Deciphering the Vikings’ Draft Tendencies

Deciphering the Vikings’ Draft Tendencies

In the face of a global pandemic, the NFL draft is set to take over the US for a few days, as it will be the first event in major American sports since the NBA and NHL shut down their seasons. The draft also represents a pivotal moment for the Vikings’ franchise, as the team has two first round picks and a lot of holes to fill. They will need to work the draft effectively to be competitive in 2020, and beyond.

Rick Spielman has been the Vikings’ GM since 2012, and in that time has shown clear tendencies in the NFL Draft. In this post, I will establish those tendencies, and then use them to form a set of rules which I’ll use to execute two mock drafts for comparison. In describing the rules, I will go round-by-round, and then discuss some specific positions Spielman looks for. For the mock drafts, I will use The Draft Networks’ Mock Draft Simulator with trades, and to make my selections I will be using Jordan Reid’s recently published 2020 Draft Guide to assist me.

Round 1: Stay put and draft for need (but don’t reach!)

In the first round, Rick’s history has been pretty consistent. He will draft for need, but will not reach for a position of most need if another, more valuable player is available. He tends to stay put with his first round picks. Since 2012, the Vikings have actually traded back twice in the first, but both time they only moved back one spot with the Cleveland Browns (3rd overall to 4th in 2012, and 8th overall to 9th in 2014). Cleveland does not pick directly after Minnesota this year, so don’t expect it to happen.

Under Spielman, the Vikings generally have not pigeon-holed themselves into drafting a specific position with their first pick. For example, in 2014 they desperately needed a QB, but took Anthony Barr before trading up for Teddy. In 2018, they took Mike Hughes instead of an OL. 2013 is the year that is most comparable to this year for the Vikings, and despite trading Percy Harvin for a first round pick that year, they did not use one of their original first rounders on a WR, instead waiting to trade up for Cordarrelle Patterson. That team had a lot of holes, and this year is no different. I would expect the Vikings to take some combination of CB, OL, and WR with their first two picks, but I don’t expect them to force one of those three positions if the value isn’t there.

For the mock, I will stay put and draft from those three positions.

Round 2: Move up for a falling player at a position of need

While the Vikings have usually stayed put with their first round picks, that’s not the case in the 2nd. If they have a player they covet at a position they need, they have no problem using their second round pick to move up. They did so for three years in a row: in 2012 for Harrison Smith, in 2013 for Cordarrelle Patterson, in 2014 for Teddy Bridgewater, as well as in 2017 for Dalvin Cook. The Vikings need players that can start right away at three different positions: CB, G, and WR. In this draft, I expect them to act much like they did in 2013 and move up with their second round pick to get a player at one of those positions.

For the mock, I will trade up to get a player at one of those positions who is falling.

Round 3: Trade Back. Multiple Times

The Vikings have almost never drafted with their original 3rd round pick under Spielman. In 2013, they used that pick to trade back up into the first. In 2015, they traded back twice before selecting Danielle Hunter. In 2016, they traded out of the round with Miami for future picks. In 2017, they traded up with their original selection and moved down with the Miami pick, ending up picking in the early 4th. They traded down in 2018, and in 2019 they traded down a whopping 4 times, going from 81 to 102 and netting a 5th, two 6ths, and a 7th in the process.

For the purposes of the mock, I will trade at lease one of these two picks. If I use one to move up, I will move back and collect additional ammo with the other. Otherwise, I will try to move back with both.

Round 3/4: Draft DL, OL, or RBs

Here is a list of the Vikings’ 3rd and 4th round picks since 2014, in order: Scott Crichton (EDGE), Jerick McKinnon (RB), Danielle Hunter (EDGE), TJ Clemmings (OT), Willie Beavers (OL), Pat Elflein (OL), Jaleel Johnson (DT), Ben Gedeon (LB), Jalyn Holmes (DL), Alex Mattison (RB), and Dru Samia (OL). That’s a pretty clear pattern.

What the Vikings draft in these rounds somewhat depends on what they need. For example, they’ve drafted LBs in 2013 (Gerald Hodges) and 2017 (Gedeon), but generally they stick to the trenches. With Eric Wilson tendered and Gedeon still on the team, I don’t expect an LB this early. They’ve also drafted backup RBs in this round when it was clear they needed one. With Cook entrenched as the starter and Mattison looking good, they do not need another RB, so I don’t expect Rick to take that position. In 2012, they drafted a CB and a couple of WRs, which they needed desperately. This year, definitely need another edge rusher and could use a pass rushing 3t. Like always they need OL. What the Vikings do in the 3rd and 4th will depend on their earlier selections.

Because it’s getting later in the draft, the board may fall to where it doesn’t make sense to take one of the positions the Vikings normally take. With that in mind I will be targeting an athletic edge rusher, IDL, and the three big needs (CB/OL/WR) with 3rd and 4th round picks. This doesn’t 100% follow tendencies, but I believe it makes sense.

For the mock, I will target EDGE, IDL, CB, OL, and WR in the 3rd and 4th rounds.

Late Rounds: Maneuver and make multiple 6/7th round picks

Since 2012, the Vikings have made 35 total picks in the 6th and 7th round. That’s over 4 selections per year. The minimum they’ve made is 3. They do this by moving back so often in the 3rd.

They are also willing to move around in the later rounds using those picks. For example, in 2018, Rick Spielman traded up twice in the 5th round: first to grab Tyler Conklin, second to pick Daniel Carlson. He did so using two 6ths and a 7th.

