Drafting a college player to an NFL team is often a long, stressful process for that team’s front office. They are investing millions of dollars into these players, especially the ones taken in the first round, so they have to make sure these players will represent them well both on and off the field.
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman shed a little light on what it takes to find the right player. Two days before the 2016 draft, he told the local media that there is a certain criteria that they look for and only a handful of players fit into that mold.
“I think that’s becoming pretty clear and evident to the media and to the fans on taking specific guys that fit the Minnesota Vikings,” Spielman said. “We are very in-tune to what we want and it may not be a fit for other teams. You could see us pass by guys and say, ‘Why would they pass by him? He’s a good football player.’ Or we may take a name that may not be familiar to you and say, ‘Why the heck would they pick that guy?’ But truly, I really believe in the process that we go though, the traits that we’re looking for and the system fit that these coaches want when we bring in these players. We have a specific criteria and our draft board gets narrowed down to specific areas in each round and there’s only certain players that are going to fit what we want as a Minnesota Viking.”
The Vikings scouting department, coaches and front office came up with over 100 traits that they look at when evaluating players. They were then able to narrow all of those down to 32 key traits and assign five key ones per position.
They cover everything from psychological evaluations, character on and off the field, medical tests, coach-ability and much more. They then rate those traits on a scale of 1 to 32 and the importance of each trait differs depending on what the position they are looking at.
For example, if the ability to recognize what the opponent is doing on the field by the way they are lined up is a trait, it will probably be viewed as more important when evaluating a quarterback than a defensive lineman. That’s not to say it isn’t important for a defensive linemen to do be able to do that, it’s just not as big a part of their job as it is a quarterback’s.
At the end of the day, though, looking at all these traits to try and determine how a player will turn out is just a part of the process. When it comes down to it, the team is still looking for players who produce during games and the tape they see of these players is still the most important part when making decisions. All the traits and analytics they use are more of a tie-breaker between a couple different players.
“ Each position has different traits, but I don’t ever want to get it confused with utilizing all of these things that we’re doing and trying to get through it all,” Spielman said. “It’s always going to come down to your gut instinct, it’s going to come down to what they are as football players. That’s the number one priority. And with all this other stuff coming available, sports science, which we’re all believers in, but you use it as a tool. You don’t use it as a decision.”