From the “Scenes you never thought you’d see unfolding on draft night” category, we present to you 10:05 p.m. Thursday at Winter Park. The Vikings had already watched the draft unfold ideally with two talented defensive prospects falling into their laps at Nos. 23 and 25. And so there stood delighted General Manager Rick Spielman at a dais inside the team’s field house, describing his amazement at just how wonderfully the board had broken.
Spielman was raving about Sharrif Floyd’s quickness and athleticism as a defensive tackle not to mention the wonderful press coverage skills of cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Those were the two players who fell into the Vikings’ lap on a surprising night across the league. But then as Spielman was summarizing his early draft triumph, assistant director of public relations Tom West gave the signal that the GM was needed back in the team's war room.
Just like that, Spielman was in an all-out sprint down the side of the practice field, in through the doors of the weight room and back upstairs to put the finishing touches on a major trade. The deal, as bold as it was eye-opening, sent four draft picks – one each in Rounds 2, 3, 4 and 7 – to New England for the right to move into slot No. 29.
Once there, the Vikings selected talented but raw Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a playmaker they envision having a major impact on both offense and special teams.
And here we all thought it would be hard for the Vikings to top the first night of the 2012 draft when they grabbed left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith, a pair of players who each became immediate starters and look like long-term answers at their respective positions.
This time around? The Vikings wound up with three first-rounders, all addressing major needs. And now comes the opening for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson to begin proving they can be valuable contributors as soon as possible. Just as Kalil and Smith did last year.
So what else should you know about a wild night at Winter Park? Here’s our guide to all that happened and what it all means …
Could the board have broken any better through the first two hours?
Nope. With a major need at defensive tackle, the Vikings had long figured Floyd to be a top 10 pick. So imagine their curiosity when the top five passed and Floyd was still available. Then imagine the growing intrigue when the draft headed outside the top 10 and into the late teens and, yes, into the early 20s with Floyd still not selected.
Said Spielman: “I went through 1,000 scenarios with that 23rd and 25th pick and I can just tell you honestly that he was not [available] in one of those scenarios.”
Excited by Floyd’s potential to be a standout under tackle in the NFL, the Vikings had actually discussed the Florida standout as one player on their big board that they’d consider trading up for. Yet as the draft unfolded and there was a run on offensive linemen -- the one position where the Vikings feel pretty set -- the conversations shifted. The Vikings looked at their needs at defensive tackle, middle linebacker, cornerback and receiver and opted against trading up.
There were just too many quality players that would still be available at both 23 and 25 to chase Floyd. And yet, they never had to lunge for the standout defensive tackle either. Five offensive tackles and three guards came off the board before the Vikings picked.
At 23, they were staring at a menu that offered them Floyd, Rhodes, linebackers Alec Ogletree, Manti Te’o and Kevin Minter; receivers Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen and Robert Woods; defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and corner Johnthan Banks.
On draft weekend, this is called playing from a position of strength. The Floyd pick was quickly celebrated at Winter Park and then the key sandwich pick – the Colts at No. 24 – produced defensive end Bjoern Werner to Indianapolis.
It seemed for awhile that the Colts might be in line to scoop up the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Rhodes. Instead, their push to upgrade the d-line left yet another player the Vikings loved just sitting there for them.
Said Spielman: “[Rhodes] was very high on our board at the corner and I know we tried to emphasize getting bigger corners. That was kind of our criteria. … I think he has the instincts to play zone. But he plays a lot of press and he’s a shutdown press corner. As big a corner as you can get. He can run. He has ball skills. And he can run support.”
Did the Vikings ever consider trading down from 25?
Absolutely. Spielman had always envisioned a scenario where, after nabbing a solid first-rounder at 23, he’d be fielding a handful of trade offers for the 25th pick, ideally from teams hoping to shoot up to snag a quarterback.
Through 24 picks Thursday, only one quarterback was taken – Florida State’s E.J. Manuel to Buffalo at 16. Which left West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib on the board.
As Spielman and the Vikings fielded calls about the 25th pick, they thought about the possibility of moving back and gaining an extra pick. But once Rhodes was available, the trade talks ceased.
