By the time Rick Spielman stepped onto a podium at the Vikings’ practice facility Tuesday afternoon, to speak to reporters eager for whatever pearls of knowledge the general manager might offer about the team’s 2018 draft, his cellphone already had lit up with inquiries about the 30th overall pick.
“I know everybody talks about wanting to trade up or trade down,” he said. “I’ve had four calls over the last two days where we’re picking.”
It’s what any GM interested in creating a market for his pick — and especially one who could capitalize on other teams’ demand for a quarterback, as Spielman might be able to do Thursday night — likely would say.
In Spielman’s case, though, if the right offer comes on Thursday night, he might take it. If there’s been a north star for the Vikings — especially in the six drafts Spielman has led since he was given the GM title in 2012 — it’s the principle that more picks are better. And in recent years, few teams have been more diligent about stockpiling draft choices than the Vikings.
The Vikings made 58 draft picks from 2012-17, despite receiving only two compensatory choices during that time. They’re tied with the Browns for the third-most picks in the draft since 2012, behind only the 49ers (61 picks) and the Seahawks (59).
And while the sheer act of stockpiling picks is no guarantee of success (as the Browns certainly prove), the teams with the best draft performance in recent years have often made their marks by picking plenty of players.
Using Pro Football Reference’s Draft Approximate Value metric — which distills a player’s longevity and productiveness for his original team into a single number — the Vikings have received the second-most production in the league from their draft picks since 2012, with a total of 430 points.
Only the Rams, whose 51 picks were tied for the eighth-most in the league since 2012, scored higher (470).
Of the 10 teams that made the most picks from 2012-17, six — the Rams, Vikings, Seahawks, Packers, Lions and Redskins — also were among the teams with the highest Draft AV scores.
Only two of the 10 teams that made the most picks (the Browns and 49ers) were among the teams with the lowest Draft AV scores, and only one of the most successful teams — the Jaguars — was also among the 10 clubs that made the fewest picks.
Spielman has often said he likes to have at least 10 picks in a draft. That’s partly to give him collateral for trades, but it’s largely because of something he said Tuesday: In a game where success eludes even the best evaluators, it’s better to have more chances to play.
“I’ve just always had the philosophy, if you can get to [10 picks] or more, you have a better chance of hitting on players,” Spielman said. “Sure, you’re going to have your misses. But the more swings that you get at the plate, the better odds you have of hitting the ball. If you only get to bat twice, you’ve got maybe a 50-50 chance. If you get to bat 10 times, hopefully your 50-50 chance, your odds have increased pretty good.”
That’s not to say Spielman is tethered to the idea of trading down. In a 2017 draft where the Vikings moved back in the draft five times and picked a total of 11 players, they started things off by moving up twice to select Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein.
“There has to be a reason why. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it. You just don’t do it to do it,” Spielman said. “Last year, when we moved up twice on Friday, I was like, ‘I think we only have two picks left for the rest of the draft.’ Then we ended up with whatever more we did on Saturday.
“If a good player is there, you just take them. Or if a good player is falling, you go get him. Or if you have options to still get a good player and can get additional picks, then you do that. So it’s not one set philosophy. That’s why you can’t predict what is going to happen on draft day. If we ended up with four players this year, but four significant players, I’d be just as happy with that.”
History suggests, though, that the Vikings — who have eight picks in the 2018 draft — will end up with more than that, after a stark shift from Spielman’s early years.
They made only 18 picks in his first three drafts with the Vikings, taking only five players in 2008 after sending their first-rounder and two third-rounders to Kansas City for Jared Allen in 2008 and selecting only five players in 2009.
The success of their first-rounders (Adrian Peterson in 2007, Percy Harvin in 2009) and veteran acquisitions such as Allen helped put the Vikings in position to play for the NFC title in 2009, but the roster was left in dire need of young talent after the 2010 season. Since then, the Vikings have only left the draft with fewer than 10 players twice, and they’ve never selected fewer than eight.
In recent years, few teams have turned in more draft cards than they have, and few have coaxed more success out of those picks.
“The reason you feel so confident is because of the coaching staff that we have and how they’ve developed all these young guys,” Spielman said. “I think that’s why we’ve been successful. We can identify these guys but our coaches across the board — and that starts with our head coach — have [been] incredible at developing this young talent.”