Friday, May 09, 2014

Did Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman Read Too Many of His Own Press Clippings?

Entering the 2014 NFL draft, Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman had made a short reputation for himself as someone able to identify when a marquee player had fallen into his lap.  Last year, Spielman jumped on three such players, selecting Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Sharrif Floyd in the first round, after trading up to take Patterson.  In 2012, the Vikings drafted Matt Kalil and traded up into the bottom of the first round to take Harrison Smith.

Over the past two drafts, the early returns are favorable.  Kalil has had his ups and downs, but mostly has been the dependable left tackle that the Vikings needed.  Smith has been solid when not injured.  Rhodes showed promise as a rookie.  And Patterson was brilliant, when finally allowed to play.  Only Floyd has yet to live up to his promise, and that might be coming this year.

Spielman's recent success in the first round has over-shadowed his wretched 2011 draft and his inability to identify the less evident talent in later rounds.  Of the Vikings' eight non-first-round selections in 2012, only Blair Walsh and Audie Cole have panned out and the rest look to be not long for the NFL.  Of the team's six non-first-round selections in 2013, none appear long for the NFL.

The goal in any NFL draft is to identify two immediate starters and two players who will develop into starters.  Because he took the obvious players in 2012 and 2013, Spielman likely will come close to meeting this objective for those two seasons.  The same almost certainly will not be said of the 2014 draft, however.

Championship teams in the NFL are built from the front back, with special consideration due the quarterback position.  In 2012 and 2013, the Vikings strengthened their lines and supplemented with secondary help.  The Vikings did that despite also having needs elsewhere--at wide receiver and linebacker in particular.

Entering the 2014 draft, the Vikings had several holes to fill for a team that finished 2013 with a 5-10-1 record.  Barring a miraculous run through the remainder of the draft, the team will not fill those holes in 2014.  Nor, despite having two first-round picks, did Spielman come away with any player that can be regarded as either the best player on the board or even the best player at a position of need for the Vikings.  That's unfortunate.

Minnesota began the draft well enough, trading down one spot and picking up a largely ceremonial fifth-round pick--the kind that Spielman tends positively to make use of only when he deals it to move up.  At nine, the Vikings had three apparent options.  One was to take the best player on the board--the player that fell into their laps--in Aaron Donald.  The Vikings can argue that they did not need Donald because they had Floyd.  That's nonsense, however, if Donald is the player that everyone believes him to be.  If that makes Floyd expendable or diminishes his already limited role, so be it.  Unlike last year and the year before, Spielman missed this clear gift.

The second option at number nine was to take Johnny Manziel.  Passing on Manziel will save the Vikings some near certain headaches in off-the-field drama and Manziel is no sure thing.  But, drafting Manziel would have sold tickets and he would have made things interesting.

The interesting thing about the Vikings' decision to pass on Manziel is not that Manziel was an obvious pick, it is that the Vikings appear to believe that he was their guy but that he would be available for the taking later in the round.  According to some reports, the Vikings attempted to trade up to the 22nd pick in the first round to take Manziel, only to be bested in their offer for Philadelphia's pick by Cleveland--which then took Manziel.  Spielman did not deny the report, which all but confirms its validity.

If the report of the Vikings' attempt to trade up to take Manziel are accurate, the Vikings look foolish.  If Manziel was their guy, given the team's frustrations at quarterback for several years--frustrations almost entirely at Spielman's feet--the Vikings should have taken Manziel with the ninth pick or traded down a bit more and taken him in the middle of the first round, assuming a trading partner.

The guess here is that Spielman wanted cover for taking another quarterback and taking Manziel at eight or nine would have put him squarely on the clock for showing Manziel's immediate value.  Spielman did not want that kind of heat, so he backed down.  In doing so, he fumbled the ball and was left with an even worse predicament.

The third option at number nine was to trade down, take a trenches player and use the largesse from the trade to fill holes elsewhere, using a second-rounder on Jimmy Garoppolo.

Instead, the Vikings stayed at nine and selected a raw linebacker in Anthony Barr.  The upside to Barr is that he is big, strong, and fast.  The downside is that he is a project with limited experience playing linebacker.  At a position for which identifying NFL starters from college production is difficult for players with stellar and long college careers, projecting Barr's NFL trajectory is perilous, at best.  That would be fine, if Barr were the Vikings' second first-round pick or if the Vikings had a certainty in their other first-rounder.  Neither is the case, however.

