Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
As always, the most important part is the people that are involved in this process because without their work, their dedication, how hard they work at this thing, we could not do, and I could not do this draft alone. It starts off with our support staff from our doctors to Eric Sugarman, our trainer, to Kelly Wilske, to our IT department, all the way down the line to our psychologists. Everybody is such a key part to this thing because what they give back determines a lot of the direction that we’re going to go with these players, but the most important piece to all this is our coaches and our scouts. I can tell you this, Coach [Leslie] Frazier, our entire coaching staff, has put in a significant amount of time, even more than ever because of the two picks we have in the first round. We had coaches out as late as last week going out to do some things with some players. Because of the situation we’re in with the needs that we have and the direction we can go, and they’re 8,000 different scenarios I’ll talk to you about that we can go in, our coaches put in a lot of time and effort into this. The whole key to this thing is definitely Scott Studwell, our college scouts and George Paton and the time they put into it because those are the guys that put this all together, that sets everything up as we go forward. I know those guys up there right now, we had another meeting for four hours today hammering through different scenarios, different hot spots, not only in the first round, but potential things we can do throughout the draft, and just looking at their faces right now you can tell everybody is just tired of me. Tired of me asking questions, tired of me asking questions, not for the first time, but probably for the 500th time, ‘what are you we doing on this? Are we sure about this?’ It goes all the way down, but I know by the time Thursday comes around, and I know where we’re at right now, that everybody in this organization will be on the same page and we’re going to pick the best players we think we can pick that are going to be best for the Minnesota Vikings. Two other quick notes before I take questions, just to make a side note, Coach Frazier and myself will be doing something tomorrow with Heads Up Football with a bunch of youth football coaches. That’s something that’s an initiative of the NFL and that Coach Frazier, myself and our ownership take very seriously and want to be heavily involved in. The other thing is, I think we may have one our needs filled. I want to make an announcement for a potential signing, but it may only be for one day. We’re going to sign Pat Williams back as our nose tackle and then retire him as a Minnesota Viking. We’re very excited about that. Pat has meant, not only what he’s done on the field but off the field, he’s one of the great all-time leaders and great all-time players here for the Minnesota Vikings. There will be more to come on that. I know he’s going to be involved at our draft party down there [Mall of American Field]. We’ll sign him to a contract on Thursday and unfortunately we’re going to have to release him on Friday.
Q: You mentioned there’s 8,000 different scenarios, is there more uncertainty to the first round this year because no one knows how to handle the quarterbacks, all the injury plagues, the Jets trade?
A: I think this is going to be one of the most intriguing drafts that I’m going to be associated with because of the depth of the draft. To be honest with you, where we’re picking at 23 and 25, we’re looking at all our needs from the whole defensive side of the ball to needs on the offensive side of the ball, trying to distinguish what makes this potential receiver better than this corner, better than this linebacker, better than this defensive end, better than this defensive tackle. A lot of it will be predicated on who comes down to us, I think, and what happens with the quarterbacks. We’ve prepared ourselves for what if they’re no quarterbacks taken before our pick and what kind of scenario could we be facing. The phone has been, whether you believe me or not, I’m telling you it’s been the most active it’s been in awhile because of where we’re picking. I don’t know the reason why, but there are a lot of teams potentially jockeying from the top of that second round, there’s some teams jockeying potentially in the bottom of the first round to come up to one our picks at 23 or 25. That’s something that we’re going to be very open to because I think if we decide to go ahead and trade back in this draft, because of the depth at the positions of need that we have, we can still get a very similar player and potentially pick up some things either this year or next year.
Q: In your mock drafts how many different players have you seen on the board when you pick?
A: It’s kind of like putting Rubik’s Cube together. There are, I can literally say, two to three, sometimes four players that we’ve hammered through and I can tell you yesterday we were in with the defensive coaches and hammering through that one more time. What is the significance between it? The end result, by the time we got finished with the defense and offense and with the scouts, I can honestly say whoever we end up with I do know that they’ll be a major part of this franchise and a major part of this football team next year and going forward. The other thing that I will tell you about is because of the depth of this draft and if there is less depth at one position, we may take that position over another position where there is more depth at, even though those players may be equal in ability. The other thing I’m looking at very hard is where are depth is in 2014, as well. If there’s a player there that may not have as significant of a role in 2013, but can have a tremendous impact for our team in 2014 that is definitely going to come into consideration as well.
