For a team that has only made two picks in two days of the 2017 NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings haven’t been simply sitting idle. They’ve traded up to make both of their picks and traded down to accumulate seven picks in Saturday’s final four rounds of the draft – currently sitting with three picks in the fourth round, one in the sixth and three in the seventh.
General Manager Rick Spielman said it’s the chess match that teams go through to land the players they feel strongly about and that is the allure of the draft for him – trying to get the most bang for his draft buck while trying to figure out what other teams are doing and who they covet.
“It’s the funnest part of the draft for me, especially knowing guys that you have targeted – when to pull back and still be able to have guys there still on the board that you covet,” Spielman said. “Working with the coaching staff, as we come together as a group and really hone in on that draft board, we have a pretty good sense of the guys that fit what we’re looking for as a Minnesota Viking.”
It isn’t just about players that the Vikings are targeting. It’s also being mindful of the needs of other teams and what teams standing between them and a player they want badly might snipe that player off the board in front of them.
While Spielman is targeting players for his organization, the personnel department is also keeping a watchful eye on the teams that could take away those prized prospects.
“The pro department, led by Ryan Monnens and George Paton, just understand other teams’ needs and where they’re potentially going to go, that gives you the flexibility to know whether you can move up or down or just stay.”
One of the Vikings’ goals has been to keep working the phones and seeing if they can find interested trade partners. When asked how many calls his war room made Friday, Spielman attempted his best to guess on the amount.
“I’d say 20, maybe 30,” Spielman said. “It’s pretty busy. They’re constantly on the phone. To be honest, I probably lost count. We just start with all the teams above us calling as high as we can go and then we start calling all the teams below us. If we’re in the middle of the round, we’re going all the way down to the last pick in that round.”
When it comes to reading the tea leaves of other teams, Spielman said it isn’t simply a matter of hard-targeted one team. It’s more a matter of getting the word out that the Vikings are open to discussions about moving up or down and letting others know they’re open for business and they’re open to offers to move in either direction.
“The philosophy is just put it out there,” Spielman said. “If you have three or four guys that you like and you’re able to move down and still get that player that you like and accumulate more picks, to me that’s a great move. If there’s a guy we just absolutely covet, we’ve turned down trades if that’s a player we absolutely covet. In the first two picks, as those guys were there, we knew we had to move up to fill those needs and accomplish what we were able to.”
An added layer to the process is new to the 2017 draft, allowing teams to trade compensatory picks. Not only were the restraints taken off the compensatory pick process, where only the team awarded the picks could make the selections, but there were a record number of third-round compensatory selections – more than half of which got traded.
In many ways, it changed the landscape of how the draft is conducted.
“It was huge,” Spielman said. “I think this was, if I’m not mistaken, a record for how many third-round compensatories there were this year. I think there were seven or eight more than normal. Being able to trade those picks made it pretty interesting because even the last pick [of the day] was traded. It gives teams a lot more flexibility to trade back and forth, which makes the day go a lot quicker than sitting there knowing you have to sit there not being able to trade those compensatory picks.”
For just the second time in Spielman’s decade with the Vikings did the team enter the draft without a first-round pick – the other being 2008 when the Vikings traded their first-round pick to Kansas City to acquire Jared Allen.
While they were largely spectators, Spielman and his team went about the draft as if it was a normal year – just with a longer wait until they were on the clock.
“We did the exact same process, but when you see a first-round running back fall to you, we were pretty excited about that,” Spielman said. “You need to follow what’s going on. You follow how teams are filling their needs, strategically what’s going to happen in the second round. We spent three or four hours today mid-morning just going over the different scenarios – how teams filled their needs in free agency, how they filled them in the draft so far and what direction they may go. The process doesn’t change.”
What he saw was what many others took note of as the trades up for quarterback blew up the draft and changed how teams viewed the 2017 draft. A lot of players seemed to be taken higher than their draft grades would indicate, but that’s part of the fun.
“I think that’s what makes the draft so unique – it’s unpredictable,” Spielman said. “People know the blue-chip guys, but everybody’s board is different. Everybody covets a certain player. The fun part of it is you don’t know who that team is actually coveting.”
The Vikings are scheduled to make seven picks Saturday and they may end up with seven players. But, from the looks of things, more than a few of them may not come with the selections the team currently owns.