Five Takeaways From Rick Spielman's 2021 Pre-NFL Draft Press Conference

The longtime Minnesota Vikings GM was secretive in his presser, but there are still things we can learn from it.
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If you were hoping for some major headline-grabbing quote from Vikings GM Rick Spielman in his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, you'll be disappointed to know that no such thing happened. But then again, if you're familiar with Spielman pressers, you should've known all along how unlikely that was.

Still, even though Spielman wouldn't reveal much, there are several things we can learn from his 30-minute session with Twin Cities reporters just two days before the draft kicks off on Thursday night.

Let's dive in to my five biggest takeaways.

The Vikings could get into the second round without trading back from 14

The Vikings' failed Yannick Ngakoue experiment left them without a second-round pick, which has to be painful for Spielman and company right about now. In a draft that is deep at some positions of need, that pick (No. 45 overall) would've given the Vikings a great opportunity to find an immediate starter, especially when you consider their incredible run of success in the second round over the past six drafts (Eric Kendricks, Mackensie Alexander, Dalvin Cook, Brian O'Neill, Irv Smith Jr., and Ezra Cleveland).

With that in mind, I'd imagine Spielman is going to do everything he can to wind up with a second-rounder this year. Waiting from 14 to 78 for picks is a long time, and when asked about that gap, he said "I don’t know if we’ll be that patient or not."

Typically, it has been assumed that the way to acquire a second-round pick would be for the Vikings to trade back from 14. But Spielman seemed to hint at the possibility of staying at 14 and using some of their remarkable wealth of middle-round picks (two thirds, four fourths, and two fifths) to be aggressive on day two and move up into the second round, if they don't think a player they love will fall to them at 78.

"Right now we have four fourth-round picks, which does give you the ability to move back into the second round," Spielman said. "To have the draft capital that we have, it gives us a lot of flexibility, hopefully, to be able to move up in the draft if we want to go do that."

Packaging No. 78 with two fourth-rounders should be enough to get up into the second round.

Trade talks — and rumors — right now are pretty pointless

Every year, we hear rumors and reports that "team x is looking to trade up" or "team y is fielding calls about moving down." While there can be some truth to those reports, Spielman doesn't put much stock into that. He's made calls to gauge costs and things like that, but until the draft actually starts and everyone sees how their boards unfold, no one knows what they're going to do.

That's why working the phones during the draft is far more important than doing so beforehand. Spielman said Rob Brzezinski (Executive VP of Football Ops and the team's salary cap guru) and Ryan Monnens (Director of Pro Scouting) will be handling trades this year. He, of course, will have the final say.

Spielman has never traded up in the first round as the Vikings' GM, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't do it if the value were there and they really coveted a player. He's open to moving up, moving down, or staying put at 14 — it'll all depend on how things play out.

"You can talk to people this time right before the draft, but it usually doesn't mean anything," Spielman said. "A lot of people are going to wait and see what players are on their draft board and if they're willing to move up or down. We started our process of going through scenarios, we've looked at scenarios on if a specific player was falling in the top ten, do we go up and get that player? We're going through what the potential cost of that would be. We're also looking at if we are at 14 and if the board there, we have two or three players that we still think we can get, like we've done in the past, trading back, picking up some more draft capital. So we have the flexibility of moving up and down through the draft.

"I don’t take it very serious at this time [when people say], ‘Hey, if our guy’s there, would you be willing to trade back?’ We haven’t been really making any active calls on trying to trade up, either. I think a lot of that evolves as the draft process goes on Thursday and throughout the draft – depending on who’s on the board and how teams covet players."

No position is off the table for the Vikings at 14

This isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it's worth noting nonetheless. Although the vast majority of people expect Minnesota to take an offensive lineman or defensive end in the first round, there's no guarantee things unfold that way. If the best player available at 14 based on their board is a linebacker, a defensive back, a wide receiver, or even a quarterback, it's possible they'd pull the trigger. (Teams always say they'll go BPA, but whether they actually do it is another story).

Spielman was asked specifically about the quarterback position and what he might do there given Kirk Cousins' contract situation. This was all he had to say:

"There’s no position that’s off limits going into this draft. I’ll just leave it at that."

For what it's worth, I'd expect the Vikings to draft a QB in the middle rounds; Kellen Mond and Davis Mills may not make it to the third and fourth rounds, but Kyle Trask or Jamie Newman could be options.

But if a top QB like Trey Lance or Justin Fields is still on the board at 14, it'll be fascinating to see if the Vikings would go in that direction. If not, they could almost certainly get some good value out of trading down.

25 Players the Vikings Could Conceivably Draft in the First Round, Sorted into Tiers

Don't expect as the Vikings to make as many sixth and seventh-round picks as last year

The Vikings set an NFL record last year with 15 draft picks, six of which came in the final two rounds. This year, they currently have just one pick after the fifth round, although they would've had two had they not forfeited their seventh-rounder for a rules violation.

Spielman said that the approach in the late rounds is a little different this time around. In 2020, with everything being virtual, he looked at the last two rounds as basically being the Vikings' college free agency period. They wanted to pick a bunch of those type of players so they could avoid having to get in virtual bidding wars for them after the draft.

This year, that isn't a concern. The Vikings will be back in their draft rooms in person — they're even allowed to be unmasked since all of their key personnel are vaccinated — and things will be back to normal to some degree.

After making 27 total picks in the last two years, it wouldn't shock me if Spielman and Co. ended up in the single digits for the first time since 2018. They have ten picks right now.

The lack of medical information this year is a big deal

Last year, even though things were completely virtual by the time the draft rolled around, the annual NFL scouting combine still took place before the pandemic hit. This year's combine was cancelled. Spielman and his scouting staff were still able to observe a bunch of prospects at the Senior Bowl and various pro days, so that wasn't a huge loss in that sense. The bigger concern is that teams don't have as much medical information this year, he said.

"The biggest difference I think this year was we didn’t have the combine so the medical may not be as detailed as it has been in the past. Eric Sugarman and our team doctors only had 150 players at the so-called medical combine this year. The rest of it we’re trying to get through on this virtual tele-med and trying to do a lot of physicals that way with imaging on the MRI. With guys we normally would have a lot of background especially from the medical standpoint, but this year we had to adjust and do things differently. We’re not going to have the same type of information that we’ve had in the past."

Because of that, I wonder if the Vikings will be more reticent to take a risk on a player with injury concerns this year. Miami EDGE Jaelan Phillips is the first guy who comes to mind, although there are plenty of others as well. With less information, and after the failures of Mike Hughes (injuries) and Jeff Gladney (off-the-field stuff), it might make sense for the Vikings to go after a relatively "safe" prospect this year.

Other notable quotes

  • "I think we did close to 200 Zoom interviews through the month of March and we’re finalizing a lot of those Zoom interviews up until tomorrow."
  • "We functioned and had a successful draft, we felt like, last year. Adjusting just like everybody else has to adjust. But there’s nothing like being together in the room and grinding through the 12-14-hour days together and in-person." 

  • "We think it’s a pretty deep draft class [in terms of offensive linemen]. Just like every position, I think there’s quality throughout this draft. Through the first three rounds and maybe into the fourth round on getting some potential starters for us up front — or at least creating competition. We spent a lot of time and listened to the coaches on scheme fit."

  • On Gladney: “We put out a statement when it happened. I know we’ve been in contact with NFL security. We’re letting the due process take its course right now and that’s the latest I can give you."

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