For Rick Spielman, it doesn’t get any better than drafting a player with a purple dot next to his name.
“We call those guys ‘Viking fits,’ ” said the Vikings general manager. “They have all the traits we’re looking for. A to Z. Everything we want.”
Actually, there is one thing better: Trading down a couple times, stockpiling two more picks and still selecting the purple-dotted prospect.
Case in point: Defensive end Danielle Hunter. The same Danielle Hunter who arrived via last year’s third round as a raw 20-year-old and became a situational six-sack threat to steal Brian Robison’s starting job as early as this fall.
Hunter is the player Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer wanted when the Vikings were on the clock with the 76th pick. But Spielman had only eight picks at the time, two shy of his goal.
Five minutes is all the time Spielman had to decide what to do when Kansas City called with an offer for the 76th pick. The Chiefs wanted to leapfrog the Browns at No. 77 so they could take Georgia receiver Chris Conley.
“It doesn’t take that long to decide,” Spielman said. “I stack our board the way we see it, but I can guesstimate who will be taken behind us.
“It’s a little bit of playing Russian roulette. You really have to understand all of the other teams’ needs and how they’re filling those needs. If we feel comfortable and I can pick up an extra pick, I’ll definitely make the trade.”
The Vikings made the deal. Kansas City got Conley. The Vikings dropped four spots to No. 80 and were given the 193rd pick for their trouble.
Four picks later, Hunter was still on the board. Detroit called. The Lions needed to elbow past Buffalo to select cornerback Alex Carter.
Spielman pulled the trigger again. He dropped eight more spots and was given the 143rd pick.
With the 88th pick, Spielman selected Hunter. At 143, he took tight end MyCole Pruitt, another purple-dotted prospect on Spielman’s board. At 193, he took defensive lineman B.J. DuBose. Hunter and Pruitt were surprise contributors on a division championship team, while DuBose spent most of the season on the practice squad getting stronger and transitioning from college defensive end to NFL three-technique tackle.
“That,” said Spielman, “was a very productive round. We got two more picks and still got Hunter.”
Hunter was Plan A. But Spielman had a Plan B and a Plan C, too. He wouldn’t elaborate, other than to say one of his two backup choices was taken before Hunter.
Two trades made 20 minutes apart produced three players, each of whom was considered projects for the coaching staff to work on. Without complete trust in a player’s desire and the coaching staff’s ability to teach and develop, Spielman said he couldn’t risk picking a raw talent.
“A guy like Hunter has the physical traits that you can’t coach,” Spielman said. “I can’t teach Hunter’s height, weight and speed. But the key is the football character. There are guys who may have the physical attributes that Hunter has, but they’re low football-character guys. Work ethic or something like that. I wouldn’t give a guy like that to these coaches because if a guy won’t work at it, he’s not going to reach his potential.”
Obviously, mistakes have and will continue to be made by anyone who sits in one of the 32 chairs upon which Spielman sits. But Zimmer, who was hand-picked by Spielman, “gives us a chance to have a chance” with raw prospects that need extra development.
“I just think this coaching staff is full of such great teachers,” Spielman said. “Being with Zim and his staff, the picture is a lot clearer. They really can relate to the players when it comes to getting them to elevate their ability to where they are capable of playing. Some coaches can’t do that. This coaching staff has whatever that ‘it’ factor is in a coach that makes them able to teach. And the kids we’re bringing in are willing to work their rear ends off to try to reach that potential.”