Why weren’t certain Vikings needs addressed?

The Minnesota Vikings made progress bolstering the defense early and offense late in the draft, but there were positions of need that went unfilled. GM Rick Spielman explained the thinking.

We now know who the Vikings drafted and how those players will impact team needs and strengthen positions. Trae Waynes could potentially be a lethal combination with Xavier Rhodes. Former UCLA teammates Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are rolling together again. T.J. Clemmings could be the steal of the draft in the fourth round.

The question now focuses on the positions the Vikings didn’t address in the draft. Following the last pick, General Manager Rick Spielman spoke to some of those questions.

Much of the Vikings draft decisions were made simply because of how the draft fell. The Vikings traded down a couple of times but never traded up. This year, they let the draft fall to them and Spielman was happy with the results.

“We thought it unfolded well for us,” Spielman said. “There were a lot of guys there that we didn’t anticipate that came into our lap. When we had an opportunity to trade down; I don’t think we traded up at all to accumulate more picks so we were able to do that. We’re trying to get as many guys to create as much competition as we can on this roster.”

The Vikings didn’t draft any guards despite the position being viewed as a need. But they did select a pair of college tackles – Tyrus Thompson of Oklahoma and Austin Shepherd of Alabama – with the intention of potentially sliding them inside to guard.

Asked how long that process takes before a coaching staff knows whether a player can make a smooth transition from one position to another, Spielman said the Vikings coaches are adept at identifying the strengths of a young player quickly and making the determination on who is the best candidate to make a position switch to provide versatility to the line like interior lineman Joe Berger has done for the center and guard positions.

“Our coaches get a pretty good feel for that when they’re out there working those guys out,” Spielman said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it us for our coaches to get out there and work with those guys. They can come back and give you their honest assessment of where he is, what he can potentially be, but that all depends on each kid individually. Once we get them in here and we get into our rookie minicamp weekend, we’ll start to get a feel for them. We should probably get a good feel by the end of our final mandatory minicamp on whether this guy can or can’t. But again, especially up front with the offensive and defensive linemen, you’re not really going to get a true indication until you get those pads on when we get down to Mankato. … It’s going to be a great opportunity to have that fifth preseason game because these guys are going to get a lot of extra reps and we’re going to get a lot of chances to evaluate these guys.”

The Vikings also didn’t draft a safety. There was some pre-draft discussion that the Vikings were high on the top two safeties taken – Damarious Randall and Landon Collins – but neither of them was available beyond the first pick of the second round. As the draft fell, the Vikings didn’t see as much value at safety and never made a pick there.

Was it something of an endorsement of the safeties the Vikings have on the roster? Harrison Smith is playing at a Pro Bowl level, but Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo split time at the other safety spot. Spielman’s focus at safety wasn’t on taking someone from the Class of 2015 but the expected emergence of a player from the Class of 2014 – Antone Exum.

“One thing I can tell you though is definitely (Antone) Exum from last year, who made the conversion from corner to safety, we’re very excited also about the progress he has made,” Spielman said. “Also with Blanton and Sendejo, I think we know what those guys are, but you know Exum is someone we’re definitely going to be keeping a close eye on and see how well he comes along from last year, but very talented athlete.”

The Vikings were the subject of rumors throughout the offseason that they were going to trade Adrian Peterson. The organization consistently shot down that idea and backed up their words with actions – they didn’t take a running back in the draft and A.P. wasn’t moved.

It wasn’t to prove a point that the Vikings didn’t take a running back. Once again, the players they had valued at a certain spot in the draft at the position were gone at the time their selection came up.

“It’s just how the board fell, and we didn’t want to force any issues, but also we tried to address as many needs as we could on this third day,” Spielman said. “That’s why I love to have as many picks as we had. Creating as much competition, and when you get all those picks whatever guys can come out and surface, if you hit two or three of those guys you’ve done pretty well.”

In the end, Spielman felt good about how the Vikings used the 2015 draft to supplement the roster – addressing defense early and offense late to fill gaps and find players who will be able to make contributions, both immediately and in the long term.

The key to the draft, Spielman said, was being in the second year with Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner running their respective sides of the ball. Last year, the coaching schemes they brought the Vikings were more conceptual in nature. This time around, Spielman had a year to witness how Zimmer and Turner implement their philosophies with their players and Spielman was able to hone in on players that best fit that design model.

The end result, they hope, will be a better Vikings team in 2015 as Spielman and the coaching staff are more in sync.

“It was good last year; it was great this year because we’ve been through the process one time around,” Spielman said. “I’ve been able to see these coaches coach, I’ve been able to hear what they’re teaching. I understand even more and I think our scouts even understand what they’re looking for. To go through the tape and to hear the traits last year but then to actually go through it one full year, to go through a full season, to listen to them evaluate our team as we go through it, it made that picture even that much clearer.”

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