After failing to land Manziel, the Vikings traded back into the bottom of the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater.  There appear to be two reasons for this move.  The first is that taking Bridgewater in round one gives the team an option for a fifth year.  Of course, if Bridgewater is awful early, that option is meaningless.  The second is that by taking Bridewater in the first round, Spielman buys more time to "evaluate" his pick as a first rounder--assuming Spielman retains that duty over the long term.  We saw this play out with Christian Ponder and now, it appears, the Vikings have positioned themselves to see it play out that way with Bridgewater, as well.

The upside to Bridgewater appears to be that many once viewed him as a top-five pick.  That he slid down the draft board has been explained by some to be the function of a poor pro day.  That's probably part of it.  The other part, however, is that he has some work to do.  Bridgewater's greatest asset in college was his ability to play against bad teams on a regular basis.  Against good competition, Bridgewater generally looked like a decent, if unspectacular quarterback.  Add to that the fact that Bridgewater has a three-quarters arm slot on his deep pass release and that his sense of himself is matched only by Manziel's sense of himself and you have a recipe for disaster that easily could have been avoided at lesser cost.

The right pick for the Vikings in this year's draft would have been Donald into Garoppolo/guard/receiver/corner/running back.  Instead, the team went with two projects.  If they both pan out, brilliant.  But Spielman's own track record suggests that when he reaches for a project, the odds are against success.  For all the kudos that Spielman deserved for making the right choices in last year's draft, this draft has the makings of quite the opposite.  Time, of course, will tell.


9 comments:

Ben Wilson said...

I agree with your points on Donald, but how can you sit here and rip Bridgewater for playing poor defenses, and then suggest us taking a Div I AA guy would've been better? That makes no sense. And project? All QBs are projects. What makes Bridgewater more of a project than garapollo? Looking at the tape, I see a lot more work needs to be done with garapollo than Bridgewater. Garapollo has a better release, but I'd rather fix Teddy's mechanics than try and teach garapollo pocket presence, the ability to look defenses off with their eyes, and leadership.

vikes geek said...

Ben,

I think you have misread my entry in several respects. The point regarding Donald is broader than you acknowledge. Had the Vikings drafted Donald--as close to a certainty as there was in this draft--selecting Bridgewater would have been less of a gamble because the Vikings would already have had at least one starter from the draft. The Vikings took Barr, however, leaving them with no certainty atop the draft and Bridgewater. It would have made more sense to stay in round 2 and draft for need there--Garoppolo/running back/receiver/guard/linebacker/other. I was not advocating Garoppolo as much as offering him as a less expensive alternative. From my perspective, this year's QB's are a modest lot and the Vikings would have been better off waiting until next year to draft a QB. This, again, felt like a desperation pick. I hope I'm wrong.

Childress of A Lesser God said...

I read that Zimmer loved Barr and pushed for him above all others. Right or wrong, I'm in a honeymoon period with Zimmer and will give him the benefit of the doubt. He is not only the head coach, but the de facto defensive coordinator as well. If he believes that Barr is a better fit than Donald for his defense, so be it.

As I look at it, Barr is a Zimmer pick; whereas, Bridgewater is a Spielman pick. While the ghost of Ponder hovers overhead, we will just have to wait to see how all this pans out.

Darren Page said...

You brought up ticket sales and I had to stop reading. You know who should be concerned with selling tickets? The people whose job it is to sell tickets. There's a ticket office for a reason.

Van Schmear said...

HAMMER.HEAD.NAIL.

Despite all his talk about taking the best available player, Speilman always selects players at a position of need. That approach is antithetical to what successful franchises and successful GM's do. Ozzie Newsome is the king of staying pat and selecting the BAP and Baltimore has two rings and the third best winning percentage in the last ten years. And that is the exact approach both San Francisco and Seattle have been implementing the last few years (did Seattle really need Russell Wilson after signing Matt Flynn?). But that's why Spielman has been fired from three different organizations and has a 54-57-1 record since being with the Vikings. Moreover, had Spielman's ego not gotten the best of him -- and he had accepted the fact that Ponder might bust (and therefore, drafting competition at the position could pay off down the road)-- they could have had either Wilson or Nick Foles on the roster and wouldn't have had to roll the dice on a risky QB again this year. Houston obviously didn't see the value at the QB position this year and selected to wait for next year's draft... and that's with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their QB.

