Without a pick made in the first round of the 2017 draft, the Minnesota Vikings will be looking for several (eventual) starters with five picks in the second, third, fourth rounds. Maybe further down they can find a gem that turns into a starter.
After mixed results since the 2011 draft in the first round – Christian Ponder, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater, Trae Waynes and Laquon Treadwell – the Vikings have proven that the draft, even in the first round, is far from a sure thing.
General Manager Rick Spielman has had his hits – Smith and Rhodes among the standouts – and his misses, some of them due to injury, others whose story is far from written.
He has also proved that he can find important starters after the first round. In the same draft that Ponder brought down Spielman’s draft rating in the first round, Kyle Rudolph helped bolster it in the second round.
“I think if you go back over the history of the draft, you can find great guys that can come in. I’m not the only example of that, especially on this team,” Rudolph said. “Go back and look at some of the second- and third-round guys that we’ve had, guys that come to my mind right off the top is Eric Kendricks and [Danielle] Hunter, guys like that that we’ve gotten in the second round, third round. There are guys that can come in and impact our football team. I think that’s what our front office, Rick and those guys, do best. They’re going to get a guy that’s a quality football player that’s a high-character guy and he’s going to help us win games.”
Rudolph has done that, and so have several others not drafted in the first round. From fourth-round picks Brian Robison in 2007 and Everson Griffen in 2010 to the past three years, where Kendricks came in the second round, Hunter in the third and Stefon Diggs in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, there are always opportunities to find starters in the middle rounds.
“Definitely. With the guys that we’ve got, everybody on our team wasn’t a first-rounder, but we’ve got some great guys that were,” Diggs said. “I feel like in the later rounds, it doesn’t matter. If the kid can play, he can play going into this year. I’m not into all the draft stuff, but I know there are going to be some great players.”
In 2014, after the selections of Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, the Vikings found very few contributors. DL Scott Crichton (third) and OL David Yankey (fifth) have already flamed out, but they found contributors who have started in a pinch with RB Jerick McKinnon (third) and DT Shamar Stephen (seventh).
While Bridgewater is proof that a first-round pick can be worthy but have injuries deal a cruel setback, the man that took over for Bridgewater provides a case in persistence despite injuries.
Bradford approaches the draft from a different perspective. He isn’t interested in watching it, saying he would find other interesting things to do over these three days, but it was a lucrative day for him when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010. It was the last year of the mega-bonuses for early draft picks, but with that comes additional pressure.
“I think any time that you’re a top draft pick, I think there’s always pressure, but I’ve always said I put more pressure on myself than anyone on the outside could ever put on me,” Bradford said this week. “I think a lot of guys, that’s how they handle it. I think it really probably doesn’t affect the majority of guys that are picked that high.”
The Vikings’ newest members over Friday and Saturday won’t have that type of pressure, but many of them likely will believe they should have been selected earlier.
“After I got called, I had a whole lot to prove and I still have a whole lot to prove,” Diggs said.
“I’ve got the same chip on my shoulder that I did then with something to prove. Not a lot of talking. … More so just trying to get things done and be a professional.”
Rudolph, who believed he would be selected in the first round despite a severe hamstring injury, vividly and honestly recalls the extra 24 hours of waiting. He went from anticipatory excitement on Thursday night to something resembling depression after the first round came and went without him finding a team.
Now he’s using his experience to preach to other prospects that not going in the first round doesn’t have to dampen that draft feeling.
“That Thursday night of the draft was awful. I was so bitter. Everyone is telling you your dreams are still going to come true, but you lose sight of that. It’s hard to put that aside,” Rudolph said. “I can speak for everybody that didn’t go in the first round, when you still hear your name called on the draft – I still remember getting the phone call from Rick and talking to Leslie [Frazier] and everybody that was on the phone at that time – and I didn’t hear anyone on Thursday night tell me how awesome it was going to be when I got drafted on Friday.
“But when the pick is finally in and you do hear your name called, it’s an overwhelming flow of emotions. It doesn’t matter when you’re drafted. The work starts once you get here and I think that’s the most important thing for guys to realize. Whether you’re the first pick or the 200th – however many picks are in the draft – the work starts after you’re drafted.”
The Vikings will have plenty of picks looking to show that their draft number doesn’t have to define their final numbers.