Ranking Rick Spielman's Eight Draft Classes as Vikings GM
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.
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.
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