Ranking Rick Spielman's Eight Draft Classes as Vikings GM

Will Ragatz

The 2020 NFL Draft will be the ninth for Vikings GM Rick Spielman, who took that role in 2012 after six years as the team's VP of Player Personnel. The input of many voices in the front office and coaching staff go into each selection, but Spielman ultimately has the final say in the war room. For the most part, he has elevated the team's talent level with successful drafts, finding star players in both the early and late rounds.

Of the 12 current Vikings who have made a Pro Bowl with the franchise, ten have been on the team for their entire careers (Kirk Cousins and Linval Joseph being the exceptions). Everson Griffen (drafted in 2010) and Kyle Rudolph (2011) predate Spielman's GM tenure, but the other eight were his selections. Spielman has also drafted several Pro Bowlers that have since moved on to other organizations, and found incredible value in Pro Bowl-caliber players like Stefon Diggs and Anthony Harris. His drafts are a big reason why the Vikings have made the playoffs in four of the last eight years after doing so only three times in the previous 11 seasons.

As another crucial draft approaches in April, let's rank the previous eight. For each class, we'll list every pick (courtesy of Whole Nine Sports) and any notable undrafted free agents, and offer some summarizing thoughts and analysis.

No. 1: 2015

Pick 1.11 – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Pick 2.45 – Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA

Pick 3.88 – Danielle Hunter, EDGE, LSU

Pick 4.110 – T.J. Clemmings, OL, Pittsburgh

Pick 5.143 – MyCole Pruitt, TE, Southern Illinois

Pick 5.146 – Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

Pick 6.185 – Tyrus Thompson, OL, Oklahoma

Pick 6.193 – B.J. Dubose, DL, Louisville

Pick 7.228 – Austin Shepherd, OL, Alabama

Pick 7.232 – Edmond Robinson, LB, Newberry

Notable UDFA: Anthony Harris, S, Virginia

Notable UDFA: Taylor Heinicke, QB, Old Dominion

There's no debate about which draft is Spielman's best. When you're able to acquire star players in the second, third, and fifth rounds, plus add another as an undrafted free agent, that's an extraordinarily successful draft. Kendricks, Hunter, and Harris were arguably the three best players on the Vikings defense in 2019. Hunter was the 13th edge rusher selected; he leads all 2015 draftees in sacks by double-digits. Kendricks was a first team All-Pro this season, and Harris led the league in interceptions. Oh, and somehow Diggs was the 20th wide receiver off the board. He trails only No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper in receiving yards among his class.

This class could be even better if Waynes had become the star the team hoped. He hasn't had the same type of career as, say, Marcus Peters, who was selected seven picks later, but Waynes has been a solid starting CB for the past three years. Beyond those five players, there's not much else. Clemmings was a flop in the fourth round. Pruitt is at least still playing; he almost made the Super Bowl with the Titans last weekend.

No. 2: 2013

Pick 1.23 – Sharrif Floyd, DL, Florida

Pick 1.25 – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Pick 1.29 – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

Pick 4.120 – Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State

Pick 5,155 – Jeff Locke, P, UCLA

Pick 5.196 – Jeff Baca, OL, UCLA

Pick 7.213 – Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State

Pick 7.214 – Travis Bond, OL, North Carolina

Pick 7.229 – Everett Dawkins, DL, Florida State

Notable UDFA: Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota State

Notable UDFA: Zach Line, FB, SMU

One important thing to note in this ranking is that we can't blame Spielman in situations where a player's promising career was derailed by injury. That's the case with Floyd, who showed a lot of potential in three seasons before injuring his knee and having an unfortunate situation where an unsuccessful surgery ended his career. The selection of Rhodes looked like a home run just two years ago, but Rhodes' sharp decline has changed that view slightly. And while Patterson has shined as one of the league's elite kick returners, he never returned anything close to first-round value as a wide receiver. DeAndre Hopkins going at pick No. 27 has to sting a little for the Vikings.

What salvages this class and makes it Spielman's second-best was stumbling upon an undrafted All-Pro receiver in Thielen. Only six players drafted in 2013 have more receiving yards than Thielen, who didn't start playing regularly on offense until his third year. Locke and Line were solid players for the Vikings, while Hodges and Mauti contributed mainly on special teams during their careers.

No. 3: 2012

Pick 1.4 – Matt Kalil, OL, USC

Pick 1.29 – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Pick 3.66 – Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida

Pick 4.118 – Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas

Pick 4.128 – Rhett Ellison, TE, USC

Pick 4.134 – Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas

Pick 5.139 – Robert Blanton, S, Notre Dame

Pick 6.175 – Blair Walsh, K, Georgia

Pick 7.210 – Audie Cole, LB, NC State

Pick 7.219 – Trevor Guyton, DL, California

Notable UDFAs: None

This class makes the top three (and has an argument for No. 2) primarily because of one man: Harrison Smith. Smith was an incredible pick at No. 29, as the five-time Pro Bowler and 2017 first team All-Pro has been one of the league's best safeties ever since he came into the NFL. It's difficult to question the selection of Kalil fourth overall, considering he filled a need at the time and was seen as a can't-miss prospect. Kalil made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but injuries and inconsistent play derailed his trajectory. Robinson was a bust at the No. 66 pick.

