Rick Spielman’s Top Undrafted Finds
In 2012, Rick Spielman graduated from the Minnesota Vikings vice president of player personnel to the team’s general manager. Spielman shared decision-making authority with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and then-coach Brad Childress from 2006 until his general manager promotion date.
Although Spielman is credited, to a degree, for drafting players like Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, he wasn’t granted official general manager authority until he got the new job title with Minnesota in 2012. So, this commentary will, therefore, focus on his performance in the last nine years.
During Spielman’s official tenure as the Vikings general manager, a total of 77 undrafted free agents have appeared in games for the purple and gold. This includes players like safety Andrew Sendejo, who had a stint with the Dallas Cowboys before landing in Minnesota in 2011.
77 probably sounds high, but it really isn’t. In the same eight-season period, the Chicago Bears have suited up 113 undrafted players and the rival Green Bay Packers have had 103 men play who were undrafted.
Comparatively, many more Vikings players that were acquired via the NFL Draft have landed active roster spots since 2012. This is likely due to the gobs of late-round picks that Spielman likes to squirrel away each year.
Nine Minnesota players that entered the league with an undrafted classification have earned a Pro Bowls selection during their tenure in purple and gold. Some of the most notable undrafted players to ever suit up for the Vikings include Mick Tingelhoff, John Randle, Pat Williams, and Warren Moon.
Here are Spielman’s best undrafted finds since 2012 in ascending order:
4. Eric Wilson (LB)
Eric Wilson played college football at the University of Cincinnati from 2014 to 2016. There, he made a couple of all-conference teams (American Athletic Conference) and he was projected as a late-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. This draft was heavy with linebacker talent and the logjam drove Wilson’s stock.
Ultimately, he was not selected by any team in the league. Instead, he fell into the lap of the Vikings after the draft.
Since that acquisition, Wilson has played in every single Minnesota game. Regular season, playoffs, you name it, Wilson has been on the field.
In the early portion of his career, he was utilized more on special teams. But he switched to the role of the Vikings starting weakside linebacker. Which is, you know, a big deal.
Wilson especially earned Minnesota’s trust when he replaced fellow linebacker Ben Gedeon who was concussed twice in 2019 and missed substantial time.
Before that point, Wilson had only played on defense for about one-third of the time. His defensive snaps spiked down the stretch of the 2019 season. That earned him the starting gig in 2020 — but Wilson left the Vikings via free agency after the pandemic season for the Philadelphia Eagles.
3. C.J. Ham (FB)
First of all, it’s neat that C.J. Ham is on this list because most NFL teams do not even use a fullback anymore. There might be some nostalgia here.
Affectionately nicknamed Hambone, the Vikings fullback played his college ball in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at Augustana University, a Division II institution. Ham was a running back at Augustana, and during his senior season, he accounted for 19 touchdowns.
He began his white-horned journey in Mankato, Minnesota, at the Vikings 2016 training camp. After camp, Ham was added to Minnesota’s practice squad and he would remain there until December of 2016 when he was integrated into the team’s full 53-man active roster.
The following season, Ham was converted to the fullback position and he has never looked back. Fullbacks do not typically record gaudy stats, but Ham has made an impact nevertheless. His efforts were duly rewarded in 2019 as he was elected to his first Pro Bowl.
2. Anthony Harris (S)
If you’re a card-carrying Rick Spielman detractor, it’s probably a rational idea to study the 2015 offseason before you author your memoirs. In that year’s NFL draft, alone, Spielman added Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs, and Trae Waynes to the organization. And, he wasn’t done there.
Spielman proceeded to find undrafted safety Anthony Harris from the University of Virginia. Harris played sparingly during his first three seasons with the Vikings as head coach Mike Zimmer deferred to a tandem of Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo as his two starting safeties.
But in 2018, Harris emerged and indisputably took over the starting job from the aforementioned Sendejo. From 2018 to 2020, Harris was the bonafide free safety opposite Harrison Smith. The experiment was quite fruitful.
Harris — along with the aforementioned Wilson — departed for Philadephia this offseason. Both men will play for the team that ousted the Vikings from the 2017 NFC playoffs.
1. Adam Thielen (WR)
Death, taxes, and Adam Thielen undrafted stories.
You know the details, fables, and emotional tugs at your tear ducts. We’ll stick to the numbers.
Thielen was designated a full-time starter in 2016, three years after he wiggled his way onto Minnesota’s practice squad. Between the years of 2014 and 2015, Thielen primarily played special teams and he polished his bootstraps because they were about to levitate in front of the general public.
Since the start of 2016, Thielen ranks seventh in touchdown receptions, 12th in receiving yards, 13th in receptions — and 18th in total targets.
Not too bad for a Division II guy from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, which has a population under 10,000.