NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced this week that the draft will go on as planned between April 23-25, but teams will make their selections from remote locations. This will present challenges for every franchise and make for one of the most fascinating drafts in modern league history.
In the modern era, each club has scouts working throughout the year at all levels of college football to try and gain an edge.
For Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, the draft is where he has made his name — not only by finding contributing players in every round, but also by making draft-day deals to try and acquire more picks.
But as important as any moves Spielman might make this year is how coordinated the front office staff will be in making group decisions.
After the NFL combine, Spielman told me how he usually prepares with his staff for the draft.
“The philosophy I have always is all-inclusive,” Spielman said. “I truly believe in having the coaches and scouts and everybody work together. You kind of set the board, set the game plan, and give them direction on what they need to do and how to get there. Then when we come together, everybody is vested. Everybody has an opportunity to speak their mind. Everybody is part of the decisionmaking process.”
Coordinating those decisions with several people in different locations will make this a one-of-a-kind draft.
One advantage the Vikings have is that Spielman is the longest-tenured GM in the NFC North having been with the club in this role since 2012.
The second-longest-tenured GM in the division is the Bears’ Ryan Pace. He has been in that role since 2015 after spending 14 years with the Saints.
Bob Quinn took over as GM for the Lions in 2016 after working with the Patriots from 2000-2015, ending his tenure there as director of pro scouting.
Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst, the son of former Gophers football coach John Gutekunst, has been with the franchise since 1998, but he is the shortest-tenured GM in the division after assuming that role in 2018. He will be in charge of only his third draft.
Spielman said that when it comes to his relationship with his staff, he knows their expertise and excitement over a player is going to make a huge difference in who the club picks, even if the responsibility falls on his shoulders.
“Ultimately I have to make that final call on the direction we go on a player,” Spielman said. “But I know when the scouts are invested and the coaches are vested, our medical people, when everybody is vested in these kids and we come to the conclusions that yes, this guy we want as a Minnesota Viking, regardless of what point we take them in the draft, that our whole building is going to be behind that. They can try to give that player every chance to succeed as possible.
“I truly believe it’s a true team effort. Everybody understands their roles and responsibilities as part of the process to help us come up with hopefully the best decisions possible.”
Last season the Vikings drafted North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury with their first-round pick, even though the Wolfpack finished 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the ACC and suffered some big losses to teams such as Clemson and Texas A&M. The Vikings were convinced Bradbury could succeed in the pros even if his team wasn’t one of the best in the country.
That went against recent history. The Vikings’ four first-round picks before Bradbury all came from college programs with great success.
Cornerback Trae Waynes was picked first overall in 2015 after Michigan State had gone 11-2 and finished second in the Big Ten in 2014.
Their 2016 No. 1 pick, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, played his final college season at Ole Miss, where they finished 10-3 in the SEC in 2015, behind only Alabama in the conference standings.
In 2018, the Vikings picked cornerback Mike Hughes out of Central Florida, after that team went 13-0 in the American Athletic Conference and finished No. 6 in the final Associated Press poll.
But Spielman said when it comes to making picks, the scouts rarely focus on team success.
“We are looking at the individual. We’re not evaluating the team. We’re not analysts that are trying to say, ‘Well, this team does that better, or this team does that,’?” Spielman said. “Our scouts go out and when we go out and are evaluating talent, we are honed in and focused on one particular player or a couple of particular players.
“I know a couple of times you even go to these games, and you look up and you don’t even realize what the score is because you were so honed in on watching and doing what you need to do to get your evaluations done.”
Still Spielman said there were exceptions to this rule, which fans can look out for when the Vikings start making selections.
“If it’s a quarterback, for example, that may have a different impact because you’re seeing how much talent he has around him, does the team rally around him, does he win, does he win in certain situations? Quarterback evaluations have a little bit more to that,” he said. “But I think when you’re just evaluating individuals, you’re just honed in on their skill set, not the entire team.”
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