I recently came across a statistic that shook my belief system to it’s core, thanks to a post that I came across on Reddit, the site that I love to hate. The top post in the Vikings Sub-Reddit, as of the writing of this article, is titled ‘39% of our draft picks under Speilman can be classified as “good” or “great.” That’s more than double the league average‘ and links to an article by author wludford on DailyNorseman.com. The reason that this shook me to my innards is that I’ve recently, and very publicly (Or, as public as you can consider the purpleJOURNAL Podcast) jumped off of the Rick Spielman band-wagon, going so far as to say that the ‘Slick’ needs to be removed from the ‘Rick’ in his nickname, Slick Rick.
A lot of this has to do with the Laquon Treadwell pick. Now, one bad pick can’t undo otherwise good to great work. But, it was in the Treadwell pick that I reached my limit of accepting the terrible moves that this team (and Spielman) has made when it comes to selecting wide receivers in the post-Moss era. Not all of those picks are Spielman’s doing, as he became the vice president of player personnel in 2006, a year after one of the worst drafts in Vikings/NFL history (The Erasmus James/Troy Williamson debacle), but a lot have (As he’s been responsible for the last seven Vikings drafts). I’ve written articles about this, and been mostly derided for and about them and my thoughts on (mostly) the SEC as it relates to the picks the Vikings have made. As opposed to accepting that Spielman is terrible at picking receivers, people latch onto to the fact that all of those terrible receivers came from the SEC (Just as, admittedly, I have, by framing it as “The Vikings Need to Stop Selecting WR’s from the SEC”).
Some of that derision has come from within this site itself. On an episode of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast, Senior Writer Luke Braun and I argued about Spielman himself after Braun stated that unless the Vikings landed a good left tackle in the (At the time) upcoming free agency period, he would question Spielman’s ability to build a team. I agreed, but had said that the fact that Spielman was one theoretical move away from being labeled as an, essentially, bad general manager meant that that question in and of itself made Spielman a bad general manager. I mean, if you’re one move away from being written off, what does that tell you about the rest of his moves?
I long have been saying that the fact that Spielman has essentially ignored the offensive line since 2012 (The year that (t)he(y) used the number four overall pick on left tackle Matt Kalil) meant that Spielman wasn’t the draft/team building guru that everyone has made him out to be. Luke’s main point was that no general manager can focus on every position through the draft whilst building a team, while I argued that the offensive line is arguably the most important position group there is and the fact that the Vikings hadn’t used a pick higher than the fourth round (While only picking two people in that round, the rest were fifth or later and most didn’t end up making the 53 man roster) meant that, again, perhaps he wasn’t as much Slick as he was just Rick.
So, imagine my surprise when I see that statistic (39% of his picks graded out as “Good”, which is double the league average). My immediate reaction was to relapse, hard, on alcohol. The second? Was to question how they reached that number, considering the word and idea of what makes a “good” player is inherently biased and subjective. Now, being an honest person (Hence my “Joke” about relapsing. But honestly, no, I didn’t. Just looking at booze gives me a hang over still, which makes my weekly visits to my main client (I run an ad agency) McDonald’s Liquor and Wine, tons of fun), I will say that I clearly have entered this discussion as someone who is biased and is looking for a way to prove that number wrong. I also feel like saying that I don’t want Spielman to be bad, outside of that. I want him to be good, to succeed, I’d be insane not to. The Vikings are my favorite thing in the world, and my emotions are often times tied directly to their success and/or failure(s), so I don’t want people to think I’m overtly negative when I really do want the team to do well to the point that I sometimes need them to.
But, really, what does “Good” even mean? One can easily set up objective feats to quantify “Good”, but even that selection of feats is inherently biased (Saying that the player ends up playing X amount of years, or reaches X amount of milestones (Pro Bowls, certain yardage markers depending on the position, etc.)). So, let’s take a look at wludford’s definition. To answer that question, you have to look at his previous article, ‘Most NFL Draft Picks are Busts’ which references a Pro Football Focus breakdown of success (Using a metric of between 0-160). That breakdown has a few categories, with the percentages that follow showing what amount of drafted players, across the entire NFL, fall into that category. I will be quoting wludford’s piece to define each category and show what players fall into that category, as well (Thanks wludford and DailyNorseman.com)!
