One of the biggest reasons Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has been so active in making trades during the NFL draft is because he knows star talent can come from any round of the draft, and he wants as many shots as possible to get that talent.
He kept true to his style Thursday night when he made one of the signature picks of the night by selecting LSU wideout Justin Jefferson at No. 22 overall and then promptly traded the No. 25 pick to the San Francisco 49ers for the Nos. 31, 117 and 176 picks.
They used the 31st pick to select cornerback Jeff Gladney out of TCU and just as importantly for Spielman, added draft picks through the rest of the weekend.
Jefferson figures to be a star. He was the most explosive wideout in college football last season and had one of the greatest bowl games in history when he caught 14 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.
Gladney, meanwhile, was a hard-nosed corner who scouts said has no fear. He was named second-team All-America by the Football Writers Association of America and should be ready for the NFL after playing in Gary Patterson’s scheme for the Horned Frogs.
But first-round picks are not the only way Spielman has made his reputation. His tenure as GM is all about stockpiling picks to bring in as much talent as possible.
That’s why he picked Jefferson and then followed it up with the move to add even more picks.
The Vikings’ first-round selections over Spielman’s tenure have not always panned out, and that just goes to show how random the draft can be.
Since taking over as GM in 2012, Spielman has selected the following first-round picks: Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater, Trae Waynes, Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes and Garrett Bradbury.
Only Smith (No. 29 overall, 2012), Barr (No. 9, 2014), Hughes (No. 30, 2018) and Bradbury (No. 18, 2019) are still on the roster.
The fact is a first-round pick is not guaranteed to be more successful than a second-, fourth- or seventh-rounder. The 2019 Vikings squad had nine first-rounders on the roster and eight from the seventh round.
How random can the draft be?
According to Pro Football Focus, the highest-graded defensive players on the Vikings last season were all from the 2015 draft class. Safety Anthony Harris (91.1 grade) went undrafted, linebacker Eric Kendricks (90.1 grade) was taken No. 45 in the second round and defensive end Danielle Hunter (89.0 grade) was taken No. 88 in the third round.
The Vikings’ first-round pick that season was Waynes, who the team let leave in free agency this offseason.
That’s why Spielman isn’t going to let the unique nature of this year’s NFL draft — conducted remotely instead of in Las Vegas because of the coronavirus pandemic — change how he tries to make moves to add draft picks or improve his position.
Spielman’s tenure as GM since 2012 always has been focused on doing everything he can to get as many draft picks as possible without losing talent.
So far, that system has worked.
Heading into Thursday’s first round, Spielman had made 78 draft picks as Vikings general manager, and 48 of those picks came via trade.
That’s over 60% of the Vikings draft picks in his tenure. And they aren’t only role players.
Some of the team’s biggest and best selections of the past eight years have come via trade, including players such as Smith, Rhodes, Bridgewater, Hunter, Barr, Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.
Spielman said that won’t change this weekend.
“I know our philosophy is going to be keeping the same philosophy and trying, with all of the draft capital that we do have, to manipulate that board and go get the players and move back if we have enough depth on our board left to accumulate as many picks as we do have,” he said at his news conference this week.
This is the first draft since 2014 in which Spielman has more than one first-round pick.
In Spielman’s first three drafts for the Vikings, he had more than one first-round pick.
In 2012 he selected Kalil (No. 24) and Smith (No. 29). In 2013 he selected Floyd (No. 23), Rhodes (No. 25) and Patterson (No. 29). In 2014 he drafted Barr (No. 9) and Bridgewater (No. 32).
Spielman said that trading down, like he did in the first round on Thursday, usually comes down to the depth of talent they see on their big draft board.
He said that happened in the 2019 draft, when the club moved back multiple times to draft Mattison.
It started with the club trading the No. 81 overall pick to the Lions for the 88th and 204th overall. Then they sent the 88th and 209th picks to the Seahawks in exchange for the 92nd and 159th overall. They traded again, sending the 92nd pick to the Jets for the 93rd and 217th picks. They traded once more, sending the No. 93 pick to the Ravens for the Nos. 102, 191 and 193 picks.
Finally they selected Mattison at No. 102 in the third round.
“I think it all depends on how the draft board unfolds,” Spielman said about how he decides to trade or not. “I would say if we stay at 22 and then we have maybe seven or eight names [we want] still up there, to move back from 25 to gain another pick and still get the same quality of player [we will do it].”
While the first round has 10 minutes between picks, the second round will have seven minutes and the rest of the rounds will have only five minutes.
“We had some mock trades through the draft [Monday], but even in the second round we were doing, even with just taking a player and turning him in, we were doing some mock trades with some team that may end up being a reality, who knows?” Spielman said. “When it starts to get into the five-minute rounds, those are where it’s going to get a little interesting, because you can’t say, ‘Well, we’ll flop you in the thirds and give you a fifth,’ because you don’t know who’s on the board yet.
“It’ll be interesting to see if we have the same amount of trades or [if] people are going to be less likely to trade and just go with a pick. That is yet to be determined, but it’s going to be exciting.”