In more ways than one, the NFL draft is a bit like another popular drama – but probably with a little different demographic. In American Idol, contestants are voted off after poor singing performances. On the Vikings' private stage, draft contestants are voted off not by a call-in vote of fans but rather a conglomerate of evidence that leaves Rick Spielman, the team's vice president of player personnel, feeling like a player has too many risks to make it worth a playing contract.
Unlike American Idol, the Vikings will rarely give a Simon Cowell-like public talking down about why a contestant is no longer part of the competition. Spielman and the Vikings brass prefer to be a be more private about their decisions, but he revealed earlier this month that the team had eliminated 78 draft prospect from Minnesota's board with the dreaded "red dot."
The red dots are "a big scarlet tag," Spielman said. Once a prospect's name is attached to it on the draft board, the Vikings won't select him in any round.
So, how does a player "earn" that negative distinction? It could be a medical issue, a series of injuries or character concerns. But failing one drug test doesn't automatically pull the player's name off the draft board.
"We have discussions on every testing. It's all on an individual basis," Spielman said. "Just as an example, if a steroid test came back just because you took something at GNC and it had weight gain in it that you didn't know by accident, now is that a red-dot guy or not? So again, it's all predicated on how we analyze each situation individually."
The Vikings were scheduled to complete a week's worth of meetings with coaches on Tuesday. It was the last step in a series of meetings with scouts, coaches and staff to get input on prospects from a variety of angles.
"The coaches will come in and there are several (players) we have questions on," Spielman said earlier this month. "There is potentially 10 more guys as we sit there and decide whether those are the guys we want here or not."
He said having 78 prospects with a red dot is about typical.
"We do our due diligence and see if it is an issue or potential issue and see if we want to take a risk on it or not," he said.
Teams were expected to get the results from drug tests administered at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. It's unknown how many players might have failed those tests, but character concerns can go well beyond drug tests. The background checks on players can turn up weapons charges or other criminal activity, or something as simple as an attitude that might prevent the prospect from accepting coaching or getting along well with teammates.
That's one reason the Vikings bring up to 30 prospects to Winter Park for a predraft visit. It allows team officials to how players react and interact outside of a formal interview or practice setting. The team is also given a chance to perform some additional medical evaluations only weeks before decision day.
"There could be a guy that comes in and flunks a physical and all the sudden he's a red dot. There could be a guy that after sitting and meeting with him and doing this, that we wouldn't want this guy on our team. That could have been different a month ago," Spielman said. "This is one last chance to hone in on guys that you potentially could be interested in or guys that maybe you're sending a smokescreen. You don't know."
As of April 10, the Vikings hadn't received any trade offers and Spielman didn't expect that to occur until the day of the draft.
"No one knows what's going to happen because that's a domino effect. We probably wouldn't get any calls on anything until we're almost on the clock just because you don't know what domino effect is going to happen, if there's another trade and all the sudden something different happens," Spielman said.
What is known is that the Vikings are putting the finishing touches on their draft grades after receiving months, even years', worth of information on prospects. Over Saturday and Sunday, all that work will come into focus when a roomful of team officials – from Spielman, head Brad Childress, VP of football operations Rob Brzezinski, director of college scouting Scott Studwell, director of football operation George Paton to owners Zygi and Mark Wilf to scouts and support staff – gather to find out who are the newest Vikings.
Dreaded red dots placed for various reasons
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