“Rhodes is a big, press shutdown corner, who we feel is going to be a great match-up with the type of receivers that we have to face in this division,” Spielman said.
He was too good to pass up.
What happened with Manti Te’o?
It will be interesting on Friday and in the days ahead to try and gather intelligence on what the Vikings’ true feelings on Te’o really were. It’s fair to say there was legitimate interest from the organization in the talented yet hoax-scarred Notre Dame linebacker.
And yet the Vikings found themselves being pulled in several different directions Thursday night because of the dynamics of an unpredictable night. Had Floyd gone in the top 10 as many had projected, might Te’o be flying to the Twin Cities on Friday? And what if Rhodes has been gone as well? There’s certainly a possibility that the Vikings would have turned their attention to linebacker and looked hard at Te'o.
When the Vikings pulled off the late-night blockbuster deal with New England, it was initially assumed they’d decided to pull the trigger on a third defensive pick with Te’o. That wasn’t the case. And so Night One of the draft ended with Te’o still in Hawaii, still undrafted, still uncertain of his NFL future.
In 32 picks, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (17th to Pittsburgh) and Ogletree (30th to St. Louis) were the only linebackers selected Thursday.That leaves a pretty impressive crop of linebackers still available as Round 2 gets underway Friday. In that group: LSU’s Kevin Minter, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick and Oregon’s Kiko Alonso.
As for all that speculation this week that Te’o was almost certainly destined to land in either Minnesota or Chicago? Well, the Bears surprised most with pick No. 20 when they went after Oregon guard Kyle Long.
So now what do the Vikings do at middle linebacker?
That aforementioned crop of still-available linebacker prospects will mean very little to the Vikings going forward in this draft. After the huge deal with New England, their next scheduled pick won’t come until Saturday afternoon, in Round 4, 120th overall.
It seems unlikely the Vikings have enough juice to try and squeeze back into the Day 2 pick-a-thon to get their middle linebacker on Friday. And so now they may be faced with a situation of either finding a current veteran still in free agency to plug the hole or turning both Audie Cole and Erin Henderson loose in competition for that middle linebacker job.
Spielman has said the team hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Henderson becoming the full-time starting middle linebacker. Though that certainly seems to have its risks with Henderson’s biggest admitted weakness being his tendency to try and do too much, slipping out of position too often for the coaching’s staff’s liking.
Then again, Henderson’s experience – 50 career games and 21 starts – would certainly be preferable over Cole, who was active for only five games as a rookie, playing only on special teams.
The Vikings have stressed the want for their middle linebacker to be a three-down guy. So it seems unlikely they’d keep Henderson in the role he had most of last year, playing weakside backer in the base defense and then occupying the middle in the nickel packages.
But who knows? At this point, just about anything could be on the table. It’s a situation best re-evaluated Saturday night after the entire draft is finished.
Why did the Vikings feel the need to make such a push to get back into Round 1 for Patterson?
It’s clear that throughout the pre-draft process, the Vikings fell in love with Patterson’s upside. Not just as a receiver but also as a return man with special teams skills that Spielman labeled as “magic.”
The organization certainly did their homework on Patterson, a guy who played only one season of major college football after a college stop at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
The Vikings interviewed Patterson at the combine, had him in for their Top 30 visit earlier this month and also visited with him at Tennessee.
There’s a recognition that Patterson is still very raw, a kid who essentially only had about four or five months working inside a major college football program and is now making a major leap to the NFL.
But the Vikings talked about the possibility of landing Patterson well before Thursday and began discussing how to work with him accordingly.
“We talked about having a specific game plan of how we’ll be able to develop him and how we’ll be able to get him on the field and get the ball in his hands,” Spielman said.
Still, with the receiver board breaking as it did Thursday, there certainly would have been an opportunity for the Vikings to wait until Friday to address that need on offense. Tavon Austin was the first receiver taken – at No. 8 by St. Louis.
The next receiver taken was DeAndre Hopkins, who landed in Houston at No. 27. The Vikings’ willingness to make a play for Patterson is an indication that either a) they felt the Patriots, who need receiving help, were bound to scoop him up; or b) they simply didn’t want to experience the anxiety of waiting until Friday to make a deal to move up to get him.
