At a time when mock drafts are being finalized, one of the people who spends the most time doing mock scenarios is Rick Spielman. Regular readers of Viking Update have heard the explanation of the deep level of detail Spielman uses in the draft process. Some would contend it was taken directly from the script of Rain Man. It runs deep. In a light moment following his first draft process in 2008, I randomly asked Spielman if he conducts something similar to a mock draft in the days leading up to the draft.
His response? He said he probably had a done 100 of them … and he wasn’t kidding. As part of his planning process – a beautiful mind that runs at a much higher speed than most – Spielman tries to envision dozens of potential scenarios that would make some players available that are expected to be gone and those that would snatch away players the Vikings expect to be available.
While this year’s draft might require one of those simulations where they play 10,000 games to determine a winner, there are certain players the Vikings might have an interest in.
The funny thing about draft picks is that, when a player a team covets – whether in the first round or the sixth – is still on the board, they will make a deal to move up. When Brad Childress was in charge of the Vikings war room from 2007-09, they exited the draft in both 2008 and 2009 with just five picks. Chilly believed in trading picks for players – whether they were for veterans like Jared Allen, Sage Rosenfels, Artis Hicks or Kelly Holcomb or to move up for a prospect they targeted. Over the last three years, as Spielman’s role grew, so did the number of picks the Vikings made.
In 2010, the Vikings made eight draft picks. In 2011, they made 10. Last year, they made 10. This year, they currently hold 11 picks. Given the glut of young talent that has been added over the last three years, it would seem to make more sense for the Vikings to trade up to lessen the numbers overall but increase the number of players with a legitimate chance of making the team – after all, there are only 53 roster spots available and most of them have already been claimed.
To get into the mind of the Spielman mega-mock draft scenario, there are certain things that need to be givens. The Vikings won’t be in the market for any of the three top offensive tackles or right tackle D.J. Fluker – all of whom should be long gone by the time the Vikings are slated to pick at No. 23. That’s four players they don’t have to worry about. It can safely be assumed that Dion Jordan, Sharrif Floyd, Dee Milliner, Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo and guards Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper will be gone. Now the number is at 11. In realistic draft terms, they’re almost untouchable, because the price to get up to grab them is too steep. Offering up both first-round picks would likely only get the Vikings to the No. 7 or 8 range. Spielman would never do that.
So who does that leave? If you rank need against the blue-chip talent in the NFL draft, it makes more sense from the Spielman way of thinking. The loosely based needs are as follows: linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver, defensive tackle, guard and safety. With Warmack and Cooper the only guards worth trading up for, they’re likely out of play as potential first-round Vikings. But, as Spielman’s 8,000 simulations have shown, when talent meets need, every player has a price.
Channeling the Spielman Psychic Network, this is who we see as the players the Vikings might be interested in and who stands in the way of them landing in Minnesota, even if Spielman said he doesn’t anticipate moving up in the draft and then admitted “that could change.”
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes – The corner crop runs moderately deep in this year’s draft, so if the Vikings covet Rhodes the first potential roadblock would be the Jets at No. 13. After trading Darelle Revis, CB is a huge need for the Jets, and if Milliner is available at No. 9, he could land there. If not, Rhodes could be in their plans at No. 13. Beyond them, the only teams that would appear to be prime candidates are the Panthers at No. 14 or the Giants at No. 19. If the Vikings want Rhodes and he makes it past Miami and the Jets, he could potentially be had without trading up.
Wide receiver Tavon Austin – Viewed as a Wes Welker-Percy Harvin hybrid, if the Vikings want to replace Harvin with Austin and are serious, it may come with a price. Austin could go as early as No. 13 to the Jets. Carolina at No. 14 isn’t out of the question. Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Cam Newton needs a weapon. St. Louis is the most discussed landing spot at No. 16. With Pittsburgh in need of an offensive weapon to replace Mike Wallace at No. 17, if the Vikings want to land Austin, they may have to talk to Miami (Spielman’s former home) at No. 12 or New Orleans at No. 15, which would bring a bizarre closure to Bountygate if the Saints recouped their second-round pick that was taken away because of a scandal the Vikings started to reveal. If the Vikings want Austin, the investment will be steep, likely the 25th and 52nd pick.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson – Almost universally linked to Carolina at No. 14, if the Vikings want to make a big bang with Sheldon, it would mean giving up Nos. 25 and 52 – a trade that makes perfect sense given the current state of the Draft Value Chart (both sides hit 1,100 points). If he makes it to Dallas at No. 19, Jerry Jones likely will take about four seconds on the clock – the time it takes to write Richardson’s name.
Linebacker Jarvis Jones – A talented player, his biggest deterrent came in Indianapolis when he ran a slow 40 time. His stock has dipped into the middle of the first round since then. If the Vikings have a serious feeling about him, New Orleans could ask for Nos. 25 and 52 or Pittsburgh would ask for Nos. 23 and 52. If Spielman loves Jones, a deal could be done, but it would be a significant move. This one seems unlikely.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro – The bad news is that he would have to run a mine field that includes the Cowboys, Steelers, Bengals and two picks from the Rams to make it to Minnesota. However, if he does, the Vikings would pull the trigger – that’s how Spielman works – despite trading up to get Harrison Smith last year. He’s simply too talented to pass on.
Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams – This looks like a two-horse race if the Vikings want to land Williams Wall 2.0. Unfortunately, one horse could be Dallas at No. 18. St. Louis will be distrusting of the Vikings due to mutual draft-need interests, so a trade with the Rams is unlikely. If Williams makes it past Dallas, he’ll likely be there when the Vikings pick.
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson – He’s kind of a wild card. He has the most upside of any receiver in a deep draft class but shouldn’t be a No. 1 receiver. If the Rams miss out on Austin, you can bet Patterson is on their radar, but if not at No. 16, it would be their second pick and Pittsburgh could slide in at No. 17. Cincinnati would be making a power statement at No. 21 to match him up with A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. If the Vikings really want Patterson, they may have to move up and, considering the three picks in front of them are the Rams, Bengals and the division-rival Bears, it is doubtful Chicago would do them any favors. He may have to be a wait-and-see pick – if they covet him at all.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree – His talent is offset somewhat by his off-field baggage. With some position versatility of playing inside or outside, Ogletree will run a significant gauntlet of teams with similar needs – Pittsburgh, the Giants, Chicago and Cincinnati in a four-pick run between Nos. 17 and 20. With New Orleans in the mix at No. 15, it may only be their lack of a second-round pick that would have them interested if the draft falls the right (or wrong) way.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant – The Giants and Bengals could be potential suitors and, if the Vikings love Trufant, the price wouldn’t be too high – at least by comparison. But is Trufant physical enough for the Vikings’ desired traits in a cornerback?
Linebacker Manti Te’o – His stock has been on the slide, but when push comes to shove, the Saints, Giants, Bears and Bengals could all provide competition. It would be a bold move to try to jump ahead of them to get a player some analysts are convinced will still be there is they have the patience to simply wait.
There may be other players that teams fall in love with, but these are the players most highly regarded between the players the Vikings have no interest in drafting and those they should. If the Vikings want to move up to assure they get a player they covet, it will come with price – some carrying a stiffer price tag than others.
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.