When Spielman traded back one spot from the third overall pick (the Browns traded up one spot for Trent Richardson, which didn't go well for them), one of the three picks he received turned into Wright, who had a solid career as a third WR for the Vikings and is still in the league with the Panthers. Ellison has also stuck around and has had some success with the Giants. Walsh looked like an incredible pick after his historically great rookie season, but his career fell off after a certain missed kick in the 2015 playoffs.

No. 4: 2014

Pick 1.9 – Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA

Pick 1.32 – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Pick 3.72 – Scott Crichton, EDGE, Oregon State

Pick 3.96 – Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern

Pick 5.145 – David Yankey, OL, Stanford

Pick 6.182 – Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech

Pick 6.184 – Kendall James, CB, Maine

Pick 7.220 – Shamar Stephen, DL, Connecticut

Pick 7.223 – Brandon Watts, LB, Georgia Tech

Pick 7.225 – Jabari Price, CB, North Carolina

Notable UDFAs: None

How different would the recent history of the Vikings be if Bridgewater hadn't injured his knee in August of 2016? Considering the potential he showed in his first two years with the Vikings, as well as his excellent play with the Saints this year, Teddy was a strong pick by Spielman at No. 32. Barr, meanwhile, made four straight Pro Bowls from 2015 through 2018 and has been an anchor of the Vikings' defense since being drafted. However, he seemed to regress a bit this season, and three of the next four selections – Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham, and Aaron Donald – have had more productive careers.

In the third round, Crichton was a big-time flop but McKinnon was a solid pick. The latter was a productive Viking, first as Adrian Peterson's backup and then in committees with Matt Asiata and Latavius Murray. He signed a big contract with the 49ers two offseasons ago, but has had awful injury luck since then. Stephen was a strong seventh-round pick, as he was a starter for the Vikings this year in his sixth season (though he seems unlikely to retain that role next season). Exum has hung around in the NFL with the Vikings and 49ers.

No. 5: 2019

Pick 1.18 – Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State

Pick 2.50 – Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama

Pick 3.102 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Pick 4.114 – Dru Samia, OL, Oklahoma

Pick 5.162 – Cameron Smith, LB, USC

Pick 6.190 – Armon Watts, DL, Arkansas

Pick 6.191 – Marcus Epps, S, Wyoming

Pick 6.193 – Oli Udoh, OL, Elon

Pick 7.217 – Kris Boyd, CB, Texas

Pick 7.239 – Dillon Mitchell, WR, Oregon

Pick 7.247 – Bisi Johnson, WR, Colorado State

Pick 7.250 – Austin Cutting, LS, Air Force

Notable UDFA: Jake Browning, QB, Washington

Notable UDFA: Alexander Hollins, WR, Eastern Illinois

Notable UDFA: Khari Blasingame, FB, Vanderbilt

Notable UDFA: Nate Meadors, CB, UCLA

This ranking is based on predicting the future. With just one season of sample size, it's impossible to draw complete conclusions on last year's draft class. But given the sheer volume of picks – the Vikings led all teams with 12 selections – and the flashes several players showed this past season, a No. 5 ranking seems fair for now. Bradbury struggled in pass blocking as a rookie, but showed plenty of the lateral quickness that made the Vikings feel he was a great fit for Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme. Irv Smith Jr. showed signs that he can be the Vikings' tight end of the future, and he's still just 21 years old.

Mattison already looks like a steal in the third round. He was projected to be a short-yardage power back, but offered much more than that in an impressive debut season. Johnson was the 28th receiver off the board but finished 11th among his class in yards last season. Watts showed plenty of potential at a position of need late in the year. If Bradbury improves, the aforementioned players continue to grow, and the Vikings get something from the likes of Samia, Udoh, or Boyd, this class could be near the top of the rankings several years from now.

No. 6: 2017

Pick 2.41 – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Pick 3.70 – Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State

Pick 4.109 – Jaleel Johnson, DL, Iowa

Pick 4.120 – Ben Gedeon, LB, Michigan

Pick 5.170 – Rodney Adams, WR, South Florida

Pick 5.180 – Danny Isidora, OL, Miami

Pick 6.201 – Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech

Pick 7.219 – Stacy Coley, WR, Miami

Pick 7.220 – Ifeadi Odenigbo, EDGE, Northwestern

Pick 7.232 – Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State

Pick 7.245 – Jack Tocho, CB, NC State

Notable UDFA: Eric Wilson, LB, Cincinnati

Notable UDFA: Aviante Collins, OL, TCU

This is the only year where Spielman didn't have a first-round pick, as he was forced to trade it for Sam Bradford in the wake of Bridgewater's catastrophic injury. However, he ended up with a clear first-round talent at pick No. 41 in Cook, who stayed healthy in 2019 and established himself as one of the NFL's elite backs. This class suffers from the lack of a first round pick, as well as some poor selections in the middle rounds. Elflein was expected to be a core piece on the offensive line, but he looks like a bust after just three years. Gedeon was a solid value pick and Johnson still has intriguing potential, but it's unlikely either becomes a long-term starter.

