Looking for Draft Sleepers? Just Ask Rick Spielman

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since being fired, Rick Spielman has commonly been found discussing various NFL matters. Minnesota’s former general manager has done all kinds of work in the media, some of the foremost of which being for The 33rd Team.

Not too long ago, Spielman authored an article titled “Most Talented NFL Draft Prospects Nobody is Talking About.” The goal, quite evidently, is to illuminate some upcoming draftees who are flying under the radar. There aren’t too many folks out there more qualified for the job.

Rick Spielman and The 2023 Diamonds in the Rough

To kick things off, Slick Rick highlights Oregon’s D.J. Johnson, who is an outside linebacker. At the beginning, Spielman notes Johnson’s size/speed/strength combo – he’s 6’4″, 270 pounds and ran a 4.90 – before stepping back to discuss his effort and compete:

His technique is raw, but he has excellent first-step quickness. The inconsistencies in his technique can be corrected. The thing you can’t coach is the energy and the effort that he plays with. He goes 90 miles per hour on every down. Defensive line coaches will fall in love with Johnson because of his potential. 

Vikings Spielman
Jun 11, 2019; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman after practice at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly thereafter, Spielman compares Johnson to D.J. Wonnum, who was brought to Minnesota by the former GM. On The Draft Network, D.J. Johnson comes in at 191st overall, the draft slot that was used on Jalen Nailor last year.

Oklahoma running back Eric Gray is next up. The RB spot is a sneaky need for Minnesota with Dalvin Cook in the trade rumors. If the long-time Viking gets sent elsewhere, Kevin O’Connell’s offense will need to proceed with Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, and Kene Nwangwu. So, the depth isn’t completely lacking, but there’s a fair amount of uncertainty beyond Mattison. An injury to the (likely soon-to-be) RB1 would make things pretty dicey.

Gray, per Spielman, is a name to monitor because of his ability to do multiple things well: “He can stop and start to make people miss in the open field and lower his shoulder to get a lot of yards after contact. Gray can also catch the ball out of the backfield well.”

The 5’9″, 206 pound running back is 180th in the TDN rankings.

To finish things off, readers get introduced to Trey Palmer, a receiver who played for Nebraska. Similar to RB, the WR room isn’t aching for reinforcements, but adding competition for the WR3 opening is likely prudent.

Spielman contends that “there’s no question [Palmer will] be a vertical threat in the NFL” and that the 6’1″, 190-pound receiver has “strong hands.” In Spielman’s mind, Palmer is similar to Mike Wallace, another player who once donned the Purple & Gold (and it was Spielman who brought him aboard).

Rick Spielman
Jun 11, 2019; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman during a press conference following practice at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Adding a true deep threat makes a lot of sense. Jalen Nailor is a contender for the job, a player whose stock continues to rise. Nevertheless, adding another player to challenge defenses deep isn’t a bad thing. Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn are very capable of getting open down the field – especially #18 – but having a WR who specializes in these services would help to alleviate the pressure on the top two. Palmer ran a blistering 4.33 forty.

By the end of his time with the Vikings, Rick Spielman had developed a reputation as a GM who placed a strong emphasis on hoarding late-round picks. Trading down to stockpile 6th- and 7th-round selections was commonplace. At times, these late rounders turned into important contributors, but there were plenty of misses, as well.

Regardless, the trio Spielman focuses on are worth keeping in mind. The team has a need at all three positions and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah isn’t averse to trading down for more picks. Perhaps one of the players Spielman discusses will end up in Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: Information from The Draft Network helped with this piece.