Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is the ultimate prepper for his next big event.
While his Minnesota Vikings try to work themselves into the postseason for the first time since 2009, Spielman has long since been preparing for next April's draft. He and his squadron of scouts have been traveling the country investigating the next crop of potential draftees.
In December, Spielman's meetings with his college scouts will begin in earnest, but he made at least one change to the way he operated the fall scouting schedule this year. In the past, Spielman has traveled to college games starting on Thursday nights, but now that responsibility is falling more on Spielman's top assistant, George Paton.
Paton will be more involved in the draft while Spielman is spending more time in the office looking at tape on Thursdays and Fridays before heading out to scout college games on Saturdays.
"There are a lot of things that I'll look at on tape and then once I go out there and see them live – and if I don't see them I'll probably see them at the East-West game or at the Senior Bowl or see them at the Combine – you get a much better feel for a player if you can get your hands on them," Spielman said. "Especially the process we go through when we start the interview process, which is a huge part of our evaluation."
Externally, the analysts and many fans didn't have high expectations for the Vikings. But even with a 4-1 start to the season, Spielman said he wasn't too tempted at last month's trade deadline to make a move to bolster the Vikings for a playoff run.
Spielman's philosophy has been to build through the draft and he wasn't willing to waver and mortgage a prime draft picks for a high-priced play, especially when the Vikings have some of their own pending free agents they would like to sign to contract extensions.
"Our philosophy and my philosophy that I believe in is that you continue to build this through the draft," Spielman said. "… With the systems that we have in place and some of the stuff we implemented over the last two years and last year, I'm very excited about continuing and getting ready to improve this roster."
The majority of the college game-day scouting has already been done. In December, Spielman will start meetings at Winter Park with his scouts that have been scouring the country as they begin building an overall picture of the 2013 draft talent.
As the current Vikings either enter the playoffs or their offseason, Spielman's evaluation on future Vikings will continue. There are college bowl games to attend, followed post-season all-star games like the East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl. Then the NFL Scouting Combine and predraft visits.
"Every year, this is the time of year your stomach starts to get excited because you know what's coming up here – not only during the season, but what's coming up this offseason," Spielman said.
Spielman can spend all the time he wants looking at film of the next NFL prospects, but his grading system relies heavily on personality and character traits he deems important. That's why he still wants to get out and visit campuses, talk to coaches and teammates and create a broader picture of the person, not just the athlete in them.
"I know our scouts are out pounding the bushes and visiting with these coaches and doing everything. You see everything and can evaluate everything on tape, but I like to see them in person," Spielman said. "I like to see what their body type looks like. I like to see how they're interacting on the sideline, things that you can't see on tape. How they compete, the sense of urgency. You just get a better feel when you're out there and seeing things with your own eyes."
Just as he grades the prospects, Spielman also grades his scouts and himself on how they did in assessing past drafts. He even goes so far as to break down each scout's hits and misses by position to understand if someone has a better feel for offensive linemen than linebackers, for example.
"If we miss a guy, we spend a lot of time on why we missed. What was the reason we missed this player? Even if it's not one of our players and we had graded someone wrong and he's either successful or he failed, depending on the kind of grade, we go back and evaluate that and we talk about that," Spielman said. "To me, you have to do that in order to get better yourself and so you don't make a similar mistake. I put a huge point of emphasis on that, especially coming up now that you've got a pretty good feel for this rookie class. We'll have a half-a-day meeting on that."
All of that preparation has paid off with the Vikings' current roster. Of the 53 players, 16 have been draft picks from the last two years and 27 of them have been draft picks since Spielman became the head of personnel in 2007. Five of those selections since 2007 – Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Christian Ponder, Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith – are first-round picks.
"If you can build that foundation through the draft and continue to have successful drafts or guys that can come in and contribute and play, you're always going to have a competitive football team. It doesn't force you then to go out and spend tons of money out in free agency. … From a general philosophy, I think that's how you build this."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Spielman always searching for a better way
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