Horizontal ranking allows GM flexibility

Rick Spielman doesn't arrange his overall draft board like many fans are used to seeing. If players from different positions have the same grade, he has flexibility to draft for need, too.

The weekend before the draft historically is when teams hunker down in their draft rooms and finalize their boards. Throughout the league, players are ranked and stacked by each team in terms of how the Class of 2014 fits with a specific system.

It isn't always the same. For example, when the Vikings drafted Daunte Culpepper in 1999 with the 10th pick of the draft, Denny Green claimed Pepp was the top player on the Vikings' draft board. A few years later, Mike Tice brought selected members of the media into the draft room to show them the board, which had four players the Vikings had given first-round grades in their top 32.

You won't find such a draft board in the Vikings war room this year. Why? Because general manager Rick Spielman doesn't use a standard draft board to evaluate players that are going to be drafted.

The old-school draft board is pretty simple. You rank players vertically. For example, a team may have Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1, Greg Robinson at No. 2, Khalil Mack at No. 3, etc. When a player gets picked, he gets taken off the board and the ideal scenario is that, when it is time for that team to pick, the highest player on the board is who they take, often included with the phrase that the team was "staying true to our board."

In Spielman's draft philosophy, there is no such thing as a vertical draft board. His board is done horizontally, too, giving players grades that cross positional boundaries. Players at two or three different positions could have the same grade.

While, technically, the Vikings stack their board vertically by position, they don't do such things when it comes to an overall board. Players are assigned grades and, when the Vikings get to the point of making a selection, they have multiple options at their disposal.

As a rough example, say the Vikings rank players on a scale from 1 to 10 with variants in between. When they hit the clock, they may have three or four players with a grade of, let's say, 9.4. That could include a quarterback, a cornerback, a safety, a wide receiver and a linebacker.

Such a system allows the Vikings to draft players based on both talent and need. It also makes it clear when a player is available that has a higher grade than anyone else on their draft board. Two players who come immediately to mind are Toby Gerhart and Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings traded up in 2010 to land Gerhart, even though, with Adrian Peterson three years into his Hall of Fame career, running back wasn't a need. The same can be said for Rudolph. When he was drafted, the Vikings still had Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe, but Rudolph's draft grade was such that he became the team's second round pick in 2011.

General managers and head coaches will never say they reached for a player and, if they do, it can tend to render their draft board moot. If you're stacking players from 1 to 250, if you don't take the highest remaining player on your list, he shouldn't have been there in the first place. With Spielman's method, you don't have that problem.

When the Vikings have drafted under Spielman's watch, he is able to present three or four players from different positions with effectively the same draft grade, allowing the team to select the player who meets the standard of "best available player" but also addresses team needs. It's no coincidence that recent Vikings first-round draft picks have all addressed significant roster needs, including defensive tackle, wide receiver, cornerback, offensive tackle, safety and quarterback over the last three years.

When the Vikings make their first-round pick this year, whether at No. 8 or somewhere else, Spielman will likely have multiple players with equal draft grades to choose from. Under the old-time system, he would have been locked into taking the highest player on his vertical draft board regardless of position. In his system, he can honestly say he took the player he had graded the highest based on his draft board and he wouldn't be lying or giving misinformation – a refreshing change for an NFL decision-maker at this time of the year.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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