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The Vikings are on the precipice of one of the more important drafts in recent team history. With (as of the writing of this piece) 12-picks in the 2020 NFL Draft (assuming there will even BE a draft this year), and the daunting amount of openings this team suddenly has, it makes sense to look at that same recent history to assess whether or not the current powers that be are the right men for the job. That job, clearly, is rebuilding the Vikings defense, finally building the offensive line and replacing one of the best receivers in team history, Stefon Diggs.

While those are all valid and extremely important points, the one that we will focus on today is two-fold. The first-round picks of the current administration and the wide receivers taken in the first round, as the Vikings received the 22nd-overall pick in the draft (among others) when they traded Diggs to Buffalo earlier this month.

That brings me to Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who has had some control over the Vikings’ roster since “assum[ing] the Vikings’ Vice President of Player Personnel role on May 30, 2006, replacing Fran Foley. [before being promoted] [o]n January 3, 2012…. to General Manager of the Vikings”.

When people discuss Spielman’s success (or lack thereof) in the draft they tend to focus solely on the time that he had complete control or at least was the final say as the general manager of the Vikings. Initially, Spielman was part of a “Triangle of Authority” alongside then Vikings head coach Brad Childress and the still VP of football operations, Rob Brzezinski.

That Ponzi scheme of authority continued through the beginning of the Leslie Frazier era, although his, at this article at from the time puts it, “…terrible personnel decisions” lead to Spielman being promoted to the role of general manager and Brzezinski to the salary cap wizard behind the scenes.

The reason I bring this up, and the lack of agreement from fans and writers about Spielman’s legacy and abilities is that the Vikings find themselves yet again on the precipice of a draft with multiple first-round picks, the fourth such during his tenure, and also considering that and Spielman’s reputation as a “Draft Guru” AND the fact that the team will most likely be drafting a wide receiver in the first-or-second round in the 2020 draft and… Yeah. I feel like someone has to say something.

Now, I am in no way delusional enough to think that by me writing some article from my COVID-19 bunker that I’m going to actually affect the future of my favorite sports team. However, it’d just be nice for fans and writers to, again, be on the same page when we talk about some of these things as the casual fan talks about Spielman like he’s some sort of master of the draft process. I believe that he gained that reputation for two reasons.

First, there was a three-year period from 2012-to-2014, where the Vikings had SEVEN first-round picks. From those picks, they drafted Teddy Bridgewater, Anthony Barr, Cordarrelle Patterson, Xavier Rhodes, Sharrif Floyd, Matt Kalil, and Harrison Smith. For a while, it felt like most of those picks were amazing. So, let’s look at these picks from a couple of different perspectives. The NOW and the… Let’s say… around 2016.

2016? Teddy Bridgewater seemed on the precipice of a breakout year, Anthony Barr seemed like he was blossoming into one of the better linebackers in the league, Patterson couldn’t run routes but was an electrifying kick returner that we still thought at the time if only could be utilized correctly had a lot of potential. Harrison Smith? Was the best of the bunch who was just entering his prime, and Xavier Rhodes was not far behind especially as he was acclimating to Zimmer’s system.

Sharrif Floyd? The Vikings picked up the fifth-year of his rookie option in 2016 and while he only played in one game in 2016 (before the knee injury that leads to his eventual career-ending knee surgery happened), he looked every bit the three-technique next to Linval Joseph that this team was looking for.

That leaves Matt Kalil, who had a tremendous rookie season and before he lost a lot of weight thanks to a bad case of pneumonia seemed like the safe bet the team hoped for when they spent their highest pick in franchise history to draft him fourth overall in 2012 (as he made both the Pro Bowl and Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team in 2012).

But, and this may be breaking news to some of you, it isn’t 2016 anymore.

I think you get why I broke it down this way. Some of the potential that these players had never materialized into anything, so the question becomes how much of that is something the team can learn from, how much of it can be pinned to Spielman, and what it means going into a 12-pick draft in 2020.
Let’s break it down into groups. First?

The injury-shortened careers. Teddy Bridgewater, Sharrif Floyd.

The busts; Cordarrelle Patterson, and Matt Kalil.

The players that panned out? Harrison Smith, and Anthony Barr.

The final category? Xavier Rhodes.

Rhodes is hard to put in a category as only two seasons ago he was a top-five corner in the entire NFL, but despite being only 29 years old in 2019, was such a liability to the defense that he was put on a pitch count before the season was over. That might make you want to put him in the bust category, but because he was so good when he was good, it’s hard to really pin anything on him (especially as his decline in play seemed to mirror his physical decline). That means that Rhodes essentially could fit in every category, injury-shortened career?

Yep. The players that panned out? Yeah, at one point that was true. The busts? You could clearly add him there too.

RIDIKULOUS!

But this article isn’t about the Boggart-ness that is Rhodes’ career as a Viking, but rather the legacy of Spielman’s career. Let’s take a look at all the other first-round picks that Spielman has either drafted as a GM or as part of the, as the cool kids have abbreviated it, TOA.

As a GM: Trae Waynes, Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes, and Garrett Bradbury.

As part of the TOA: Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson.

