Typically, Day 3 of the NFL draft is always the busiest because the number of rounds during the three days increases from one round on Thursday to two rounds on Friday and four on Saturday.
That will be true for the Minnesota Vikings, but as they prepare for the final day of the draft, they have just two players that have been added to the roster.
The Vikings’ only draft pick in Day 2 was to select Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander in the second round. The Vikings traded out of the third round, sending their pick to Miami for a third- and fourth-round pick next year and a sixth-round pick Saturday.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman made Alexander the only selection Friday, giving head coach Mike Zimmer another cornerback to groom for success. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray worked him out at Clemson and came back with a strong report. While Spielman views Alexander primarily as a “Nick” (a nickel slot corner), he and Zimmer both see a player with a lot of competitive desire that makes him play bigger than his measured size.
“We see him as a potential Nick and also the ability to flex and play outside as well,” Spielman said. “We love the way he plays the game. He plays with smarts and savvy that we’re looking for and is a highly competitive kid. As Zim always says, you can’t have enough corners and we’re trying to create as much competition as we can.”
Asked what intrigued him about Alexander, he was reminded that Alexander claimed to be best corner in draft, which was all Spielman needed to hear on the subject.
“That’s intriguing,” Spielman said with a laugh. “I just love the kid’s confidence and his savvy for the game. I (asked) Coach Zim if he meets the minimum criteria for him height-wise? He said, ‘We’re right at it. We’re good with it.’ I just love the kid – not only as a high-character kid, but I love the way the kid competes. He competed at a very high level.”
Spielman said he wasn’t concerned about Alexander’s lack of interceptions in college, citing that he wasn’t thrown to all that often because of his ability to blanket and negate opposing receivers.
While Zimmer’s defense is predicated on creating turnovers through pressure, Spielman believes Alexander can make contributions whether they result in interceptions or forcing offenses off the field.
He chose to spin Alexander’s lack of interceptions by accentuating what he does best.
“I would say he didn’t have a lot of balls completed on him also,” Spielman said. “That’s the most important thing. Zim preaches that interceptions and turnovers are key, but one thing I hear Zim preach to players out at practice is don’t let your man catch the ball. The criteria he checks the box in.”
The trade the Vikings made got them out of the third round but was something Spielman was prepared to do if the right offer came. He expects the Vikings to be drafting later in the 2017 draft than they are now and felt that, given how many players are returning from the 2015 season and are in the final year of their contracts, made it worth the effort.
In what will turn out to be a three-for-one deal that will give the Vikings a lot more flexibility to move up or down in the 2017 draft, the trade will serve multiple purposes for the Vikings.
“Going through the logic as to why that made sense to us and why that made sense to me to pull the trigger on that is a couple of things, looking at the depth and the players on what our current roster looks like this year,” Spielman said. “The second point is that I always try to look at our roster and potential guys that are going to be coming out of contracts next year. Third, I would say the depth on the board still left tomorrow. I feel very strongly that there are still a lot of very talented football players that we’ll be able to pick up and add to our roster.”
While fans may have been eyeballing a player in the third round that was still on the board, Spielman emphasized that the trade may have ended Day 2 of the draft early, but his job is to look out for the best interests of the franchise in the long-term and banking up draft picks for next year when many more veteran players will be having their contracts expiring will leave more flexibility in the event the team needs to replace more players than it needs to this season.
“You just look at where your current roster is, but I also think that’s why we try to plan for the future as well,” Spielman said. “I want to make sure that we always keep a competitive roster and depending on what happens in 2017 and projecting potentially what our roster could look like, just to have those draft picks next year will be valuable.”