Disagree on the Patterson pick. Last year was a deep draft, and Spielman gave up valuable draft picks that could have been used to augment depth and plug holes. In hindsight, which would have been more preferable: Patterson and no second, third and fourth-round pick or Keenan Allen and a third and fourth-round pick?

As for the Kalil draft everyone thought/thinks was so terrific... not so fast.

Took: Kalil; Should have took: Luke Kuechly.

Took: Harrison; Should have took: Alshon Jeffrey.

Took: JOSH ROBINSON; Should have took: RUSSELL WILSON/NICK FOLES.

And the Greg Childs and Rhett Ellison picks were complete disasters.

Troy Meyerink said...

Too early to tell. Speculating on draft picks before they have even played is a ridiculous undertaking. I will say that it is obvious to pick the guys the Vikes should have taken now from years past. I bet Ozzie would change of few of his picks of he had the crystal ball you are wielding.

cka2nd said...

I'll grant you that the Ponder bust makes it a bad draft, but the "wretched" 2011 draft produced two quality, Pro Bowl-level starters in 2nd rounder Kyle Rudolph and 6th rounder Brandon Fusco and a bunch of pretty average low-round warm bodies.


As for the eight non-1st rounders in 2012, Jarius Wright and Rhett Ellison should both have nice NFL careers at slot receiver (and maybe flanker) and fullback/H-back, respectively. In fact, I'd wager that Audie Cole will be out of the league before either of them. And I wouldn't count out Josh Robinson just yet, now that he's not being shoehorned into the slot because he supposedly looks the part.


All the reports I've seen have said that Manziel was Spielman's guy and that Bridgewater was Norv Turner and Zimmer's guy. Thank God Cleveland's owner overruled his staff and made them select Manziel (a likely third 22nd pick in the draft QB bust in this century for the Browns). And I don't understand why you have to spin complicated theories about why the Vikings traded back into the first round to get Bridgewater when there is a perfectly obvious explanation: Houston and Oakland were sitting in front of the Vikes and were likely to divvy up Bridgewater and Derek Carr between them. And Bridgewater is almost certainly the most NFL-ready "project" of this QB class.


I too questioned the Barr pick at first, but my mind was set at ease when I read about how well he fits Zimmer's system. Moreover, with all of the positions of need on the team, the idea of taking a DT with the 9th pick in the first round after drafting one in the 1st round last year and signing one as a free agent this off-season would have been taking the "Best Player Available" to a ridiculously absolutist and rigid end.

cka2nd said...

Blogger Van Schmear said...

"Took: Kalil; Should have took: Luke Kuechly."

"Took: Harrison; Should have took: Alshon Jeffrey."

"Took: JOSH ROBINSON; Should have took: RUSSELL WILSON/NICK FOLES."

Call me a grammar Nazi if you must, but the proper way to put the above is "Took: Kalil; Should have taken: Luke Kuechly."

PURPpplEATER said...

Man this author is biased. Some serious hate going on here. The Vikings 2 biggest needs were QB and LB.

We got the highest ranked OLB available after gaining another pick from Cleveland. Barr was hand picked by Zimmer (our head coach and defensive guru that's been in the league 15+years).I trust his opinion way more than I trust yours. Barr's a very talented guy that will immediately improve our linebacking Corp and he's got massive potential to boot.

Picking Donald would have been ok but after spending your first round pick on DT's in back to back years would have been a poor choice in my opinion, especially with so many holes on our team. We could use depth at DT but I'd rather have a starter that could contribute much more than a rotational player.

Now to the Teddy pick. We took him before Houston would have with the very best pick. If Bridgewater was there, the Texans would have taken him and to think otherwise is foolish. The reason they didn't take a qb there is because they're in a full blown rebuild and had many holes to fill(more than even the vikings). The qbs left over would have been projects and Houston did the smart thing and grabbed another talented person as a position of need instead of reaching for an ACTUAL project qb. Teddy is much farther along than any other qb in this draft. The Vikings got a steal @32 and only had to give up a 4th Rd pick for the safest and potential best qb in this class.

2 biggest needs taken care of with huge upside and we gained a 5th and lost a 4th. I'll take that deal 10 out of 10 times.

Let's not forget about Crichton who is a beast that will be a rotational D lineman. Yankey (once talked about as the best guard in this class) in the 5th rd(thanks Cleveland) and Exum a potential starter upgrade opposite Smith in the 7th Rd. That's need and Value.