Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was feeling good enough about the defensive puzzle he’s assembling to share a lighter moment from the morning after the first round of the NFL draft saw him select a penetrating defensive tackle, a shutdown cornerback, an explosive receiver and, yes, no middle linebacker.
“My brother called me this morning and asked for a job,” said Spielman, referring to younger brother Chris, a four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker who hasn’t suited up since 1999. “He said, ‘I still think I got it.’ But you know, he does have a new hip.”
Older brother made a counteroffer that involved reaching even further back to 1990, the last year Vikings Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell played for the Purple.
“I told Chris I’d sign him and Studwell and they could run in and out every other play to stay fresh,” Spielman said. “But that still leaves us without a third-down coverage linebacker.”
Nothing was going to wipe the smiles off the faces at Winter Park on Friday morning. Not even a big hole at middle linebacker and no picks in the second and third rounds thanks to a four-for-one deal the Vikings made with New England to select Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson 29th overall.
Defensively, Friday was a day to enjoy the still-incomplete puzzle that now includes three first-round difference-makers under the age of 25. Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who many considered a top-five talent, was taken 23rd, while Xavier Rhodes, a 6-2 cornerback from Florida State, came two picks later. They join starting free safety Harrison Smith, last year’s 29th overall pick.
“The draft just fell our way [Thursday],” defensive backs coach Joe Woods said. “These two defensive guys are arguably the best guys at their two positions.”
Woods’ only complaint from Thursday was the delay that exists between the time picks are made and when they are announced on television. As a position coach, the only time Woods gets invited to the team’s war room on draft day is to join in the conference call of a player picked at his position.
“My office is right next to [defensive line coach] Brendan Daly’s,” Woods said. “I heard him come back after we picked Sharrif. The TV still didn’t have the Colts’ pick at No. 24, so I wasn’t ready to celebrate. But I asked Brendan if he had heard what we’ll do at No. 25 and he said, ‘I think we already took the corner.’ ”
At that moment, a scout knocked on Woods’ door and summoned him to the war room. The defensive celebration had spread to the back of the defense.
“That’s the first time I saw Coach [Leslie] Frazier jump up and high-five Joe Woods and then [defensive coordinator] Alan Williams. … There was the same kind of energy in that room that we had last year when we got Harrison,” Spielman said.
The energy was stoked throughout the night by Floyd’s free-fall, which was the result of an unexpected run of eight offensive linemen selected ahead of the Vikings. The tumble probably cost Floyd more than $12 million, but he’s happy to be a Viking and the Vikings are thrilled to have rare a defensive tackle who’s both run stuffer and elite pass rusher.
“He’s everything that we’re looking for in a defensive tackle who fits well within our scheme,” Spielman said.
He’s also motivated by the several snubs he received from teams that told him they’d take him if he were available.
“I feel I have a lot to prove to a lot of people,” Floyd said.
The selection of Rhodes also was a perfect fit, Spielman said. A receiver and running back until he arrived at Florida State, Rhodes not only looks like the physical presence the team needs at corner in the NFC North, but also displays a defensive mentality as well.
“I always tried to find contact [as a receiver],” Rhodes said. “My coaches always kind of told me I was crazy and needed to go over to the defensive side of the ball. That’s why they moved me to running back because I always wanted to run somebody over.”
The Vikings’ celebration will have to end soon, before they make their five picks in Rounds 4-7 on Saturday. Obviously, middle linebacker is priority No. 1.
“We’ll look in that area,” Spielman said. “Saturday will be a very important day for us. We’ll see what we come out with on Saturday and go from there. We always look to see what’s out there. If you remember last year, we didn’t pick up [cornerback] A.J. Jefferson until a week before the season opener. And he filled an important role for us.”
Spielman’s Day 3 finds include five players who now start. A year ago, he landed All-Pro kicker Blair Walsh and contributors Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison and Robert Blanton.
“The energy and momentum in the room is high right now,” Spielman said. “We’re not done yet.”