INDIANAPOLIS – In the Vikings’ first two drafts under Rick Spielman, the team used a pair of picks on developmental quarterbacks, when they selected Tyler Thigpen in the seventh round in 2007 and John David Booty in the fifth round the next year.
Since then, they have turned to the quarterback position in the draft for only one reason: to spend a first-round pick on a passer who might end their hunt for a franchise cornerstone.
The Vikings marked the end of Brett Favre’s two-year stint in Minnesota by spending the 12th overall pick in 2011 on Christian Ponder. Three years later, after the fortunes of coach Leslie Frazier’s staff crumbled with Ponder’s performance, the Vikings traded back into the first round to get Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd overall pick for new coach Mike Zimmer.
Here the Vikings are, four years after the Bridgewater pick, again searching for a premium passer (this time more because of injuries more than ineffectiveness).
The Vikings’ preferred method of solving the problem this time, following a trip to the NFC Championship Game, is almost certainly with a veteran, and that pursuit occupied much of their time at the NFL combine; Zimmer talked openly about the team’s questions with its three in-house options (Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Bridgewater), while the Vikings positioned themselves for a potential bid for Washington’s Kirk Cousins.
But whether it’s to acquire a developmental quarterback or snap up a player that might fall in a deep QB draft — particularly if they find the price for Cousins too rich for their blood — the possibility remains that the Vikings could dive into the draft for a quarterback for the first time since the Bridgewater pick.
“We’re going to look through this quarterback thing at all options,” Spielman said. “Who’s the backup? Do you invest in another draft pick? Because I think there are some quality quarterbacks in this draft. Or do you go out and find a potentially another Case Keenum type? Or does Kyle Sloter continue to develop? To me, especially in the situations we’ve been in the last couple of years, that’s one position that seems like you don’t have enough.”
The Vikings paid Sloter nearly three times the practice-squad minimum when they signed him before the start of last season. They added him to the active roster when Bradford’s knee injuries started in Week 2, and put him on injured reserve following knee surgery in November, to avoid the risk of another team claiming Sloter on waivers if the Vikings tried to put him back on the practice squad.
They could still look to add another young quarterback, though, in a draft that NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said has more QB depth than usual through the first three or four rounds.
“I think there are some interesting second- and third-round potential quarterbacks this year,” Mayock said in a conference call before the combine. “I think Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State is a really logical player. Prototypical, dropback type of guy. Along with him, I would say [Washington State’s] Luke Falk and [Western Kentucky’s] Mike White, I think, are very interesting players. Then a notch below that, I take Kyle Lauletta [from Richmond] and Logan Woodside [from Toledo].”
The top of the draft is stocked with players — USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield — who figure to be long gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 30. Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson could be gone, too, and particularly if they find their starter in free agency, the Vikings would seem likely to address other needs in the first round.
An example from their recent past, however, shows what value can exist in stockpiling resources at the QB position. In 2012, the Vikings staff coached at the Senior Bowl and fell in love with a plucky, mobile passer from Wisconsin. The team had drafted Ponder the year before, though, and wasn’t about to spend a third-round pick a year later when doing so would have suggested doubt in Ponder.
So at No. 66 overall that year, the Vikings took cornerback Josh Robinson, and the Seahawks grabbed Russell Wilson nine picks later.
Finding a quarterback of Wilson’s caliber, at any point in the draft, involves some educated guesses and good fortune. But whether the Vikings head into the draft looking for a franchise QB or a project they can develop, it might behoove them to devote one of their seven picks to the game’s most important position.
“I think it’s important that whoever we bring in, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency or whatever it is,” Zimmer said, “we want our guys to fit in with the rest of the core guys that we have on this team.”