draft with a new head coach in Mike Zimmer, and coming off a 5-10-1 season, they needed a new QB. They were picking 8th overall, but Spielman traded down one spot with Cleveland and netted a fifth round pick for it, and the Vikes took LB Anthony Barr. At the end of the first round, they traded with Seattle to get the last pick in the first round yet again. In exchange, they gave Seattle their second and fourth round selection, and with pick 32 Minnesota took QB Teddy Bridgewater. They had two third round picks that year as well, their regular draft pick and then one they acquired from Seattle the previous season in the Harvin trade. Those picks turned out to be DE Scott Crichton and RB Jerick McKinnon.
With some late round trades, Spielman ended up two sixth round picks and three seventh round picks, and the net total was two first rounders, two third rounders, one fifth, two sixth, and three seventh round picks.
Results: Again, mixed. Like previous first round picks in Kalil and Floyd, Bridgewater suffered a brutal knee injury right before the 2016 season started, and is now with the Saints as their backup. Barr has had an up and down career with the Vikings, but more ups than downs. He will be an unrestricted free agent soon, and it’s yet to be determined whether or not he’ll be with the Vikings in 2019. McKinnon was a solid role player for the Vikings, and really stepped up in 2014 and 2016 when Adrian Peterson was suspended/hurt, and then again when Dalvin Cook got hurt in 2017. He played out his rookie deal and signed a fat free agent contract with San Francisco last year.
As for the six guys taken in rounds 5-7, the only guy that was decent for the Vikings was DE Shamar Stephen, who contributed in a rotational role on the d-line. The Vikes are projected to get a 7th round compensatory draft pick for him this year after he signed with Seattle last year as a free agent so...yay, I guess.
When the Rick Spielman era is written about in the coming years, folks might look to this as his best draft. The Vikings ended up with 10 picks—a single pick each in rounds 1-4, and two picks each in rounds 5-7. Spielman stood pat in the first two rounds, picking CB Trae Waynes and LB Eric Kendricks.
He started trading in round three, moving down eight spots in a trade with the Lions that netted him an extra fifth round pick. The Vikings ended up selecting Danielle Hunter.
The fifth round saw two picks, the one from Detroit in the Hunter trade, and the other fifth round pick was a trade with the Falcons, that saw the Vikes drop from pick 137 to 146 in that round, but they also acquired Atlanta’s 6th round pick. With this pick, the Vikes selected WR Stefon Diggs.
Results: Of the 10 picks, four are starting for the Vikings, and two have developed into borderline elite players at their position. Waynes, Kendricks, and Hunter are key starters on defense, and have all become really solid players, especially Hunter.
As for the late round picks, Diggs has been mostly phenomenal, if a bit prone to bumps and bruises, and gave us what is arguably the most iconic moment in Vikings history. But overall, of the other five picks in the late rounds, no one ever really developed, and none are still with the team.
Minnesota ended up with eight picks: one each in rounds one, two, four, and five, and two each in rounds 6-7. The third round pick was traded to the Miami Dolphins for Miami’s sixth round pick in 2016, and a third and fourth round pick in 2017.
In the first round, the Vikes took WR Laquon Treadwell, who was supposed to be, at some point, a starting WR. In the second round, they took CB Mackensie Alexander, and in the fourth round they selected G Willie Beavers. Of the five guys selected in rounds 5-7, four are still with the team: Kentrell Brothers, David Morgan, Stephen Weatherly, and Jayron Kearse.
Results: Alexander turned into a really good CB by the end of the year, and you could make an argument he was playing the best of any CB on the team by the last game of the season. Weatherly really stepped up and played well when Everson Griffen was out, registering three sacks. There’s a decent chance Weatherly will supplant Griffen next year, depending on what happens in the off-season, so this pick has the potential to pay some big dividends. Brothers has been a solid special teams guy since he got to Minnesota, and played okay in spot LB duty this past season. Morgan made a name for himself this year mostly as a blocking TE but was injured for about a month, just as he was really starting to stand out. And S Jayron Kearse seems to have found a role in the slot when the Vikings go to their ‘big nickel’ package.
But on the flip side, Treadwell is a bust and Beavers was a disaster, and those were positions the Vikings really needed to hit on at the time. There’s some talent that was taken at the back of the draft, and Alexander has panned out, but the Treadwell pick really casts a shadow over this class.
So, quantity or quality? I really don’t know what to think, to be honest. Injuries to first round picks from 2012-2014 really hurt the Vikings when they were aggressive and went for quality, so it’s hard to blast Spielman for that even though it still needs to be factored in. If you’re a ‘draft quality’ person though, you could make a solid argument for Bridgewater and Floyd still being with the team and starting if injuries don’t derail their careers. And they have found quality talent that’s still with the team as well, with Rhodes, Smith, Barr, and Waynes all starting. The only pick that you could argue was a bust that wasn’t based on injuries was Patterson...but was he even really a bust, though? Finally, when Spielman hasn’t traded a second round pick to move up into the back of the first round, he’s gotten two good players in Kendricks and Alexander.
When he’s gone to accumulate picks in the back of the pack, it appears to have mostly blown up in his face. I’m as much of a fan as trying to find a hidden gem as the next guy...but the Vikings aren’t doing that, at least for the most part. The 2016 draft seems to be promising with the later round guys so far, but other than Diggs in 2015, none of the 25 guys picked in the later round guys (rounds 4-7) from 2012 - 2015 are still with the team. As a matter of fact, they’ve seemed to have more success in recent years in developing undrafted free agents (Zach Line, Anthony Harris, Brandon Zylstra) than they have late round draft picks. Although Holton Hill technically doesn’t count if we’re only looking at drafts through 2016, he’s another UDFA name you might be able to throw into the hat in a year or two.
If it was me, I’d go after quality, and try and fix the offensive line and WR3 to the greatest extent possible. Granted, there are other areas of need on the team, but if the Vikings don’t fix the o-line, nothing else will really matter. Give me four or five guys that I can plug in right away, as opposed to nine or 10 guys, of which two, maybe three will still be around in three years.