Q: Is the likelihood stronger that you would trade back, rather than trade up to get an earlier pick?
A: I don’t see us, right now, looking to move up in the first round, but that could change.
Q: You mentioned a couple times the depth of this draft. Does that make the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds that much more important this year?
A: I think so, but to me they’re important every year. There isn’t a draft that you don’t think your fifth round pick is not as important as your first round pick. You always have that mentality on who you’re picking, wherever you’re picking that you want that guy to make your football team and you want that guy to help you win ball games regardless of what round he’s in because once the draft is over, no one really cares what round they came in. You guys will write, but who cares if he’s a fifth rounder or if he’s a third rounder or if he’s a first rounder if he’s out there helping our team win football games that’s what we’re trying to do.
Q: Are you guys doing anything different mechanically in terms of how you stack your board horizontally and vertically?
A: Nope, just a lot more options this year.
Q: How many players have you tagged potential Pro Bowlers and potential starters?
A: I won’t give you those. I wish I could predict that. I know we try to predict. I’m just trying to predict if the guy fits what we want from a football character standpoint, from a football player standpoint and from an off-field standpoint. We’ve had a lot of discussions on guys in this draft that may have off-field issues or has had off-field issues. We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time going to these players and out to visit with them individually, having our experts in those areas visit with them individually, whether they were here at our facility or we went out there. Guys that had issues, I could tell you we have been with them three or four times this spring. Now I’m not going to tell you what decisions we made on those players, but I feel comfortable enough to say that we would definitely feel comfortable with that player, or we’re not. Just because you guys read in the papers that they must be very interested in this player because they’ve visited with him, or went to dinner with him, or went to do this, or do that. That has nothing to do with whether we’re going to take the guy or not, it’s more honing in and making the decision on if the guy is the right fit or not the right fit.
Q: Are there more red-flag guys this year?
A: I wouldn’t say anymore than usual.
Q: Do you talk with guys on your existing roster that played with certain players in college about them and how important is that?
A: We’ve visited with some of them, we’ve visited with coaches, we’ve visited with a lot of people. I also know when you’re visiting with a player, or visiting a coach, or you’re on campus visiting with someone, take everything into account and you have to take it with a grain of salt, too, because some may see no holes. I’ve been on campuses where guys see too many holes where I didn’t agree with what they were telling me either so you just take all that information into account to come up with your decision.
Q: What kind of level of knowledge or comfort do you have in regard to the draft class of 2014?
A: To be honest with you, I couldn’t tell you who is coming out in ’14, haven’t even looked at it. We’ll start that process in May. I just know if there is a significant player at a position in ’13 that I know can be a significant player for us in ’14 and a potential starter, that has to come into play. I don’t know where we’re going to pick in ’14, who’s going to be available in ’14, so they will definitely come into play and they’ll come into play early.
Q: How good are the linemen, the offense and defense, and are they going to define that first round overall?
A: Yeah, I think both this offensive and defensive line class is very deep. I think the safety class is very deep, I think the corner class is very deep, I think the receiver class is very deep and I think the linebacker class is very deep. So, that’s why I feel very comfortable saying that let’s just take the best player available because I know we’re going to get a swing at a potentially significant player in the second round, in the third round, and it think they’ll be some significant players with both our fourth round picks as well.
Q: As your monitor runs at some of those positions with great depth, how do you walk that tight rope between waiting and being that team that actually starts the run at a position?
A: You just kind of take a feel for it and then knowing those teams needs. Last year it was the run on the kickers. It went two [kickers]; 5th, 5th and then we knew we had to take Blair [Walsh] to 6th [round] or we weren’t going to get a swing at him. It was the run on the corners, bottom of the second top of the third, and we end up getting Josh Robinson because the Montana kid and Vanderbilt kid both went to Green Bay right before that. Those are things that you may go in planning to say, ‘Hey, let’s wait to see if we can get him in a second or third round’, but all of the sudden there’s a run on him. Then you say, ‘Well we better take him now or else we’re probably not going to, may not get another swipe at a guy we like later. There are always those different runs that happen during the draft and you have to be very flexible. You can have a pregame plan but you have to be flexible once the draft starts.