– Whether or not that player ends up playing for the team that drafted them (16.7%).
“Most of these are draft picks that didn’t make the team, however, there were a few draft picks that were immediately traded that were of great value- Eli Manning and Philip Rivers for example. But generally these were few and far between so it is safe to say that most in this category (let’s say 16% of the 16.7%) were busts.”
– Players that are considered “Useless” (37%).
“Also known as busts. These are players that had a draft metric of between 0-4, and rarely or never saw the field. Guys like Ryan Leaf, Ryan Mallet and the Vikings’ 1999 1st round pick Dimitrius Underwood, to name a few.”
– Players that are considered “Poor” (15.3%).
“Still pretty clearly in bust territory. These are players that had underwhelming careers with a draft metric between 5-10, and include some pretty well known busts such as Jamarcus Russell (who scored a 6).”
– Players that are considered “Average” (10.5%).
“This is also not a category that most would consider a successful draft pick, except perhaps a late round pick. Guys like Matt Leinart are in this category, as are Vikings picks such as Nate Burleson, Jasper Brinkley, and Jim Kleinsasser. These are guys that scored between 11-17 on the draft metric scale. These are journeymen that filled a role, but were otherwise undistinguished.”
– Players that are considered “Good” (12.3%).
“These are solid bread-and-butter players generally, who started many games, did reasonably well but not many accolades. These players scored between 18-35 on the draft metric scale. Guys like Michael Clayton, Carlos Rogers are considered here, as are Vikings picks Christian Ponder (!), Chris Hovan, Dwayne Rudd, Brandon Fusco, Ray Edwards, Moe Williams, and Sidney Rice.”
– Players that are considered “Great” (6.9%).
“These were picks that started for many years and were also at least above average, but not necessarily elite, at their position. These players scored between 36-80 on the draft metric scale and included players such as Vikings draft picks Chad Greenway, Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk, EJ Henderson, John Sullivan, and Phil Loadholt.”
– Players that are considered “Legendary” (1%).
“Tom Brady and Ray Lewis are at the top of the heap here, with a draft metric of 160. Both have had long, highly decorated careers with the same team that drafted them, which is why they are ranked so high in this draft metric. These are generally Hall of Famers, with long, distinguished careers that included all-pro accolades- and mostly with the same team that drafted them. Guys like Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Brian Urlacher, Orlando Pace, JJ Watt, and Vikings picks Adrian Peterson, Daunte Culpepper, Kevin Williams, and Randy Moss.”
Now, as wludford also points out, these metrics don’t take into account when and where the player was drafted (Number and round). As he says, former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder ends up as a “Good” pick, despite being picked 12th overall. As he says, the number of starts outweighs individual achievement(s) made by each player, as well, which is inherently flawed in and of itself. So, position and actual successes aren’t really taken into account, as it must be assumed that if a player is starting for X amount of games, they must be producing at a decent enough level that they must be halfway decent or “good”. And that’s my biggest overall gripe with the player conclusions and thus the overall conclusion (That Spielman is an amazing general manager that is twice as good as the average NFL GM at selecting talent). Sure, Ponder started for multiple seasons but that’s more due to the fact that the Vikings used a first round pick on him, so they had to give him chance after chance. It’s really no different from the Tavaris Jackson move, outside of the fact that Ponder was drafted higher than T-Jack was. In either situation, the fact that they were essentially desperate for a quarterback at that point and had no other option, should be taken into account (As should Brad Childress’ ego, in Jackson’s case). So, would you call Ponder a good player? A good pick? Of course not. Especially when you consider the fact that Ponder wasn’t even the Vikings top (three) choice(s) and that he was more of a panic move than anything else (Look at Treadwell, as well… Do “Elite” general managers make panic move in the first round for their most important position?). Also, how could a player who only played for the team that drafted him for the duration of his rookie contract (and then basically was out of the league while still in his physical prime) and had another quarterback drafted during that contract, be considered good?