This class might be even lower if it weren't for Odenigbo and Wilson. Odenigbo was cut by the Vikings in his first two seasons and spent time with the Cardinals and Browns, but was brought back to Minnesota and finally made the team on his third try. He proceeded to have a breakout year with seven sacks and a fumble return touchdown. If the Vikings move on from Griffen, Odenigbo could be a starting edge rusher next season. Wilson has surpassed Gedeon as the team's third linebacker thanks to excellent coverage skills. Lee, who is now with the 49ers, is one of two former Vikings (the other being Chiefs TE Blake Bell) who will play in the upcoming Super Bowl.

No. 7: 2018

Pick 1.30 – Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

Pick 2.62 – Brian O’Neill, OL, Pittsburgh

Pick 4.102 – Jalyn Holmes, DL, Ohio State

Pick 5.157 – Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan

Pick 5.167 – Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn

Pick 6.213 – Colby Gossett, OL, Appalachian State

Pick 6.218 – Ade Aruna, DL, Tulane

Pick 7.225 – Devante Downs, LB, California

Notable UDFA: Holton Hill, CB, Texas

Notable UDFA: Mike Boone, RB, Cincinnati

Notable UDFA: Hercules Mata'afa, EDGE, Washington State

It's still early, but things don't look great for the 2018 class, which has a serious chance to only produce two significant contributors. Hughes has been solid when healthy and could be a full-time starter for the first time next season. The jury is still out on whether he'll live up to his first-round slot, but it's difficult to question that pick at this point. Hughes will forever be known as one of the players taken just before Lamar Jackson, but the Vikings were never going to take Jackson right after signing Cousins. The best pick of this draft – and almost certainly Spielman's best offensive line selection ever – is O'Neill, who has quickly become an outstanding right tackle who could be a key player for many years.

Unfortunately, none of the other six picks have turned into much. Holmes hasn't emerged from a competitive defensive line group, and he may not be back next season. Conklin is a solid third-string tight end. Using a fifth-round pick on Carlson was disastrous, as he lasted just two games in a Vikings uniform. None of the late-round picks panned out, but at least the Vikings may have found something in UDFAs Hill, Boone, and Mata'afa.

No. 7: 2016

Pick 1.23 – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

Pick 2.54 – Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

Pick 4.121 – Willie Beavers, OL, Western Michigan

Pick 5.160 – Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri

Pick 6.180 – Moritz Bohringer, WR, Germany

Pick 6.188 – David Morgan, TE, UTSA

Pick 7.227 – Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt

Pick 7.244 – Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson

Notable UDFAs: None

Here it is: the worst draft class of Rick Spielman's GM tenure. Analysis of this draft starts and ends with Treadwell, the Vikings' worst first round pick since Christian Ponder in 2011. Treadwell had an outstanding final season at Ole Miss, and was seen as a physical receiver with contested-catch skills that would make him a red-zone weapon. His lack of speed was a concern, but the thought was that he could make up for that with great hands and by breaking tackles after the catch. It never worked out. He was cut after three seasons, and was only brought back in 2019 out of necessity. He finishes his Vikings career with just 701 receiving yards. Since taking Randy Moss in 1998, the Vikings have selected Troy Williamson, Percy Harvin, Patterson, and Treadwell as first-round wideouts. That's not a great batting average.

Alexander was a very solid pick in the second round, as he's become a productive slot corner. But Beavers and Bohringer flopped, and Brothers looks like a career special teams player. Spielman actually got some excellent value in the late rounds with Morgan, Weatherly, and Kearse, but it's not enough to prevent the 2016 draft from finishing last on this list.

Conclusion

Overall, Spielman is an above-average drafter who has changed the direction of the franchise for the better. His penchant for accumulating double-digit picks in most years has been a successful strategy, as he's found plenty of diamonds in the rough on Day 3 of the draft. With a couple exceptions, his early-round picks have been sharp, and they may look even better if not for several unfortunate injuries.

Spielman started his GM career incredibly strong with the 2012 through 2015 drafts, the last of which will go down as one of the best in Vikings history. He seemed to regress a bit from 2016 through 2018, but there is still time for players from those classes to emerge and out-perform their draft slot. And while it's too early to tell for sure, 2019 looks like step in the right direction for Spielman. Another strong draft in 2020 – where the Vikings have urgent needs at DL, OL, and CB – could go a long way towards maintaining the team's status as contenders and avoiding a full rebuild.

I'd love to know your thoughts on this ranking. Comment below by clicking the follow button in the upper right-hand corner of this page, or get at me on Twitter (@WillRagatz).

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