A few themes emerged strong and true for the Minnesota Vikings. Among the most important: They were paying close attention to the depth at positions of need and making that a priority throughout, running an inverted draft of sorts.
Matt Kalil may have been the top-rated player left on the Vikings' draft board at No. 4, as general manager Rick Spielman claims, but there is little doubt he was the only left tackle in the draft that was a consensus immediate starter.
Spielman started his first draft with full authority by making a low-risk, medium-reward trade. He convinced the Cleveland Browns that there were other teams interested in trading up for Alabama running back Trent Richardson, and it's believed there were at least three teams that inquired about the pick – the Buffalo Bills, who wanted Matt Kalil; the Browns and possibly the Tampa Bay Bucs, who both showed an interest in Richardson. When the Vikings moved down one spot to the Browns' fourth pick, Spielman made another call to Tampa Bay to see if the Bucs wanted to trade up. That time, Trader Rick got shot down.
"It may be hard to believe, but I have been turned down before," Spielman quipped. "You just keep working the phones, you don't know who's going to bite and who's not going to bite, but you have to be aggressive working the phones."
The Vikings were "working the phones" throughout. After taking Kalil and banking the additional picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds they received from Cleveland, they continued to deal – this time making a move up at another position of need that was thin on depth.
They used the first of their four fourth-round picks to move up six spots and select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith in a draft that was believed to be only two players deep for immediate starters at safety. After Alabama's Mark Barron, Smith was the next best and Spielman got aggressive.
After that, Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier made no attempt to hide their remaining needs. The depth chart was out there for all the competition to read and analyze. They needed a cornerback, a receiver and a middle linebacker at least.
"We have a number of areas we need to take care of, the corner position is one. We still want to take a look at another wide receiver if we can. We still want to be able to address the linebacker position if we can. We still may be able to do some other things with the offensive line so we still have some areas that we want to address and even the safety position, I can't leave that out," Spielman said after the first day.
And there it was. Their next pick was dedicated to a cornerback – a position that Frazier said wasn't as deep as receiver – with the selection of Central Florida speedster Josh Robinson.
With the first three picks many and many needs remaining, the Vikings continued to draw from the thin deck and pick their aces before the cards at that position were all dealt. Whenever a run started at a position, the Vikings went there before the pickings were too slim.
When speedy receivers with return capabilities started to go in the fourth round, Spielman jumped on WR Jarius Wright. When the first kicker of the draft was selected, Spielman didn't want to lose out on one of three players at the position they had rated as "draftable." Enter Blair Walsh, the Georgia kicker who would become the first kicker ever selected by the Vikings in the first seven rounds of any draft.
"Just as you feel it in the draft and when there's a run … there was a run on those return specialists and small, electric-type receivers and that's when we decided we better take Jarius or we're not going to get him," Spielman said. "Right afterwards I think the Michigan State kid went – another slot receiver that's a return specialist. We were looking at some linebackers in that area as well and there started to be a run right after our pick on linebackers.
"So we just felt, and I felt pretty strongly, if we wanted to get an electric playmaker on offense, someone that can come in and potentially be your punt returner, that's where we had to pull the trigger."
The Vikings started wheeling and dealing early, making two trades on the first day, trading back with their first pick, then trading back into the first round for their second selection.
They entered the draft with 10 picks. After the first day, they had two starters – Kalil and Smith – and 10 picks remaining because of the Cleveland trade. After the third day, they had three players at positions of need that weren't deep. And when it was said and done, they had made 10 picks, gained another two picks – in the fourth and sixth rounds in 2013 – and took two players from USC, two from Notre Dame and two receivers from Arkansas.
The theme of picking teammates was "ironic," Spielman said. The theme of picking at positions that were quickly thinning was far more planned and strategic and may have left the Vikings with one of their best and deepest drafts in a long time.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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