The Vikings are expecting 10 draft picks in April with compensatory picks that will be awarded in March, and now they will get an up-close look at many of the prospects later this month at the Senior Bowl all-star game.
That will only add to the expectations placed squarely on new general manager Rick Spielman, who has been given final say on the 53-man roster and full control over draft and free-agent moves. Spielman was embracing his newfound pressure and power last week.
"I'm very excited about it" Spielman said. "That's what you want when you're in professional sports whether you're a player, whether you're a coach. I thrive off of that and I really enjoy the pressure part of it."
There are no more excuses. No more talk about a head coach – whether it's Dave Wannstedt in Miami or Brad Childress in Minnesota – overriding what Spielman thinks is right. There are no hurricanes blowing through to blame (which was the case during Spielman's stint in Miami). Spielman has control of the roster, the financial backing of the Wilf ownership group's substantial pocketbooks, and the philosophical support of ownership to think long-term.
After being aggressive in free agency, with the Brett Favre two-year deal that took about $30 million out of the salary-cap pie, the Wilfs have shifted focus to the long term and they are especially excited about the cadre of anticipated draft picks in April.
While Spielman's college scouting staff has been investigating the draft prospects for months – some for years already – nothing beats the face-to-face time with the players, and the coaching staff will have plenty of that with players on the Senior Bowl's North Team in Mobile, Ala., in three weeks.
"We are looking forward to working with and getting to know all of the players we'll have the opportunity to coach," Frazier said in a statement released by the Senior Bowl on Saturday. "We are excited to go into a great environment in Mobile and work with some incredible prospects."
In the past, the Vikings' entire coaching staff has attended the Senior Bowl and viewed the practices from the stands. Spielman has also taken an aggressive approach to using the college all-star game to get to know the draft prospects better. While the NFL Scouting Combine in February limits NFL teams to 60 interviews at 15 minutes apiece, there are no such restrictions on NFL teams at the Senior Bowl, where Spielman and the Vikings have interviewed nearly every player in attendance the last few years.
Still, nothing beats seeing the work ethic of the players first-hand, hearing them interact with teammates during practices and seeing how they grasp and apply techniques and concepts taught in the classroom.
"It gives us the chance to work with some of the most talented football players in the country as they prepare to enter the NFL," Frazier said.
Last year, the Vikings used their first-round pick on quarterback Christian Ponder, who was the Senior Bowl MVP and raised his draft stock with his in-game performance in Mobile.
The key to wading through the volumes of information at the Senior Bowl will be Spielman's reliance on the coaching staff for input on the character and mental capacities of the players. With a week of practice with the players, the coaching staff will know the players on the North team better than any other coaching staff in the NFL. But they will also need to make the correct assessment of those players and be objective about it.
Two years ago, Frazier traveled to meet with cornerback Chris Cook before the NFL draft to get a better assessment on the character questions that surrounded him. The Vikings ended up selecting Cook with their first pick of the 2010 draft at the top of the second round and Cook became a controversial figure in 2011 when he occupied a paid spot on the 53-man roster while not playing a game in the second half of the season after being charged with two counts of felony domestic assault.
The Vikings can't afford those mistakes anymore. There are too many holes in the roster and too much ground to make up to become competitive again in the toughest division in the NFL.
Spielman has the power, but he will still have to be reliant on the input he gets from his coaching staff when it comes to the players they are working with in Mobile.
The Vikings currently have 19 former Senior Bowl players on their roster and it wouldn't be surprising to see them add seven or eight more in April's draft.
Spielman has hit on the first-round draft picks – Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin being the gems of the last five years – but there is no reason he shouldn't have more success with the mid- and late-round selections this year. He has every built-in advantage. If, indeed, he does thrive under the pressure as he contends, he has the chance to set the long-term course of the roster on the right path with the 2012 draft.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.