The list of positives as the Vikings head into this week’s NFL draft is long. They are coming off of an NFC Championship Game appearance. They won the NFC North for the second time in three seasons. They signed the most sought-after free agent on the market in quarterback Kirk Cousins. And they bring back 18 of their 22 starters.
It’s for those reasons that coach Mike Zimmer says the team feels confident heading into the draft.
“We’re going through the same process, trying to evaluate,” Zimmer said. “The good thing is we have a pretty good football team, so we can kind of be selective on taking the best player available and not try to fill too many holes.”
Zimmer said that while the team is allowed to bring in 30 players for personal visits, those do not feature workouts.
Zimmer said that the in-person evaluations remain a big key to their draft process.
“You get a chance to spend a little bit more time with them individually, get a chance to see how they react to coaching, to different drills they have to do,” he said. “You get a chance to watch them and how they interact with other players on the team. You also get a chance to see them with your own eyes and that’s important, as well.”
Personality traits
Last year, the Vikings got the benefit of a lot of teams’ thinking that Florida State running back Dalvin Cook had character issues. That’s how Cook, a consensus first-round talent, fell to the Vikings at No. 41 in the second round.
Of course, the Vikings got to know Cook before the draft, and he was an early breakout star for the team before tearing the anterior crucicate ligament in his left knee. They also all agree that Cook, who Zimmer said is ahead of schedule on his ACL rehab and will be ready for the season, has had nothing but a great attitude and been a great teammate.
Zimmer was asked how the team makes those kind of decisions based on personality and character.
“We’re looking for a certain type of individual. We have been very fortunate that [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] has done a great job of bringing the right type of guys in here that him and I both kind of want,” Zimmer said. “I think that is important. When we talk about each one of these guys in the draft meetings, we do talk a lot about their character and if he’s the right kind of guy and if he’d fit into our locker room.”
Waiting in the draft room
When asked about how the Vikings manage their draft room, Zimmer said it isn’t as exciting as it might seem.
“We do a lot of waiting, honestly. We do a lot of communicating about trades, if a player slips a little bit and he might still be there, if we like him we might talk about trading. We talk about trading down. We sit down and, really, Rick kind of orchestrates it all,” Zimmer said. “He’ll sit down and ask the scouts when it’s getting close to our time to pick, he’ll have seven or eight guys up there that we kind of feel good about.
“And then we’ll talk a little bit about them again, and we’ll refresh our memory about each one of the players and he’ll ask the scouts, he’ll ask the position coaches and he’ll ask myself.”
The Vikings enter this draft with eight selections: a first-round pick at No. 30 overall; one pick in the second, third and fifth rounds; three sixth-round picks; and one in the seventh round.
Not worried about position
Zimmer said he believes the team can grab a quality player even if it picks late in the first round. He pointed out the Vikings didn’t have a first-round selection last year and still ended up drafting two starters in Pat Elflein and Cook.
“We’re picking way lower now, which is a good thing, but makes it a little bit more difficult,” he said. “Some of the better players will be gone. But our scouts do a lot of homework, and we figure out some guys we like and hopefully they’re still there.”
Zimmer added there’s always a chance that Spielman makes a move, but that will depend on what happens over the course of the draft.
“Our people — the scouts and Rick and those guys — did a great job, the coaches did a great job in finding all those guys that were able to help us this past year,” Zimmer said. “Then the college free agents — we did a great job in that area, too.”
Yes, the Vikings are in a great position to really take advantage of not targeting any one position. That and Spielman’s draft day moves could give them a lot of options.
“I think we’re still pretty open-minded about everything,” Zimmer said.
And on a separate note, when it comes to the Vikings’ biggest offseason pickup, Zimmer had this to say about what he has seen from Cousins: “Right now, we’re just trying to get him acclimated to the playbook, acclimated to the team.
“We’ve had a couple team meetings right now where I’m talking to the team about how we want to play the game, the different things we want to do, getting into spring workouts with the players. So you know he has been in the offensive meetings and it has been good.”
• Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman broke down what newly signed wide receiver Kendall Wright brings: “Very good slot, has some quickness underneath. You know when we lost Jarius [Wright] then we wanted to make sure we had another slot guy and he was available out there. I know he had a couple other opportunities out there, but we were able to get him on a visit here.”
• Rest assured the Wilfs will do everything they can to sign the Vikings’ standout players set to hit free agency next year in linebacker Anthony Barr, receiver Stefon Diggs and defensive end Danielle Hunter.
• It’s interesting that the Vikings will face Case Keenum in Denver in their first preseason game.
• Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle on the immediate impact of hiring Lindsay Whalen as women’s basketball coach: “Our season-ticket sales were up 600 percent in women’s basketball the first 12 hours that we announced the hiring.”
• Ken Mauer, the St. Paul native in his 32nd season as an NBA referee, worked his 200th playoff game last Sunday when the Timberwolves played at Houston. Mauer is second among active officials in postseason experience.
• The Gophers football team will not raise prices on any tickets for the 2018 season and have introduced a new season-ticket zone that is priced at $249, the cheapest in the stadium. They also lowered the price of their Outdoor Club season tickets, a premier location, by $300.
• Minnehaha Academy’s Jalen Suggs is widely considered to be a top-five basketball recruit in the country. Suggs father, Larry, played for Woodbury before also playing in junior college. Meanwhile, Rochester John Marshall’s Matthew Hurt is playing AAU with D1 Minnesota, and the team won their first tournament of the year. Hurt said that while his brother Michael wants him to join him on the Gophers, he isn’t forcing that decision.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. •