INDIANAPOLIS — Nowadays, Rick Spielman can't stop smiling.
This whole NFL draft experience, with all its requisite research and hypothesizing, seems to fall right in his wheelhouse, the kind of challenge that causes Spielman to fill binders with new philosophies and historical analysis.
The whole, complicated process gives Spielman an effervescence that was on display Thursday at the NFL Combine.
"I love putting puzzles together," he said with a giddy laugh.
Back in January, when Spielman jumped into this new role as Vikings general manager, he welcomed the pressure and longed to be the final voice on high-stakes personnel decisions.
So imagine this scenario: Some time around 7:15 p.m. on April 26, the Vikings go on the clock with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III still available.
What then? RG3 as a Viking? Is it possible?
At present, the likelihood the Vikings draft Griffin seems miniscule, what with the GM, head coach Leslie Frazier and just about everyone in the organization standing firm in their belief that Christian Ponder is the long-term answer at quarterback.
But how costly might the gamble be if the Vikings passed on a chance to pull Griffin to the Twin Cities and then the charismatic quarterback lived up to all the hype he's currently generating?
Yes, the Vikings have countless other areas of need. And sure, it would be unconventional and quite awkward to undercut Ponder after only 10 starts. But Griffin just might be the type of puzzle piece that brings the playoff picture back into focus.
He's a difference maker who NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock says is "the most exciting young player in this year's draft."
"The more tape I put on of this kid, the more fun I have watching him," Mayock said. "I've been pleasantly surprised by his pocket awareness, his eyes [remaining] down the field. And the physical toughness is outstanding. ... Bottom line, he's a playmaker. And that's what this league is all about at that position."
'Everything you're looking for'
So what exactly would have to unfold to give the Vikings incentive to grab Griffin at No. 3?
"I came up with a couple [scenarios] already," Spielman said. "I'm not going to share those. But they're a couple doozers."
Added Frazier: "You've got to do your homework. You've got to make the decision that you think is going to be best for the organization. We are confident Christian is going to be an outstanding quarterback and lead us to victories in Minnesota. But you do have to have a feel for these guys who are coming out and know what their potential is and how they might fit if you choose to go down that road."
In truth, no player in this year's draft has created buzz quite like Griffin. Sure, Stanford's Andrew Luck is a near certainty to be selected No. 1 by Indianapolis, already classified as a Hall of Fame-level talent.
But Griffin? Mayock sees a kid whose exuberance is contagious, whose arm is strong, whose speed is off the charts.
All those strengths Ponder exhibited to win the Vikings over a year ago? Griffin seems to rate as good or better in every category. That includes intelligence, mobility, touch and overall presence.
Spielman himself asserted Thursday that Griffin has "everything you're looking for in a franchise quarterback."
Griffin won't throw Sunday at the combine. But he will continue trying to win teams over with his positive energy. As he met a massive horde of reporters Friday, Griffin exhibited no doubts about his ability to excel in the NFL. He asserted that Baylor's offense was quarterback friendly but not "simple" as some critics have suggested.
He let it be known that he's a pass-first, run-second playmaker.
He even showed off his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks, part of a unique style he adopted in high school.
Said Griffin: "It's to show I'm comfortable with who I am. I'm comfortable in my own skin."
So what might the risk be of passing on Griffin? The recent past provides notable examples of bungled quarterback decisions that set franchises back.
Jacksonville, for starters, selected Byron Leftwich with the seventh pick in 2003. But the Jaguars' belief in Leftwich proved costly when they passed on chances to select both Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers in the next two drafts.
Of the other nine teams who let Roethlisberger slip past in '04, Houston and Detroit likely wound up kicking themselves most, having made significant draft investments two years earlier in David Carr and Joey Harrington, respectively.
A similar missed opportunity haunts the Bears, who used a first-round pick on Rex Grossman in 2003 but subsequently passed on their chance to nab Rodgers two years later. (Instead they drafted running back Cedric Benson at No. 4.)
What's at stae?
On the flip side, in 2010 Carolina drafted Jimmy Clausen at No. 48, hopeful he had the talent and moxie to become their long-term leader. But after a rookie season in which Clausen posted a rating of 58.4, new Carolina coach Ron Rivera insisted his first order of business was finding a franchise quarterback.
The Panthers then used their top overall pick last April on Cam Newton, who quickly rewarded that move by accounting for 4,757 yards of offense and 35 touchdowns as a rookie.
In fairness, the talent gap between Clausen and Newton versus those in the Ponder-Griffin quandary seems vast. So it's best not to get too carried away with that parallel.
But it's not impractical to assess what's at stake for Spielman and the Vikings if they fully support Ponder without giving Griffin serious consideration.
"If it turns out Ponder isn't the answer, it's probably going to set the Vikings back five, six, seven years," said draft analyst Scott Wright of DraftCountdown.com.
The St. Louis Rams, it should be noted, remain in the driver's seat with the No. 2 pick, capable of holding a competitive auction for the rights to Griffin long before the Vikings are on the clock.
Beyond that, Spielman will have other highly intriguing options, potentially able to land offensive tackle Matt Kalil, receiver Justin Blackmon or cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 3. All of those players could help the Vikings immediately.
"But in truth," Wright said, "if you don't have a quarterback, nothing else matters. And to this point, who can say that Ponder has shown nearly enough to make you feel comfortable putting your job on the line to say that he's the franchise quarterback?"
The puzzle table is ready for Spielman. The final say on these franchise-altering decisions are all his.