The conclusion of the Vikings draft Saturday marked the seventh year that General Manager Rick Spielman worked as the team’s key decisionmaker. There is no doubt Spielman continues to build on the faith Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf showed when they made him the franchise’s first GM since Mike Lynn in the 1980s.
But the big question is if Spielman will continue his success as a GM in the NFC North and if this 2018 draft class will develop as several of his previous classes have.
Since Spielman took over as Vikings general manager in 2012 (he started as vice president of player personnel in 2006), the team has posted a 54-41-1 record, which is tied with the Cardinals for the fourth-best mark in the NFC over that stretch, trailing only the Seahawks (65-30-1), Packers (58-37-1) and Panthers (58-37-1).
On top of that, Spielman has watched as every other team in the NFC North has replaced their general managers.
When Spielman took the job, he told the Star Tribune that he wanted the pressure that comes with making the personnel decisions for an NFL team.
“That’s what you want. When you’re in professional sports, whether you’re a player, whether you’re a coach, I thrive off that and I really enjoy the pressure part of it,” he said.
He has long been considered one of the best drafting general managers in the NFL, and last season 13 of the 24 players who took at least 40 percent of the teams snaps on offense or defense were drafted by the club.
Those players were Pat Elflein, Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs, Jerick Mc-Kinnon and Laquon Treadwell on the offensive side of the ball, and Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison on defense.
All but Robison (2007), Griffen (2010) and Rudolph (2011) were selected since Spielman took over chief responsibility of the draft.
While only Elflein (2017) and Treadwell (2016) played that percent of snaps last season, Spielman’s overall record has been very good, and it looks as if last year’s second-round pick, running back Dalvin Cook, is set to be a breakout star after returning from injury this season. Mackensie Alexander, a second-rounder in 2016, also continues to make strides at cornerback.
And while everything hasn’t worked out perfectly for Spielman — only five of his nine first-round picks since 2012 remain on the roster — he has found value late in the draft and also signed players who proved to be stars to smart contract extensions, such as getting Kendricks (second round, 2015) signed to a five-year, $50 million deal last week.
NFC North comparisons
The Vikings ranked third last year in the NFC North in percentage of team-drafted players who took at least 40 percent of snaps on either side of the ball.
The Packers had 20 of 24 (83.3), the Lions had 15 of 25 (60), the Vikings had 13 of 24 (54.2 percent) and the Bears had 11 of 23 (47.8).
Of course, just because your team is playing a lot of drafted players doesn’t make a general manager a success. The Packers learned that last season when they finished 7-9.
Ted Thompson had been GM since 2005 in Green Bay, and last season every defensive player on the roster to take at least 40 percent of the snaps was picked between the first and the fourth round by Thompson between 2009 and 2017.
The fact that the defense finished 26th in points allowed per game and 22nd in total defense, and that the defense hasn’t finished in the Top 10 in either category since 2010, is most likely what led to Thompson’s removal as general manager and the promotion of Brian Gutekunst.
And while the top NFL officials and coaches know how thin the line is between success and failure, there is no doubt that Spielman’s work as a general manager, matched with the work of coach Mike Zimmer, has had an influence on the NFC North.
Spielman enters the 2018 season as the longest-serving general manager in the division with Gutekunst in his first season, Lions General Manager Bob Quinn entering his third season and Bears General Manager Ryan Pace entering his fourth season.
Unique roster stability
The Vikings did have one big advantage in this draft and that was roster stability. Last season the Vikings’ draft ultimately produced a starting center and a starting running back.
This year things are different. The Vikings depth chart at this moment features only four starters that didn’t play for them in the NFC Championship Game, and they are all veteran free agents.
Kirk Cousins replaced Case Keenum at quarterback, Tom Compton replaces Joe Berger at right guard, Nick Easton replaces Jeremiah Sirles at left guard and Sheldon Richardson replaces Tom Johnson at defensive tackle.
Now there’s a chance that one of these rookies could break out like Cook or Elflein did last year, but the stability of the roster means Spielman and the coaching staff can focus on developing this new group of rookies at their own pace with less pressure than recent classes.
• It’s sad that former Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher lost his job after reaching the postseason for six consecutive seasons, and especially after this year when the team lost both of their stars, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, to injury. Parise played in only 42 regular-season games and broke his sternum in Game 3 of their playoff series with Winnipeg and Suter missed the entire postseason after breaking his right ankle with four games left in the regular season. The Wild still had the eighth-best record in the NHL.
• Former Vikings coach Brad Childress is leaving his offensive analyst position with the Chicago Bears to become the coach of the Atlanta team in the new Alliance of American Football, which will begin play next February. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick will be his offensive coordinator. Former Viking Jared Allen is one of the investors in the eight-team league.
• The Timberwolves were among the top three NBA teams in terms of local TV ratings increases during the regular season with a 78 percent increase over last season. On top of that, the Wolves had a 25 percent increase in corporate partnerships with new deals with Fitbit (their jersey sponsors), Anheuser-Busch and Hy-Vee.
•Twins pitching prospect Fernando Romero continues to dominate at Class AAA Rochester. Romero, 23, has a 2.57 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 17 hits in 21 innings.
• The Gophers will offer tours of their new Athletes Village on May 19 for fans. Online registration is required.
• Former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was one of the head coaches for the Oklahoma Sooners spring game earlier this month. It will be interesting to see if Peterson, who turned 33 in March, gets another chance in the NFL. While he didn’t produce much with the Saints, he had 448 rushing yards and two touchdowns and 66 receiving yards in six games with the Cardinals.