As stated above, Spielman “assumed the Vikings’ VP of PP role on May 30th, 2006” which is about a month after that years’ draft and after the team brought in friend of the site, Chad Greenway. So, let’s see where those picks end up in the aforementioned groups:

Players that panned out? Trae Waynes (although he left after his fifth-year extension to make over $14 million a year in Cincy), and Adrian Peterson.

The Busts? Laquon Treadwell, and Christian Ponder.

The Injury (or trade) Shortened Careers? Percy Harvin (although his trade lead to Xavier Rhodes, a 7th-round pick that turned into offensive lineman Travis Bond, and a third-round pick that turned into Jerick “Jet” McKinnon).

The Xavier Rhodes’? A player that showed potential, then briefly fulfilled that potential, then fell apart and then turned the Vikings down when they tried to resign them in free agency?

Then there’s a new category as we really don’t know where some of these players will land yet…

The TBDs (?) Mike Hughes and Garrett Bradbury.

On top of all this is the theory that some of the success that Spielman has had finding players in the draft can be more attributed to the keen eye (and I mean eye as in singular) of head coach Miker Zimmer, than of his own ability or the ability of his scouts. Since coach Zimmer was hired in 2014, this team has had an uncanny ability to find, draft and develop players for Zimmer’s system in nearly every round of the draft. So, let’s take a look at all the first-round picks, then the picks that came after Zimmer was hired and break those down into offense and defense.

In total, that breakdown looks like:

The Players that panned out? Four
The busts? Four
The injury-shortened careers (ISC)? Three
The Rhodes’? One

The TBDs? Two

That breaks down like this:

draft pie chart

Or, like this:

That’s a percentage breakdown of:

Busts: ~29%
Good Picks: ~29%
TBDs: ~14%
ISCs: ~21.5%
Rhodes’: ~7%

Post-Zimmer?

Since Zimmer joined the Vikings in January of 2014 they’ve had six first-round picks. Of those six picks, three are on the defensive side of the ball. Those players are Anthony Harris, Mike Hughes, and Trae Waynes. Quite the mixed bag there if you’re looking to get punched in the fact at a Vikings bar and throw that out as a FMK scenario. But, that’s two good starters (or panned out players) and one TBD. The four offensive players? Much, much worse. Between Bradbury, Treadwell, and Bridgewater, you have a TBD, a ISC and a straight-up bust.
When you look at the wide receiver position as a whole? Even worse.

The problem is that two 1st-round busts and 1 ISC that the Vikings have had in the Spielman era are named Patterson, Treadwell, and Harvin (respectively).  As in, this team has done a terrible job drafting receivers in the early rounds of the… Draft with Spielman at the helm. You could also argue that Harvin was a bust as he was widely known to be a malcontent in college and that’s why other teams (not named the Vikings… Or Seahawks) passed on him in the first place. But, the Vikings were at that point desperate for some semblance of a play-maker from the receiver position as they’d struggled to replace the home-run ability of Randy Moss after trading him away for what amounted to peanuts.

That’s the other fear (or fear #15) with the upcoming draft, that they’ll ignore character flaws or go for a one-dimensional deep threat to hopefully replace one aspect of the recently traded Stefon Diggs’ game. But his impact on the field was multi-dimensional just as the Vikings’ failure to draft receivers under Spielman is multi-faceted and while that’s the topic of tomorrow’s piece I thought I’d at least use today’s metrics to break down that position to get your brain juices a flowin’

Here are the receivers that the Vikings have drafted during the Spielman era:

– Sidney Rice (2nd-round)
– Aundrae Allison (5th-round)
– Chandler Williams (7th-round)
– Jaymar Johnson (6th-round)
– Percy Harvin (1st-round)
– Stephen Burton (7th-round)
– Jarius Wright (4th-round)
– Greg Childs (4th-round)
– Cordarrelle Patterson (1st-round)
– Stefon Diggs (5th-round)
– Laquon Treadwell (1st-round)
– Mortiz Boehringer (6th-round)
– Rodney Adams (5th-round)
– Stacy Coley (7th-round)
– Dillon Mitchell (7th-round)
– Olabisi Johnson (7th-round)

As you can see, Spielman loves to load up on receivers late in the draft (for some reason). Outside of ‘Bisi Johnson, none of them has stuck with the team so it should make you wonder why he keeps doing it. But, then again, if ‘Bisi pans out it could be worth all of the Rodney Adams’ they’ve drafted.

It’s when the team uses a first-round pick that we’re concerned within this article and in general as Spielman has used three picks and swung and missed with each. Treadwell was a one-trick pony whose one pick didn’t work in the NFL, Percy Harvin was a head case whose body wasn’t built to handle the punishment the league doles out, and Cordarrelle Patterson had everything you could want physically but everything you didn’t want mentally.

As I’ve shown in my recent articles about the leadership of Mike Zimmer, it’s hard for me to get excited about this (mini)rebuild the team is going through as essentially they’re going to have to hit with every pick they have in this draft (and have those players develop quickly) if they have any shot at extending their window of opportunity.

Point being, I don’t see how that’s going to happen, based on the above, the Zimmer articles or my next piece about Spielman and his history drafting receivers. But then again, these are just the first-round picks. We’ll take a look at his entire draft history this week as well!

What do you think?

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