In speaking to the media ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had many things to say, without really having much to say.
“I feel very strongly about this draft.” He feels strongly, is that good or bad? Reading between the lines, especially during this silly season of the draft cycle, is about all that’s left to do after months of speculation and mock scenarios.
While we’d guess Spielman means he feels very good about this draft, or is generally more inclined to build a team through a draft as opposed to free agency, it’s another classic case of veiled strategy speak.
With priorities expected to revolve around the defensive front seven and building the offensive line in front of franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins, let’s dig deeper into Spielman’s rhetoric for clues.
Rick Spielman looking at drafting defensive player in first round again?
In the eight years Spielman has used a first-round pick, he’s drafted a defensive player seven times. To be fair, he’s also drafted a player for the offense six times in that span.
Using his common sense, Spielman commented, “If there is a defensive player we value higher than an offensive player, we will take him at 14.” He also said, regarding the 14th pick, “We’re not locked in on one position, I’m just going to tell you that.”
Either way, Spielman mentioned being “very confident the Vikings could get a very good player at No. 14.” That is, if they decide not to trade out of the spot altogether, which is possible, as they could still get a top edge defender like Michigan’s Kwity Paye, Miami’s Jaelan Phillips or someone else a little later on.
Trader Rick may strike again for Minnesota Vikings
Spielman went on to add, “To have the draft capital we have gives us a lot of flexibility if we want to move up in the draft if we want to do that…We’ve looked at scenarios of if a specific player is falling in the top 10, if we go up and get that player. We’re going through what the potential costs would be.”
Spielman explained how if there are several prospects with a first-round grade still available in the second round, the Vikings may trade up. Specifically, if they don’t think said prospect(s) will be available by the start of the third round.
With four Round 4 picks available at their disposal, they should have plenty of ammo to move around.
While Spielman could look to ascend, trading back in the first round is the likelier outcome. As Spielman mentioned, he’s done that several times in the past, “We’re also looking at if we are at 14 and we have two or three players that we still think we can get, trading back, picking up some more draft capital.”
He also went on to speak about how there are 64 picks between his first and second selections heading into draft weekend. “That’s what it is right now. I don’t know if we’ll be that patient or not.”
Without a second-round pick heading into the second day of the draft, Spielman won’t be afraid to strike a deal should the opportunity arise.
How will the Minnesota Vikings address their offensive line?
For those concerned about the deficiencies along the offensive line, Spielman and Co. think the depth available in the draft is solid, calling it “a pretty deep position”. He added, “There’s quality throughout the first three rounds.”
Don’t be shocked to see the Vikings wait until their third-round selection to draft an offensive lineman. Of course, I also wouldn’t expect the Vikings to stay put at both 14 and 78 without making any moves in-between. This is Trader Rick we’re talking about here.
The draft has several prospects that could be of interest to Minnesota. For instance, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, who shined at left tackle in 2020 and could fill that position of need for the Vikings, is also thought to be a potential All-Pro guard. If Spielman went in that direction, perhaps Ezra Cleveland would kick out from the inside to left tackle, where he’s probably better suited.
Another compelling player is Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw. The three-year Hokies starter, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, played through a significant groin injury down the stretch of last season and had core muscle surgery in January:
Playing through all that pain and adversity, Darrisaw still recorded Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 offensive tackle grade in the country. That bodes well for his projection to the next level in terms of toughness and desire to succeed.
Darrisaw is more of a pure left tackle who’d be an instant starter, and it’d be scary to see what he could do with a clean bill of health going forward.
Will the Minnesota Vikings draft a quarterback?
When asked about drafting a QB, “I will just say this, there’s no position that is off-limits going into this draft. I’ll just leave it at that.”
As for potential trades, Spielman mentioned, “I would say we’re at 14 right now.” Reading the tea leaves, the Vikings GM doesn’t want to lock himself into any scenario ahead of draft day. As the top decision-maker for the Vikes since 2012, it’s not his first time in the pool.
While there are a number of questions heading into the draft, Spielman cracked a joke ahead of the NFL’s biggest offseason event: “Kind of curious on what George Paton is going to do.” The new Broncos GM spent 14 years working with Spielman in Minnesota.
What Paton at No. 9 does could send a ripple effect through the entire draft, because the Broncos could opt to replace incumbent QB Drew Lock. If they don’t, maybe that creates an opening for a trade between the former colleagues to come to fruition.
Players like Justin Fields and Trey Lance could be available for Minnesota if Spielman wants to get more athletic under center and move off Cousins after 2021. Otherwise, potential Day 2 prospects like Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask or Davis Mills could make sense.
In any event, the team will be a lot better off after draft weekend. Fans will also, finally, have a better idea of where their favorite team stands heading into training camp.