So, when you look at wludford’s second article, the one cited by Reddit user Y_Techno, this system and logic bleed’s over, despite wludford’s agreement (and mine) that the system is flawed. The first player he covers is Matt Kalil, who also falls into PFF’s (and his) “Good” category. Let’s look at what he says, as it really personifies how faulty this entire conclusion really is…
Matt Kalil – have to say he falls into the ‘good’ category based on number of starts and good rookie year, but as a #4 overall pick, very much a disappointment, mostly due to injuries if you ask me.
I agree that Kalil had a good to great rookie year. He seemed to be an amazing pick after his first season and was looked at as the safest pick in that draft, as well. Kalil just signed with the Carolina Panthers for a jaw-dropping $11 million dollars (The same amount he made last season with the Vikings, per his rookie contract) but that’s based more on the need for left tackles in the league than his ability or worthiness. I refuse to say that Kalil was or is a good pick, for multiple reasons. He was perpetually injured and while that isn’t his fault, it still means that he didn’t have a good OVERALL career with the Vikings. He played through a lot of those injuries, sure, but that was to the detriment of the team as a whole. Some have even gone as far as to say that the fact that the Vikings got burned by that pick meant that they avoided taking lineman in the first couple rounds since. Which is a ripple effect and another reason why that pick burned the Vikings at the time, and continues to do so. The fact, also, that they spent their highest draft pick in years on Kalil means something, too. He was expected to helm that side of the line for more than a decade, instead of leaving after his rookie contract.
And while wludford goes into multiple players I don’t really feel that I have to, to make my point, as Kalil is the perfect example. Look at how terrible the left tackle play was without Kalil last season. After one game, it was said (Again by PFF) that his replacement, TJ Clemmings (After Jake Long’s Achille’s exploded) had one of the worst games of the MILLENNIUM. There were countless articles written, on our site, (by purplePTSD/KFAN.com writer AJ Mansour) that stated that the Vikings were essentially “Stuck” with the sub-par to sometimes mediocre play of Matt Kalil. They were stuck, because they had no other option and couldn’t afford to spend another first round pick on a left tackle, or to bench him and let someone like Clemmings take over. So, does that set of circumstances mean that Kalil is/was good? Or that the team was screwed otherwise? I’ll let you decide.
Outside of that, this analysis doesn’t look at the team as a whole, rather individual players themselves. As Luke and I discussed, Spielman’s (in)ability to build a team was and is in question. You could, theoretically, have drafted a ton of good to great players (when compared to the rest of the league), but what about the players/positions you didn’t draft? Having a head coach like Mike Zimmer can mean that you focus far too much on the defense, than the offense (As the Vikings clearly have done). Basically, my point is that simply because a GM has added “good” to “great” talent doesn’t mean that that talent is equally distributed across the team’s needs and positions. A ton of “great” (let’s say) defenders doesn’t mean that the offense is very good, or that the team has a good quarterback in a league that’s success is dictated by quarterback play. While that’s really unfair (that a GM’s success is tied to the play of the quarterback they’ve acquired/drafted/traded for) that’s the reality of the NFL in 2017. So, as a general manager you have to be able to balance the requests of the head coach, just as the head coach has to balance the requests of the offensive and defensive coordinators. So, the question is, has Spielman done a good job of that? I’ll let you decide.
