Rick Spielman entered the NFL draft with eight draft picks. By the time his busy weekend was finished, he had made four trades, selected 10 players, infused a bevy of young talent into new head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense and found the franchise’s next quarterback of the future.
“We’re very excited about this weekend,” Spielman said. “We feel we really upgraded our football team. We got a lot of really good football players.”
Spielman, who brokered two draft-night deals during the first round before selecting UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, twice traded back to acquire an additional pick Saturday, giving the Vikings and new Zimmer 10 new rookies to coach up. Only three were selected in their original draft slot.
“We thought that if we accumulated more picks, there was enough depth there to add to our roster and create competition,” Spielman said.
Seven of the new Vikings players are defenders, including three defensive backs —Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum, Maine’s Kendall James and North Carolina’s Jabari Price —who were selected Saturday. The Vikings also added Connecticut defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and Georgia Tech outside linebacker Brandon Watts in the seventh round.
The lone offensive player selected Saturday was Stanford guard David Yankey in the fifth round.
The new Vikings, including Barr and Bridgewater, will report to Winter Park for the team’s rookie minicamp on Thursday. They will be joined by a group of undrafted rookie free agents on the practice field when their workouts begin Friday. The minicamp ends Sunday.
Finally, secondary help
Cornerback appeared to be one of the team’s biggest needs entering the draft and the safety position also looked it needed to be addressed after the Vikings finished 31st in pass defense in 2013. But they waited until the final day of the draft to add three defensive backs.
Exum, a talented cornerback who missed a large chunk of the 2013 season due to injury, was selected in the sixth round. He expects to primarily be a safety, though he could play corner, too.
“I think that they kind of see me as a hybrid-type guy,” Exum said. “I’m just ready to go and get on the field and contribute in any way I can. Whatever they want me to do.”
Later in the sixth round, the Vikings selected James. Their final pick of the draft was Price.
Ready to block all day
With the 145th pick in the fifth round, the Vikings selected their third Pac-12 player of the weekend in Yankey, an admirer of Vikings back Adrian Peterson. He says he can’t wait to block for him.
“I’ve watched that guy explode on Sundays for the last couple of years,” Yankey said. “To get a chance to play for him and block for him and see him do some of that magical stuff is exciting.”
Yankey is a versatile offensive lineman who started 40 of the 42 games he appeared at Stanford. He started 26 times at left guard and 14 times at left tackle, but he is expected to play at guard, another big need for the Vikings heading into the final day of the draft.
The Vikings feel Stephen is a strong, physical nose tackle who can contribute to the defensive line rotation.
Stephen started 12 games last season and was named to All-AAC second team. He finished third on the team with 60 tackles, led the team with 10 tackles for loss and second with three sacks. He was one of the Vikings’ top 30 visitors.
“I know about Coach Zimmer’s scheme,” he said. “He is definitely a defensive-minded coach. He definitely brings a lot of ability from my position, especially being a two-gap defensive tackle who can shed blocks.”