Rick Spielman (Kevin Carden/Scout.com)
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has spent months preparing for this important weekend, the first time he has had full authority. With the NFL draft upon us, about the only sure thing is that the Vikings will add a blue-chip talent tonight.
The members of the Vikings “war room” likely got their only good night’s sleep they’re going to get between now and Sunday when their heads hit the pillows Wednesday night. Between now and Sunday night, the look of the franchise is going to take a marked shift.
What the Vikings do with the third pick in the NFL draft – select offensive tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, wide receiver Justin Blackmon or trade out of the spot – will be determined tonight. The one thing that is nearly certain is, whether the Vikings stay at No. 3 or move back a few spots, they’re going to add a blue-chip talent to the team.
For the last couple of months, after it became clear that the first two picks were going to be locked and loaded with quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the name most often linked with the Vikings at No. 3 has been Kalil. The rationale makes sense. The Vikings cut both starting guards – Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera – and 2011 left tackle Charlie Johnson is viewed as a likely candidate to move inside to guard. Drafting Kalil will allow that move to happen, not only upgrading the left tackle position, but also addressing the vacancy at left guard.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was asked to respond to a question broached with the belief that everyone thinks he would “be crazy” not to draft Kalil – to which Spielman agreed … sort of. He said that the offensive line is a need, but that the cupboard isn’t as bare as some might make it sound.
“Maybe I am (crazy),” Spielman said. “I’m not discounting that fact, but we also know that we do have some young talent. There are some very talented guards in this draft that may be there potentially in the second round that you would look at depending on what happens in the first round. As you put these pieces together, depending on what you do in the first round may dictate what direction you go in the second round.”
Spielman has been quite forthcoming with the fact that the Vikings are willing to move off the third pick in order to add at least one additional pick – most likely a third-rounder if they trade back minimally with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 5 or the St. Louis Rams at No. 6. He has been accused of trying to create competition to move up to the third pick (guilty as charged), but Spielman contends he doesn’t have to create competition because, whether the interest of another team is in Kalil, Blackmon, Claiborne or running back Trent Richardson, each is an elite talent at a different position and teams with varying needs would have an interest in each player. As such, the Vikings don’t need to muddy the waters to get a team willing to move up. They will do that themselves.
“I don’t think we have to create a market because there are enough unique players up there that the teams that have contacted me – I don’t know who they want or who they may be targeting – but each of those players (Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon) and we have talked about (running back) Trent Richardson, who is also a unique talent, (are possible),” Spielman said. “Maybe a team has a specific need for a specific player. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I know we have received calls, so they may be intrigued with someone in that No. 3 spot.”
While certain players (DT Fletcher Cox, safety Mark Barron and CB Stephon Gilmore to name three) have seen their stock rising sharply in recent days as the draft approaches. The Vikings may have nothing to do with any of those three, since all will be selected after the Vikings are expected to make their first-round selection, but Spielman said the Vikings draft board hasn’t seen any sharp increases or drops in talent over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to the input of the coaching staff as to what players they believe would be ideal fits in their own scheme, the only “risers” and “fallers” have been with draft analysts in the media that have been subject to the waxing and waning momentum of some prospects.
“We’ve had some guys move up and down a little bit, but not someone from one category on our board to another category,” Spielman said. “You may feel a little stronger about it and I think that’s why it’s important to have the coaches in (the process), because the coaches say, ‘Hey, this is how I see this guy fitting within our scheme and why he may have more value here than he may have in another place.’”
When tonight’s first round comes to an end, there will be a blue-chip college football player that will be forever linked with the Vikings. That’s the legacy of first-round picks – be they Carl Eller or Alan Page or Chris Doleman or Randall McDaniel or Randy Moss or Adrian Peterson on the upside or be they Leo Hayden or D.J. Dozier or Dimitrius Underwood or Troy Williams on the downside.
This will be the first “official” draft in which Spielman will be the last word on the draft. In his employment history with the Vikings, he was part of the Triangle of Authority. Now it’s on him. Does he feel more pressure knowing that his stamp is on this year’s draft moving forward?
“No, I’m very excited about it,” Spielman said. “I know that is my responsibility. My name is on this, but I think my name has been on all of the other drafts in the past and I have the utmost confidence in the work that has been done and I have the utmost confidence in the people that get us prepared for the draft.”
After months of disagreeing and cat-fighting, ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay agree on the Vikings’ pick if they stay at No. 3 – both have the Vikings selecting Claiborne.
In the latest in ESPN’s ongoing attempt to turn their sports programming into a sitcom/reality show, they actually went through the motions of the Vikings war room with 10 minutes on the clock tonight – including a fake phone ringing to simulate calls from other teams. In their routine, they received offers from Miami, Kansas City and Tampa Bay and, in the end, traded the No. 3 pick to the Bucs to move down two spots, as well as getting the 68th and 140th picks in the draft.
Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway and John Sullivan were among a contingent of Vikings players that made their way to the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday to garner support for the Vikings stadium bill. The bill is expected to get to a vote before the 2012 session adjourns, likely on Monday.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.