While not meant to be cocky or overconfident, the sentiment still made its way through. The Vikings had beat the system. Their 2005 draft was the fourth of the Tice regime and the big galoot was pretty full of himself. If you had made a checklist in order of team needs that April weekend five years ago, it likely would have gone somewhat to this script – wide receiver, pass rushing defensive end, guard, safety, running back. In the first four rounds of the draft, the Vikings drafted to fill those positions in that order.
Unfortunately, the guys they took to fill those holes were Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, Marcus Johnson, Dustin Fox and Ciatrick Fason. None of them ever amounted to anything with the Vikings, becoming arguably the worst full draft in franchise history and, by the time the year was out, the Vikings were viewed as a franchise run amok with Tice serving as dean of boys at Delta House – a title he lost minutes after the final game of that season.
It was Tice's fourth year of a system that seemed to be working – in the first three years, the war room brass had drafted Bryant McKinnie, Brian Williams, Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Nate Burleson, Kenechi Udeze and Mewelde Moore. But suddenly the guys in charge of chatting up the picks – Tice, Frank Gilliam, Scott Studwell, etc. – seemed like they were the smartest guys in the room. Their system was so perfected at this point they could scarcely be touched. They got cute. They drafted players they thought could hit home runs. Instead they got a lot of guys that whiffed.
Over the last three years with Rick Spielman, Brad Childress and the rest of the Vikings draft posse has been enjoying unprecedented draft success. Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Brian Robison in 2008. Trading for Jared Allen and still picking up Tyrell Johnson and John Sullivan in 2008. Five draftees in 2009 that all not only made the squad, but started at least one game – headed up by Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin. The Vikings have rolled the dice on draft weekend and come up seven-or-11 every time. It's a record many organizations envy. But is there the potential that they might get too cute? They might want to give it a try if they believe they have a system in place (different from that of Tice and his draft Politburo) that has this whole draft puzzle figured out.
If there has been a recurring theme with Spielman and Chilly during the draft it's that they're not afraid to trade draft picks to get someone they really want. In the pre-Spielman draft of 2006 (known in some circles as the Foley Affair), the Vikings traded two third-round picks to move back into the second round to take Tarvaris Jackson. That same year, they traded a fourth-round pick for Artis Hicks. In 2008, the Vikings made several trades, highlighted by the Jared Allen trade, and none of their five draft choices came from picks they held when the draft order was initially set. In 2009, they traded a fourth-round pick for Sage Rosenfels, traded up to get Jasper Brinkley and had to surrender a pick for trading for Kelly Holcomb the year before. These guys like to make trades – which brings us to the potential for a weird, wild draft weekend at Winter Park.
When guys think they have the answers to most or all of the questions and are comfortable based on their success, one of the first things they do is start making trades downward to stockpile picks. Bill Parcells has done it for years. So has Bill Belichick and the Boston Mafia. Jerry Jones believes he is the best college talent evaluator in the league, despite a brutal postseason history over the last decade. It seems to be a growing phenomenon.
Buffalo made moves to get two picks in each of the first two rounds, making four of the first 51 picks. Carolina didn't have a first-round pick, but made five picks in Rounds 2-4. The Bears didn't have a pick in the first two rounds due to the Jay Cutler trade, but still ended up with nine picks. Cleveland had four of the first 52 picks in the draft. Dallas didn't have a first- or second-round pick, but had a whopping 12 picks in the final five rounds. Denver had five of the first 64 picks thanks to trades with Chicago, Seattle and Pittsburgh. Detroit had two of the top 20 picks. Green Bay had two first-round picks, but after taking Clay Matthews with the 26th pick, didn't pick again until the 109th selection. New England didn't have a first-round pick, but made an unprecedented four selections in the second round, having been involved in trades with the Chiefs, Raiders, Packers, Jets, Ravens, Dolphins and Jaguars. New Orleans had just one pick in the first 115 players to come off the board. San Diego traded its second-round pick, but had three choices in the fourth round. And the always-zany Redskins had just two picks of the first 157.
A lot of talent brokers have used the draft to roll the dice, moving up to grab a player they covet or moving down because they believe they can unearth the mid- to late-round diamonds. The Vikings' recent history has been to move up, despite success in the middle and late rounds. With a deep draft class and a late first-round pick, the Vikings may be tempted to go the route so many others have – trade down for future picks and lower-round picks and prove you're the smartest guy in the room. However, history tells us those guys often times don't turn out to be as brilliant as they thought at the time. Just ask Tice.