Vikings fully assessed their risks

The Vikings selected at least two players with a history of finding trouble, but they believe they did enough research and had enough personal contact with the players and their support group to feel good about the selections. See what the players, coaches and Rick Spielman said about the situation.

In the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, there was an oft-repeated buzz phrase coming from Rick Spielman's mouth – "due diligence."

The Vikings' vice president of player personnel is extremely thorough in how he assesses players. He relies on a colored-dot system to indicate different levels of athleticism, medical concern and character issues with the prospects. If any of those aspects of a player are too risky, he gets a red dot, meaning the player won't be drafted by Minnesota.

The Vikings had more than 80 red-dot players moved off their front board, but their first and their final selection on draft weekend weren't among the red-dotted athletes. The team had done it's "due diligence" on the players and decided they could work through the issues of wide receiver Percy Harvin (first round) and safety Jamarca Sanford (seventh round).

With Harvin, that included visits with Spielman, head coach Brad Childress and wide receivers coach George Stewart.

"After Coach Childress visited with (Harvin on Wednesday), his family (and came back), we talked to Mark and Zygi Wilf all day about it (Friday). … We feel we have a very strong locker room, a very strong support staff here," Spielman said. "(Receivers coach) George Stewart has handled a lot of character-type receivers, at least coming in, and has done an outstanding job with that. We visited with Percy at the combine; we visited with Percy on the top 30 (visit). Myself and George Stewart were down at his workout down in Florida. Coach Childress went back down, so we felt comfortable enough that he was just too explosive of a playmaker and too hard to pass up where we were picking."

Harvin had been in trouble during his high school career. He was suspended two games for shoving a referee and then became the first player in this decade banned from the Virginia High School League after being part of a bench-clearing brawl in basketball that had to be broken by police.

Florida coach Urban Meyer knew the risks he was taking when he recruited Harvin, but, like the Vikings, Meyer took the time to get to know Harvin and his family, and it was that piece of the puzzle that helped sell Meyer on Harvin.

"When we recruited Percy out of high school, we were made aware of some issues and he's, once again, a very competitive guy. His temper gets to the best of him sometimes. It certainly did in high school. We have a great relationship with his mother and now his stepfather and his sister and he's a great family guy who comes from a great mom," Meyer said.

"… Our hit ratio on young people that come from very loving families and very good people, our hit ratio is real good on that. We actually take that into consideration when we're recruiting the student. When you're down with a young person who has some issues and they have no support from home, that's usually a recipe for failure. We try to stay away from that, but I'm sure everyone will get to know Percy's family. They're tremendous people. Percy wanted them to really get to know us, and you're really going to enjoy being around them."

His family, which Harvin calls his backbone, attended the Sunday press conference and plans to move to Minnesota. His mother Linda said they are moving because she just loves football and doesn't miss a game that Percy plays. Joining her will be Percy's stepfather Leon, sister Lintera and her children.

Those are the same people that helped Percy through his toughest times – difficult situations that he admits he brought on himself with his mistakes. As the evaluation process for the draft rolled along, he would continue to read about his past indiscretions.

"I read it, but not too much. Like I said, I got a great mom, a father and a sister who were my backbone, and I truly believe that we went through it. And they honestly just told me that everything was going to be all right," Percy said. "I got down a lot, cried a lot – got really down on myself. My mom just said, ‘Everything's going to be all right.' Through all that, my mom, she's never let me down, not once. Hearing the words from her, I knew everything was going to be all right."

While Harvin made one last mistake that might have been the final dagger in his chances to be selected in the top 10 – a positive test for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine – Meyer said many of the issues Harvin has had stem from his ultra-competitive personality.

"He's an extremist as far as a competitor. He's a competitor in the weight room, a competitor at the offseason program. He's the type of kid if you played checkers with him, he's going to try to beat you as hard as he can and go as hard as he can. That's what you need out of a kid like him," Meyer said. "He does not take losing very well, which is a good thing. Obviously you've got to harness that energy and stay focused with it to just get better, and he learned that as he grew up through our program, but just an extreme competitor is what you get."

In wanting to learn more about Harvin last week, Childress was one of several Vikings coaches that talked to Meyer. Childress said it's how Harvin has dealt with his mistakes that has him believing he can routinely score touchdowns instead of trouble.

"I think he is a guy that has made a mistake. I think we have all made mistakes," Childress said. "I think the big thing is that you look it in the eye, you recognize it for what it is, you admit to it and then I think how you deal with adversity as you go forward. Do you let it bury you? Or do you fix it? That's part of growing up. That's part of that growing process."

Childress said he asked the hard questions during his visit to Florida and seeing how Harvin interacted with his family – especially his mother – was important in Childress' assessment.

Harvin said some of his issues had to deal with him not trusting people.

"I was really defensive when I was growing up, really defensive. So, coming in I just really didn't trust the people. There wasn't really a specific reason why, I guess. That's just how it was," he said. "Not that there was any disrespect, I just wouldn't quite give personal details of my life. Coach Meyer, he's a great coach. He wants to know what's going on in your life, and I would just give him answers and not the real personal details that way. Towards the end, there probably wasn't a thing Coach Meyer didn't know.

"It got to be probably as good as a player relationship can get with a coach. It started off rocky."

Harvin said his relationship with Meyer was probably at its best last year, which he also described as the best year of his life. No question his 1,304 offensive yards and 17 touchdowns were what made the versatile player worth the risk in the Vikings' minds.

"At that spot, again, a kid with that much talent is just too good to pass up," Childress said.


The Vikings didn't stop with their risky picks with the first round. They ended the draft by selecting a player that had been arrested twice – safety Jamarca Sanford out of Ole Miss.

In September 2003, he was reportedly arrested for stealing a stereo out of a car parked on the Ole Miss campus. In January 2008, he was reportedly arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after failing to adhere to a policeman's warning to disperse from the parking lot of a pool hall/night club near campus in Oxford, Miss.

The team obviously didn't spend as much time investigating his background, but Spielman was well aware of his past.

"We know all about that. We talked to all the people down at Mississippi. He is an outstanding character kid. That was nothing that was a concern with us," Spielman said.

Sanford said he has learned from his mistakes. After a postseason all-star game, Childress called Sanford to find out how he would respond to those mistakes.

"After the Texas vs. The World game, (Childress) called me and made me talk about my off-the-field issues. I told him that he doesn't have to worry about that again. He said we expect change if we draft you and I told him he doesn't have to worry anymore. That's a mistake on my behalf and he doesn't have to worry," Sanford said.

With their risky picks this weekend, the Vikings are convinced they now have a locker room that can help players avoid trouble.

Childress even admitted he wasn't sure he could have made the Harvin selection in 2006, when Childress was first hired and he wasn't as familiar with the players in his locker room.

"I don't know that I could have. I don't know that I would have," he said. "I feel good about it enough that the people that are around, that the coaches, with where we're at at this stage in a great town … it's a risk-reward-type thing."

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