“We felt, besides Austin, he was the most explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands,” Spielman said.
Remember, last year, the Vikings made the late push back into Round 1 at the very same 29th slot to get Harrison Smith. To do that, they gave up picks 35 and 98. On Thursday for Patterson, they gave up picks 52, 83, 102 and 229.
Oh, and the best receivers still on the board: Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, Southern Cal’s Robert Woods, Cal’s Keenan Allen, Baylor’s Terrance Williams and Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton.
How should we be evaluating the Percy Harvin trade with all that’s happened in the past two months?
On March 11, the Vikings sent Harvin to Seattle, getting in return the Seahawks No. 25 pick plus a seventh-rounder (No. 214) and a 2014 third-rounder.
With Harvin shipped, the Vikings were able to use some of the money they’d been allotting for a possible long-term extension to sign Greg Jennings.
And so …
So far in return for Harvin, you can chalk up Jennings and Rhodes (picked Thursday with Seattle’s first-rounder) plus whatever they end up doing at pick 214 and with the Seahawks’ third-round slot next year.
And yes, it’s safe to say that the picks obtained in the Harvin deal were at least a part of the equation Thursday that made the Vikings feel more comfortable about making that Patterson push. At first glance, giving up those third, fourth and seventh round picks seems costly. But they had an extra fourth rounder this year to play with and two extra sevenths.
Spielman has a philosophy and a goal to hold at least 10 picks going into each draft. Before Thursday, he had 11, a stockpile the Vikings felt provided flexibility to attack when necessary.
And while they seemed content on taking the best prospects available at 23 and 25, they again used their extra picks to make a bold move to address a major need.
How necessary was it to get a receiver early in this draft?
Had the Vikings moved back into the end of Round 1 for Te’o instead of Patterson and given up the same level of compensation to do so, that would have been a reckless move. In a draft stocked at receiver, potentially having to wait for Round 4 and pick 120 to get one would have been imprudent, especially with the organization’s vow to give quarterback Christian Ponder every opportunity to leap forward in 2013.
After the Floyd-Rhodes combo was procured, Spielman talked about how excited head coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams were. So after making the push for Patterson, we asked Spielman if offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had been feeling left out on Night 1 of the draft.
Joked the GM: “He was walking around a little bit with a sad puppy look on his face. But he perked up real quick.”
So what are we to make of the three newest Vikings?
We’re turning this question over to the established draft gurus.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock may have been the biggest Floyd fan out there, rating the defensive tackle No. 2 overall in this entire draft class, behind only Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher who went first overall.
Said Mayock before the draft: “What I love about the kid is he's a prototypical three-technique [tackle] ... His quickness and ability to get off the field and disrupt the pass game is unique for a defensive tackle. And if you can get a defensive tackle that can affect the pass game, you've got something special. And he's also stout enough to play the run.”
And here’s Mel Kiper Jr.’s less-than-enthusiastic take on Patterson: “Patterson is raw. I don't think he can help you necessarily as much as his talent indicates as a rookie.”
That’s the rub on Patterson. He needs time to learn the nuances of route running, to become a more polished catcher, using his hands at all times and not relying on his body to secure catches.
The early indications from the Vikings is they’d like him to contribute on offense as a rookie but they’d love for him to excel as a return man immediately.
As for Rhodes, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier again stressed his want for bigger corners.
“He’s a guy who has great length,” Frazier said. “He has very good speed and has some turnover ability as well. … He should be able to help us early on. It was an area we needed to address and we were able to get it addressed.”
Lastly, what’s next for the Vikings in this draft?
Barring a trade back into Round 2 or Round 3, Spielman won’t have a pick to make Friday. Instead, it will be a day to introduce Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson. A 2 p.m. press conference is scheduled at Winter Park for that. Then, the Vikings will likely sit patiently and be mere observers Friday, crossing off names as they wait for that next selection to come back around in Round 4.
Even with all the Vikings gave up late Thursday, they still have five selections in their pocket for Saturday. That includes a fourth-rounder (No. 120), a fifth (155), a sixth (189) and two sevenths (213 and 214).
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