Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said all the right things in his pre-draft news conference with reporters on Tuesday, including this: “Every year is a big draft, but the more heavier or front loaded our roster gets with those big contracts the more important the backups or the role players that you’re hoping will develop into starters make a significant difference.”
Spielman likely doesn’t need further reminders of the importance of the draft even as the Vikings come off one of their best seasons in franchise history, but in case he does here’s a quick look back at how poor drafts have slowed the franchise’s momentum after similarly big seasons.
In the 1999 draft, the Vikings grabbed QB Daunte Culpepper in the first round and blocking tight end Jim Kleinsasser in the second round but largely swung and missed with the rest of their picks.
*In 2000, they plugged in defensive tackle Chris Hovan with their first round pick, but with nine other selections in that draft the Vikings didn’t get much impact or depth.
I*n 2001 and 2002, it was largely the same story: Decent value in the first round (running back Michael Bennett and tackle Bryant McKinnie, respectively) but not much else.
The Vikings went to the playoffs every year from 1997-2000, including two NFC title game berths, but those poor drafts hastened the demise of their championship window. They missed the playoffs from 2001-03 and again from 2005-07.
The cycle didn’t really break until 2006 (Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin and Ray Edwards) and 2007 (Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Brian Robison), helping the Vikings reach the playoffs in 2008 and the NFC title game in 2009.
But in 2010, with the Vikings holding the No. 30 pick — just like they do this year — they ended up trading down with Detroit. Using the Lions’ No. 34 pick early in the second round, Minnesota chose defensive back Chris Cook.
At No. 51 overall, Minnesota spent a second-round pick on running back Toby Gerhart even though Peterson was in his prime. Everson Griffen was a fourth-round steal, but he didn’t blossom until later in his career. The rest of the draft was forgettable, and the Vikings slipped from 12-4 in 2009 to 6-10 in 2010 and then all the way to 3-13 in 2011.
Kyle Rudolph was the best draft pick in 2011 (second round), a 10-selection draft that also included Christian Ponder in the first round, Brandon Fusco in the sixth round and a bunch of players who never became meaningful contributors. From 2010 through 2014, the Vikings made the playoffs just once and went a combined 31-48-1.
There were some notable draft hits from 2012-14 (first-rounders Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr chief among them), but it wasn’t until 2015 that the Vikings really hit the jackpot. That draft haul, which included Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs, might go down as one of the best in franchise history.
Perhaps not surprisingly, those players were all major factors in helping the Vikings reach the NFC title game in 2017. The Vikings are 32-16 in the regular season since that 2015 draft.
Now is the time the Vikings to heed the lessons of past failures. It’s not as though previous regimes attempted to fail at the draft, but perhaps success clouded their thinking and made them feel as though the draft had less urgency.
What we know now is clear: To sustain success in a league with thin margins and tight salary caps, a team must constantly replenish its stock of cheap, young contributors.
Failing to do so might not catch up with a team immediately, but it will at some point — and when it happens, the consequences are often both swift and long-lasting.