When Rick Spielman arrived in Minnesota, he came across as an intense, sometimes socially awkward executive who shunned attention and carried an iffy résumé after making a series of questionable decisions in Miami.
He rarely spoke in public and when he did, he’d begin most sentences with the word “again,” as if, in his mind, he had answered every question a dozen times.
Spielman has altered his persona in Minnesota, becoming more down-to-earth and successful than anyone would have imagined. Thursday night, the best word to describe his latest work was “again.”
He again capitalized on a free-falling prospect, taking Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. He again tried to stuff his roster with athletic cornerbacks, this time taking Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes. He again proved aggressive, trading four draft picks to move into the first round at the end of the night, and taking Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
NFL executives love to tell you they were surprised that players became available to them in the draft. The Vikings weren’t lying Thursday.
Nobody expected Floyd to fall to the 23rd pick in the draft. And while Spielman was detailing his surprise at a podium in the Vikings’ fieldhouse, assistant public relations director Tom West motioned to him, waving a phone. Spielman sprinted back to the team’s draft room. At the same time, coach Leslie Frazier was conducting a radio interview, and he, too, was summoned.
The Patriots offered Spielman a chance to trade his second, third, fourth and seventh-round picks for the 29th selection. The Vikings craved Patterson because of his raw athletic ability and-returning prowess. They paid a high price to get him, but this was the result of their gamble.
In one day, the Vikings added three high-end talents to key positions. Just as important, they did not get lured into the trap of taking the overrated Manti Te’o.
Spielman has conducted six drafts, this being his second with the title of “general manager.” His first-round picks, before Thursday, have been Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Christian Ponder, Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. He traded his other first-round picks for Jared Allen.
The three first-round picks Spielman made on Thursday could prove surgical.
The Vikings have never replaced nose tackle Pat Williams. While Floyd is more of an under-tackle than a nose tackle, Frazier is sure to find a way to play Floyd and Kevin Williams together.
The Vikings need to replace the departed Antoine Winfield, one of the best players in recent franchise history. Rhodes can’t be expected to match Winfield’s contributions, but he is a big, strong cornerback who could match up well in a division filled with physical receivers.
The Vikings need to replace Percy Harvin, and Patterson will immediately take over as a primary kick returner. Patterson is also likely to catch a lot of short passes the way Harvin did, although it would be foolish to compare anyone as raw as Patterson with the remarkably savvy Harvin.
Spielman has made his bones taking players who have fallen inexplicably in the draft.
Peterson somehow fell to the seventh pick because of a broken collarbone, one of the silliest chapters in the history of the draft. Harvin fell to the 22nd pick because of his defiant personality, and became a player who almost helped the Vikings to the Super Bowl as a rookie and became an MVP candidate last season before he was injured. Everson Griffen may have fallen to the fourth round in 2010 because of his partying. Early last year, Peterson, Harvin and Griffen may have been three of the Vikings’ five most gifted players.
Because Spielman paid a high price to Patriots boss Bill Belichick to acquire Patterson, the assumption around the league will be that Belichick fleeced another desperate GM. That’s presumptuous at best.
Spielman helped build a roster that should have won the Super Bowl in 2009, and he has helped the Vikings rebuild rapidly after their fall from grace.
Thursday night, Spielman did good work in the first round. That’s no longer a surprise.