Remember, the NFL draft is all-important. The TV tells us so.
There is no way to win if you do not move up in the draft to land the sure thing, or move down in the draft to accumulate assets, or take the player that you were so surprised to see available when you picked. You absolutely must take a great player with your first pick.
There is only one thing wrong with the previous two paragraphs: They’re lies.
The draft feels important because the NFL has made it feel important, and because the draft is filled with mystery and speculation, and every once in a while your team drafts Randy Moss and all things become possible.
Drafting well is always useful, but “drafting well” is a relative term. No team hits on all of its picks, or even all of its first-round picks. It just doesn’t happen. And it’s not necessary. And in a salary-cap league, no team that drafted all superstars could afford to pay them all, anyway.
Take New England, the NFL’s most dynastic team for two decades. The Patriots have maintained their dominance while picking at the bottom of the draft order, and have frequently swung and missed.
The last time they took a Pro Bowl player in the first round? 2012. They did have a run of successful first-rounders in the 2000s. They also used a first-round pick on Laurence Maroney in 2006 and didn’t have a first-rounder in 2009, and their greatest draft “success” was luck.
If the Patriots knew that Tom Brady was going to be a good starting quarterback, they never would have waited until the sixth round to pick him. If they had an inkling he would be great, they were fools to give every other NFL team five chances to take him.
The Patriots draft a reasonable number of quality players who fit their schemes, then they develop them, then they get rid of a bunch of them like the depreciating assets they are.
The Vikings have gone on extended runs of success even when they have missed on picks, or missed having picks.
The Vikings included seven picks in the first three rounds over the 1990-92 drafts in the Herschel Walker trade. From 1986 through 1992, the Vikings made one quality first-round pick — Randall McDaniel in 1988.
That sequence crushed them to the extent that they made the playoffs in 1987, ’88, ’89, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99 and 2000, going to NFC title games following the 1987, ’98 and 2000 seasons.
Missing on first-round draft picks merely forces quality franchises to find other ways to acquire quality players.
Think of many of the best players in recent Vikings history. They claimed Cris Carter off waivers for $100. Brad Johnson was a ninth-round pick. John Randle and Adam Thielen were undrafted free agents. Danielle Hunter went in the third round, Stefon Diggs in the fifth, Dalvin Cook in the second. The Vikings traded for Jared Allen and signed Brett Favre, Linval Joseph and Pat Williams as free agents. And their only 13-win season since 1998 was delivered by a free-agent backup quarterback, Case Keenum.
Drafting well is the most convenient way to build a team, and the most celebrated, because football teams and fans spend so much time obsessing about the draft. But missing on first-round picks is hardly fatal. Look at the 2015 draft. The first round must be filled with players who are in their prime and valuable, right?
The first three picks were Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Dante Fowler. Winston is a free agent; Mariota is a backup with his second team; Fowler is with his third team.
Of the 32 first-round picks that year, only two have made Pro Bowls and remain with their original team: Washington’s Brandon Scherff and New Orleans’ Andrus Peat, both offensive linemen who haven’t broken the bank.
The Vikings used their 2015 first-round pick on cornerback Trae Waynes. In the second round, they took Pro Bowl linebacker Eric Kendricks. In the third, they landed Hunter, a future Hall of Famer. In the fifth, they got Diggs.
Ideally, in the first round Thursday the Vikings will take a left tackle and cornerback and both will become immediate starters and eventual stars.
But if that doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world, franchise or season.