As Vikings know from last year, NFL draft has unexpected surprises

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2014 - 8:58 AM

Last year’s first round had the Vikings moving quickly.

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Spielman and Zygi Wilf conferred during last year’s draft, when the Vikings got defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida and cornerback Xavier Rhodes of Florida State with their original first-round picks, then traded to nab Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round before the night ended.

Vikings pro scout Steve Price ran through the hallway, down the steps, across the weight room and onto the indoor practice field.

“How long will he be?” asked Price, nodding toward General Manager Rick Spielman, who had just taken the first question from reporters on Day 1 of the 2013 NFL draft.

“Twelve, 15 minutes,” said Tom West, assistant director of public relations. “Can it wait?”

“Oh, no,” Price said. “We need him. Now.

“Last question for Rick,” West barked.

“He looked at me kind of funny,” West said earlier this week. “I think I pointed at a phone and said, ‘You need to take this.’ ”

For Cordarrelle Patterson to become the third piece of the Vikings’ first-round bounty and wow the NFL with record-setting feats, the Vikings needed to move. Fast. Faster than Patterson through Green Bay’s kick coverage.

“You try to take the surprise element out of the draft,” said Scott Studwell, Vikings director of college scouting. “But you can’t.”

Like Patterson’s reliance on the 10 blockers who would launch him 109 yards against the Packers, Spielman needed a team effort from the other 18 or so people who make up the Vikings’ draft day “War Room.” Also, at this particular moment, with time running out and Patriots coach Bill Belichick waiting as a trade partner, Spielman needed a Cordarrelleian burst up the stairs at Winter Park.

“He was huffing and puffing when he got back to the draft room,” Studwell said.

There was no official 40 time posted, but local television stations did capture Spielman’s quick departure from the podium and disappearance through the weight room doors.

“I’m pretty athletic,” said Spielman, looking back on it a year later. “Stay in shape. You never know when you may have to run away from a news conference.”

Expecting the unexpected

Last year’s draft board was the seventh one Spielman assembled since joining the Vikings. Each year, nine months of work by dozens of people is used to set the board over 10 long days of meetings involving the coaching, personnel and medical staffs. Prospects are stacked using a numbering system that grades each player to the thousandths of a percentage point.

“We have the board stacked and set five days before the draft,” said George Paton, Vikings assistant general manager. “Then you sit and stare at the board and go through every scenario known to man.”

After discussing 1,000 mock draft scenarios, the Vikings felt confident about landing the two players they were targeting: Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes at No. 23 and Patterson, the receiver from Tennessee, at No. 25.

The biggest uncertainty was whether Atlanta would take Rhodes at No. 22.

As always, Spielman had started his mock drafts with the “worst-possible situation you could ever imagine.” But the opposite unfolded on draft night. An unexpected run of eight offensive linemen in the top 20 was favoring the defensively starved Vikings.

Surprise, surprise

“We knew it would be close on Xavier,” Paton said. “But when he and Sharrif Floyd both started falling, we were like … ‘This could be pretty good.’ ”

The Vikings ranked Floyd, the Florida defensive tackle, in their top 10. But other than including him in their top-30 predraft visit, the Vikings spent little time discussing him as a possibility almost until they were on the clock.

“We still thought the Bears would take him at No. 20,” Spielman said. “In that case, we would have gone Xavier, Patterson and still been happy as hell.”

The Bears aren’t complaining either. While Floyd was being groomed quietly behind Kevin Williams last season, their selection at No. 20 — Oregon guard Kyle Long — made the Pro Bowl.

When the Vikings grabbed Rhodes at No. 25, they did so with a touch of sadness because they assumed it would cost them Patterson.

Everyone has a role

Spielman and Bob Hagan, the team’s director of public relations, arranged for Spielman to address the media as soon as Spielman made the pick at No. 25.

But as he left the draft room, he told Paton and Rob Brzezinski, vice president of football operations and the team’s salary cap expert, to put out some feelers to see what it would take to move from No. 52 to the top of the second round the next day.

“Rob and George are the guys who work the phones for trades on draft day,” Spielman said. “They do a great job.”

Spielman likes to have three options for every pick. He asks Paton and Brzezinski that one of those options always be a trade down to get more picks. That keeps both men attached to their land lines and cellphones throughout the draft.

“To move up [from No. 52] to the top of the second round, it was going to cost us a third- and a fourth-round pick,” Paton said. “We had the ammo [with an extra fourth rounder].”

As the Packers were on the clock for their allotted 10 minutes at No. 26, Paton and Brzezinski alternated calling the top five teams in the second round — Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Detroit and Cincinnati.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Another option

“And then Rob and I talked and figured, ‘Let’s try to get up in the first round for the same price,’ ” Paton said. “We saw that New England, at No. 29, only had five picks and they like to trade. So that was our first call.”

Paton and Brzezinski hadn’t talked to Spielman. There wasn’t time. By now, the Texans were nearing the end of their time on the clock at No. 27.

Nick Caserio, New England’s director of player personnel, said the Patriots were interested and would get back to the Vikings within minutes because they were on the clock in less than 20.

“I got off the phone and we said, ‘Where’s Rick?’ We better track him down,’  ” Paton said. “I don’t have that kind of authority.”

That’s when Price took off on his race against time.

“The Patriots called back when [Price] was chasing down Tom West,” Paton said. “They said, ‘We’ll do it if you throw in a seventh-round pick, too.’ ”

Paton and the Vikings knew that likely was their one and only chance to get Patterson. And, well, tick, tick, tick …

Odd deal breaker

“Cordarrelle was going to go to the Cowboys at No. 31,” Paton said. “We had pretty good intel after the fact. Derek Dooley was there as their new receivers coach, and he had been the head coach at Tennessee. You never know, but Cordarrelle was too talented to last to the second round.”

Now back in the room, Spielman was interested but made it clear that he wanted Paton and Brzezinski to recoup the seventh-round pick that Belichick emphasized as a deal maker or breaker.

“Rob and I promised him we’d get it back,” Paton said. “In the later rounds, it’s not that hard if you work the phones hard enough.”

With the Patriots on the clock, Caserio called back. Spielman pulled the trigger.

Two days later, Paton and Brzezinski retrieved the same exact pick (No. 229) that they traded to New England. By trading down in the sixth round with Tampa Bay, the Vikings obtained the pick, which they had gotten in an earlier trade with the Patriots.

Raise your hand if you knew that the Vikings used that 229th pick to select defensive tackle Everett Dawkins.

Or that he was released in training camp and is now with Tampa Bay. Or if you care much beyond the fact Patterson is a Viking.

Trader Rick

Spielman has traded three times in two first rounds as a general manager with final say. He traded down once, up twice and has collected five players who are projected starters this season. Left tackle Matt Kalil and Patterson already have made the Pro Bowl. Free safety Harrison Smith and Rhodes should be defensive cornerstones for years. And Floyd’s grade is an incomplete because his rookie reps were so limited behind Williams.

Patterson could end up being the best of those five picks. Especially when one considers how much work and how little time went into pulling off the trade that made it happen.

“It was strange at the time because Steve Price is not someone who would ever be at a news conference,” West said. “I looked up and he’s grabbing me near the podium. And I’m thinking, ‘Why would Steve Price be coming to see me?’ ”

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2014 preseason     
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Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
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Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
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