The Vikings head into Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft with the No. 30 overall pick. They have selected at No. 30 three times before in franchise history: 1962 (WR Bill Miller, Miami, third round), 1980 (CB Willie Teal, LSU, second round) and 1985 (CB Issiac Holt, Alcorn State, second round).
In recent drafts using a late first-round pick, the Vikings grabbed Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 29 in 2013 and Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 in 2014.
But recently, ESPN.com ranked Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith (No. 29 in 2012) as the Vikings’ best first-round pick of the past 10 years. The website said: “Smith has been a foundation piece in Minnesota’s secondary since his rookie year. Widely considered not only the best safety, but one of the best players in the NFL.”
There’s no doubt Smith remains one of the best and most important draft picks in recent Vikings history. The choice boosted the career of Rick Spielman as Vikings general manager, because that was his first draft with final call on personnel decisions.
Smith played perhaps his best season in 2017 with 78 tackles and 1½ sacks during the regular season, tying a career high with five interceptions and setting a career high with 12 pass deflections. He was considered the best safety in the NFL last year and was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He received 45 votes at safety; the next highest total went to the Titans’ Kevin Byard, who received 12.
While the Vikings have had tremendous success in the draft, not all of their first-round picks have panned out.
Going back to 2009, the Vikings have made the following first-round selections: WR Percy Harvin (No. 22, 2009), QB Christian Ponder (No. 12, 2011), Matt Kalil and Smith (Nos. 4 and 29, 2012), DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes and Patterson (Nos. 23, 25 and 29, 2013), LB Anthony Barr and Bridgewater (Nos. 9 and 32, 2014), CB Trae Waynes (No. 11, 2015) and WR Laquon Treadwell (No. 23, 2016).
Of those picks, only Smith, Rhodes, Barr, Waynes and Treadwell remain on the roster.
The Vikings have had mixed results from their recent first-round picks, but there’s no question that getting Smith helped shape the great defense Mike Zimmer has assembled in his four seasons as head coach.
Smith deflects praise
When asked about his draft ranking on ESPN.com, Smith said he saw things a little differently.
“That’s a great honor to have,” Smith said Tuesday. “I might disagree with it. I kind of think guys that we found in later rounds that have turned out to be awesome players — you can point to those guys, in my opinion, as better draft picks.”
There’s no doubt that getting players such as DE Everson Griffen in the fourth round in 2010 or WR Stefon Diggs in the fifth round of 2015 or even signing WR Adam Thielen as a rookie free agent in 2013 have been just as important for the Vikings. But when it comes to first-rounders, it’s hard to deny that Smith stands out.
Lots of O-linemen
At the Vikings draft news conference, I challenged Spielman to a bet that he’s definitely not going to make a selection at No. 30 and will instead make a trade, which he has often done in the past.
And while many draft analysts have the Vikings prepared to take an offensive lineman with their first-round pick, Spielman didn’t agree with that speculation.
“No, I think we’re going [to take the] best player available,” he said. “I think as you sit there and weigh the board, there are some pretty good offensive linemen, but I think you can get those offensive linemen throughout the draft, especially on Friday, as well. I think a lot of it will be dependent on how the board falls.”
Of the likely starters on the Vikings’ offensive line — composed in some fashion of Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Tom Compton, Mike Remmers and Danny Isidora — only Reiff was a first-round draft pick. Elflein was a third-rounder, Isidora was a fifth-rounder, Compton was a sixth-rounder and Easton and Remmers went undrafted.
“I think this is a good class, and [offensive line is] one of the strongest positions in this class,” Spielman said. “That’s why I think you can be patient, take the best player available or potentially move back if that’s the way we want to go. But you know that’s why we’re going into it with an open mind.”
Spielman said teams already are discussing potential trades, but none of that has substance until the picks start coming off the board. Then it’s a matter of supply and demand.
“It depends on how many people want that position,” he said. “We have moved up in the first, we have moved back in the first, so a lot of it, I think, the trades come down to if there’s a player that a team covets that they want to come up, then they’re going to be willing to do that. I think you don’t know that truly until you’re actually on the clock and reacting to what’s going on on the board.”
QB classes hit or miss
While the Vikings solidified their quarterback situation by signing free agent Kirk Cousins, trading for Trevor Siemian and developing Kyle Sloter on the practice squad, this draft class is shaping up as one of the best for quarterbacks in recent memory.
With standouts such as USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, it has been some time since so many quarterbacks were almost guaranteed to go in the first round.
But if past drafts are any indication, it’s hard to predict who will become a great NFL quarterback.
NFL.com recently ranked the best quarterback classes since 2000, and Cousins’ class of 2012 came in third. But the reason that class ranked so high didn’t have to do with the surefire draft picks, but instead with how smart teams were in selecting quarterbacks late in the draft.
In 2012 four QBs were selected in the first round: Andrew Luck (No. 1 overall), Robert Griffin III (No. 2), Ryan Tannehill (No. 8) and Brandon Weeden (No. 22).
But the reason that draft is viewed as so successful is because the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson and the Eagles picked Nick Foles both in the third round (Nos. 75 and 88 overall) and Cousins was selected by the Redskins in the fourth round at No. 102.
When you consider where the Redskins took Griffin and Cousins and how their careers have progressed, it shows just how difficult the draft can be to handicap.