I predicted the names of the Vikings’ past two first-round draft choices: UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr in 2014 and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes in 2015.
If you want my prediction this time before Thursday’s first round, I can’t choose only one name. But I will predict General Manager Rick Spielman will make every effort to take one of four outstanding offensive tackles — Laremy Tunsil of Mississippi, Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame, Jack Conklin of Michigan State and Taylor Decker of Ohio State. The Vikings need more stability on the line for the offense to improve over the past few years.
I believe Spielman will try to move up from the 23rd pick in the first round to get one of those offensive linemen. If a top safety is available to play alongside Harrison Smith with the 23rd pick, that also might be a possibility.
Spielman has reported there are a lot of talented wide receivers in the draft, and for that reason I don’t believe there’s any chance of him taking one in the first round.
Some of the media have been predicting Spielman will angle for either Josh Doctson of TCU or Will Fuller of Notre Dame. Doctson killed the Gophers the past two years with eight receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown last season, and six receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. Fuller had 62 receptions for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
Stick to principles
Spielman has long made two key points about how he approaches the draft: He likes to stockpile picks through trades and he always drafts the best player regardless of position.
“I think you have to stick to that philosophy because as soon as you start reaching for players, when you have players developed ahead of him, you can’t just go into this blind and say, ‘What’s my need for 2016?’ ” Spielman said. “You have to get the best player available and then bring him in and when he’s ready to play, whether it’s ’16 or ’17, you always have to keep that roster competitive. Not only what it looks like in ’16 but what it looks like and where your holes are going to be in ’17 as well.”
Scouts Inc. has Tunsil ranked as the No. 2 prospect — behind Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa — with Stanley at No. 5, Conklin at No. 7 and Decker at No. 16. Spielman was asked if the team could potentially trade up if they had to to get one of those players.
“We may look at that, I don’t know,” he said, “as I look through the draft board and see how the board is coming off that night and what’s available. We feel we got very good value in [Pitt tackle] T.J. Clemmings in the fourth round last year.
“Offensive linemen, that’s going to be the position that takes the most to develop and we’re very excited about [new offensive line coach] Tony Sparano and working with some of our current guys. I think we have 15 offensive linemen already under contract, and a lot of good, some veteran guys we brought in, but also some very good young guys that we believe have a chance to be good players down the road.”
The Vikings signed two free-agent offensive linemen in guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith this offseason and have 15 on the roster, which shows the staff is not only looking for the right mix of players at the position but also searching for long-term starters so the team doesn’t have to keep cycling through linemen.
Spielman said the top four linemen are all great prospects.
“I think the first four offensive tackles are really good, but I know those are also in high demand,” he said. “You have to try to figure out if any of those guys would slide down to you at 23, but usually there’s too many teams above you at that point where they potentially could land. There’s some other good interior offensive lineman, too, and a lot of times, you’ll see those guys [selected in] the second and third rounds.”
Spielman talked about the depth at wide receiver in this draft.
“I think there’s some very good value throughout the draft,” he said. “I think you can get a very good player on Friday and even there will be some guys on Saturday, like we found Stefon Diggs on Saturday [in the fifth round last season].”
Does the team need to move up to select a receiver?
“Absolutely not,” Spielman said. “We’ve been very active in the offseason, very active in signing our own guys back in free agency where we’ve created a lot of depth and competition on our roster. That gives you the flexibility heading into this draft to go with the best available player.”
Spielman said one of the big plusses is he believes he has the best coaching staff for player development, meaning he can have confidence in selecting a player at any position.
“Our whole focus is on just getting the best football players, regardless of position, and having them come in and compete,” he said. “… This coaching staff does an unbelievable job developing these players, but also being patient and knowing when it’s the right time and when they’re ready to step in on the field.”
• Proof that the Wilf family, owners of the Vikings, want U.S. Bank Stadium to be the best in the NFL is that they have put in close to $2 million of their own additional money for improvements and are likely to add more before the stadium opens for business in August. … Vikings players weren’t surprised nor upset when running back Adrian Peterson didn’t show up for the opening of voluntary workouts.
• Don’t be surprised if Wild interim coach John Torchetti is retained with a short contract because, No. 1, he did a good job and, No. 2, the contract to retain him will be cheaper than other candidates with NHL head-coaching experience.
• There is a group in town pushing to name former Gophers football coach Glen Mason as the new school athletic director. According to that scenario, interim AD Beth Goetz would stay in her previous position and Mason would try to convince university President Eric Kaler to find an associate AD position for former football coach Jerry Kill. While Mason has been quoted as saying he wasn’t interested in the job, the word is he would grab the position if offered. I still believe Goetz is the leading candidate for the job. … One person rumored to be interested in the job is Mike O’Brien, who has been the vice president and athletic director at the University of Toledo for 14 years.
• Pitcher Mike Pelfrey, the former Twin who signed as a free agent with the Tigers, did well in spring training, but since the season started, the righthander is 0-4 with a 4.64 ERA, having allowed 29 hits and 12 walks in 21⅓ innings.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org