For the mock, I will make at least three total 6th and 7th round picks. I will also be willing to move up in some instance to get specific players.

Position Tendency: Late Round LB

The Vikings have drafted a day three LB in every year since 2012. Usually these are special teams players, although some had developmental potential The list is Audie Cole in 2012, Michael Mauti in 2013, Brandon Watts in 2014, Edmund Robinson in 2015, Kentrell Brothers in 2016, Elijah Lee in 2017, Devante Downs in 2018, and Cameron Smith in 2019.

For the mock, I will draft an LB on day three.

Position Tendency: Late Round TE

From 2015 to 2018, the Vikings drafted a TE in the 5th round or later every year. However, I believe this is mostly because the TEs they were taking did not work out. This year they have Kyle Rudolph, who has a large contract, Irv Smith (2019 2nd round pick), and Tyler Conklin (2018 5th round pick), and seem to like where they are at with TE.

For the mock, I will not draft a TE.

Position Tendency: Late Round Specialist

The Vikings are not shy about their willingness to draft specialists in the late rounds. They have taken Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Daniel Carlson, and Austin Cutting since 2012. They are missing their original 5th round pick this year because they traded it to the Ravens for the failed Kaare Vedvik experiment. However, this season, the Vikings appear to be set at K, P, and LS, as they re-signed Dan Bailey and Britton Colquitt, and still have Cutting.

Position Tendency: Athletic Edge Rusher

Since Mike Zimmer and Andre Patterson arrived in 2014, the Vikings have taken an athletic edge rusher to try to develop each year. This has worked very well, with Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo slated to be the Vikings’ starting edges, and Stephen Weatherly getting a lucrative contract from the Panthers. With edge as a need, I expect this pick to be in the 3rd or 4th, rather than the 7th, like it has been in recent years. The Vikings always draft someone very athletic with this selection, so that limits our potential candidates. Recently, they’ve focused mostly on players with really strong broad jumps.

For the mock, I will draft an EDGE in the 3rd or 4th round with a 70+ percentile broad jump and 40 yard dash.

Position Tendency: No QBs

The only QB the Vikings have drafted since 2012 is Teddy Bridgewater. They do not take a QB if it is not a need. They prefer to bring in a UDFA to put on the practice squad. They just extended Kirk Cousins. They will not take a QB in this draft.

For the mock, I will not draft a QB.

Draft Tendency: Make 10 Selections

Rick Spielman has publicly stated that he prefers to make 10 picks in a draft. He’s done this 5 out of his 8 drafts, including making 11 picks in 2017 and 12 in 2019. In the years he hasn’t made 10 picks, 2013, 2016, and 2018, he’s made 9, 8, and 8 selections, respectively. In 2020, the Vikings are starting out with 12 total picks. I can see that number decreasing slightly, but I can’t see it going below the stated goal of 10.

For the mock, I will make at least 10 selections.

Vikings’ Needs

As I see them, here are the Vikings’ needs:

Desperate: CB, WR, and OL. At these positions, the Vikings need multiple players who can contribute immediately. They need at least one starter at all three positions, and probably need two CBs and Gs. On the OL, you can get away with drafting an LT and moving Riley Reiff inside to LG. At CB, Mike Hughes can flex inside and outside, so you can choose a slot corner if it’s a good option, or you could take two outside corners. At WR, you need to get a WR2, and then a player who can contribute at WR3 because you cannot trust either Tajae Sharpe or Bisi Johnson to fill that role. I don’t really care how you order these. I would put CB first and WR second because they are more important positions than the IOL, but it’s really splitting hairs.

Strong: IDL, EDGE, S. The Vikings need contributors at these positions. I am the world’s biggest Ifeadi Odenigbo fan, but I’m not sure he’s ready to carry the load of a full-time starting edge rusher. I would like to add another rotational player at the position. At safety, the Vikings’ currently have the best tandem in the league with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but literally have no other safeties on the roster. For the purposes of this exercise, I am going to presume they keep Harris. If they trade him, this need skyrockets to the top tier, but at this point they just need depth badly. At IDL, I’m a bit conflicted because I view 3t as a huge weakness for the Vikings. In my opinion, Shamar Stephen is worse at his position than Pat Elflein or Holton Hill are at theirs. However, the Vikings seem quite happy with Stephen, and I do not expect them to address this need early. I will wait until Day 3 to address it.

Vikings’ Draft Rules

Based on the above tendencies, I have come up with the following rules for the Vikings’ draft. I expect the team to follow most of these rules, and will therefore use them in my mock drafts:

  • Stay put in the 1st round and draft two of CB/OL/WR
  • Trade up for CB/OL/WR with the 2nd round pick
  • Trade both 3rd round picks
  • Select an athletic edge rusher in the 3rd or 4th round
  • Make at least 3 combined 6th/7th round picks
  • Draft an LB on Day 3
  • Do not draft a TE, QB, RB, K, P, or LS
  • Make at least 10 total picks

Vikings’ Picks

The Vikings currently have the following 2020 Draft Picks

  • Round 1 – 22 Overall
  • Round 1 – 25 Overall
  • Round 2 – 58 Overall
  • Round 3 – 89 Overall
  • Round 3 – 105 Overall
  • Round 4 – 132 Overall
  • Round 5 – 155 Overall
  • Round 6 – 201 Overall
  • Round 6 – 205 Overall
  • Round 7 – 219 Overall
  • Round 7 – 249 Overall
  • Round 7 – 253 Overall

The mock drafts will be posted tomorrow morning.

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