At this point, I’m really not sure that he has. In either regard. The team has a tremendous amount of needs going into the draft on April 27th, thanks to some injuries, the amount of players lost when free agency began (Something this metric also doesn’t take into account, retention) and the fact that some positions have been neglected in previous drafts. While they’ve added tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers on the offensive line, they still need some guards and even some tackles (For depth). They have a near desperate need for wide receivers (Despite drafting Laquon Treadwell in the first round last season), another running back and a pass catching tight end. On defense they suddenly need another defensive tackle (Which isn’t really Spielman’s “Fault”, considering the freak aspect behind defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd’s nerve damage), some linebackers, corner backs and a safety… So, essentially, nearly everything? At least from a depth perspective. So, considering that yes, some of these players have started a lot over the years, it doesn’t mean that they’re “good” players, when my definition of “good” is that they’re better than others at the same position, not that they simply play. One could argue that a bad team has a “Great” general manager (By the PFF definition) because a lot of his players are starting, despite the fact that they and the team aren’t good. Just because one starts, doesn’t mean that they’re good it just means that they’re playing.
I think a lot of the people that support Spielman do so because of the back to back drafts in which the Vikings had multiple first round picks. That’s where the ‘Slick Rick’ moniker came from (the years 2012-14 drafts in which the Vikings landed seven first round draft picks, most of which ended up being my definition of good to great players). In those years, the Vikings drafted Matt Kalil (meh), Harrison Smith (Great), Sharrif Floyd (Good), Xavier Rhodes (Great), Cordarrelle Patterson (Good), Anthony Barr (Potentially Great) and Teddy Bridgewater (Good). That is objectively amazing. If not for two freak leg injuries to Bridgewater and most recently Floyd, it could be argued that it’s one of the better three year (First round) draft periods for any team in NFL History, if you’re looking at it from 2015, that is. Even now, though, it’s really impressive both in how the Vikings came to have that many first round picks and in the overall quality of the picks themselves (Especially considering, if you agree with PFF’s metrics, that most NFL draft picks are busts).
Unfortunately, it’s not 2015 anymore. So, despite not having a first round pick this season, this draft is incredibly important not only for the Vikings as a team but for Rick Spielman as a general manager. Some have argued that the Vikings window of opportunity is closing, or even that they’ve entered a rebuild mode (Riki Ellison, I’m looking at you). One thing Luke and I have agreed upon is that this off-season will determine whether or not the Vikings will continue to compete and improve or if they will eventually end up in that rebuilding mode. So, I take zero pleasure in ripping on Spielman or the team itself, if you considering this “ripping”. I just have to say that I don’t really think that this amount of praise, for Spielman is accurate and therefore warranted.
Some will point to those freak injuries as the reason that the Vikings haven’t been able to reach the promised land and that those aren’t anyone/Spielman’s fault. However, outside of the Bridgewater and Floyd injuries, a lot of those injuries happened to older players that the Vikings acquired via free agency (And thus, out of desperation). While some say you can’t blame anyone for injuries, you can really create a level of expectation when it comes to certain players and their risk of injury level. The Vikings brought in Jake Long and Andre Smith last season in an attempt to patch up the offensive line. Both have extensive injury histories, and were near or over 30. So, when you don’t invest in your offensive line via the draft, and you end up needing to look at filling it in free agency with players that have been injured their entire career and that are getting up there in years… Is it really a surprise or even bad luck? Or is it the norm for those players or players at that age that have been injured their entire career?So, yeah, it makes sense that they ended up getting injured and so you can say that had Spielman invested in the offensive line via the draft the probability of injuries would’ve been considerably lower.
So… I’m still hopeful that Spielman will make the right moves on the 27th. I still believe that this team is a decent offensive line and an offensive play-maker or two away from throwing their hat into the contender ring. A lot of that has to do with my faith in head coach Mike Zimmer and the defense that he’s been able to put together (With Spielman and even the over-investment in that defense by Spielman) and with the luck that they’ve had in trading for quarterback Sam Bradford (While it’s been lucky to snag a franchise QB with only a first round draft pick, I do give full credit to Spielman for making that move). However, I don’t believe that Spielman has manipulated the draft that much better than the other general managers in the league, or really, in the system used to come to that conclusion.
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