Q: Have any of your scenarios come up where somebody slides and you actually take the same position of those two first round picks, presuming you stay with the two?
A: Maybe, maybe not.
Q: What position is that?
A: All of them.
Q: Do any of these defensive tackles compare to Kevin Williams when he was coming out?
A: Yeah, there are a lot of good defensive tackles. I don’t want to compare any of these players to Kevin Williams because I think Kevin Williams is one of the greatest defensive tackles to play that under position I know here with the Minnesota Vikings, but maybe one of the best players to play that position in the NFL through his career. I wish I could predict that. I don’t know that but I know we feel very strongly about a lot of these defensive tackles in this draft.
Q: Since Kevin Williams was taken, the Vikings haven’t taken a defensive tackle above the fourth round. As you’re putting your board together, has there been any of those tackles that have fallen that you just couldn’t pass on?
Q: With the obvious hole at middle linebacker, what are the top qualities you’re looking for with the guys you look at in this draft?
A: Besides everything we feel about the chemistry and everybody we want to bring in the locker room from a football standpoint. I know from a schematic standpoint we’re trying to get a three-down linebacker, a guy that has the athletic skill set to play all three downs. I know you see the cover-2 in a lot of stuff that we do on defense. Can he flip his hips and cover down a seam, do a lot of things like that?
Q: Is Erin [Henderson] strictly still on the will at this point?
A: No, that’s flexible. That depends what happens in the draft. What if we go outside and Erin can slide inside? What if we go inside and Erin can play outside? That’s what is great about this linebacker thing; we have the flexibility to go either way.
Q: With 11 draft picks, how much flexibility does that allow you, should you want to make a trade?
A: I think that’s why we try to do that, to have as many of those draft picks as we can. As we go through this draft, don’t be surprised if we accumulate more. Because like I said, if I think we can move down to X spot in the first round and still get the same quality of player and accumulate another pick or accumulate another pick for next year, we’ll definitely be looking to do that.
Q: Is there a point for you this year where you’d say, ‘We have too many players coming in, we don’t have enough spots to put them on the roster this year?’
A: No because like I said, the best thing we can do is bring in the best players possible to create the best competition possible. If you bring that in, then you have everybody pushing to make the 53. You want those 53 decisions to be very hard decisions. That’s what we’re trying to do. I never go into a draft saying, ‘Well we feel very comfortable with this position, let’s not take a guy because we feel comfortable’. You can’t predict an injury; you can’t predict anything like that. That’s why you bring in the best guy and let him compete and then keep the best. That’s only going to continue to make your football team better.
Q: What have you learned about this years class that has changed since the combine?
A: I’ve learned a lot more about what these players are made of. I learned a lot more now that we have the coaches’ evaluations involved from a schematic standpoint; if they can fit, if they can’t fit. We put a value on those players. We keep them in the same areas of the draft, but if one is a better schematic fit than the other, we can kind of jockey that a little bit. That’s just tying everything in that we have in place now that we had before the combine. Plus, we have all the medicals and all the ancillary things that we do now. Now that’s all in place and ready to roll.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing, with Christian Ponder when you took him and with quarterbacks in general; what do you look for when you go through that assessment of that position?
A: Just the continual progression of him getting more comfortable out there. There is no doubt, I think in anyone’s mind, where Ponder kind of started out and then dipped a little bit. But for him to do what he did those last four games and to do that last game under those circumstances with all the criticism coming his way and him to perform like he did, I think that’s what you’re seeing if he can take the next step and build off of that.
Q: Were you try to bring in a player that is just like somebody who is no longer here so that what was developed last year can continue?
A: No, I mean we try to fit players into our scheme. If they’re not an ideal fit from what we’re trying to accomplish from a scheme standpoint, and that comes back on the coaches when the coaches’ opinions come in. We can say, ‘This guys is not going to be as good of player in this scheme. As he goes to another scheme he’s probably going to be a better player because that suits his skill set better.’
Q: As you go through your scenarios do you kind of envision the other teams, there may be a lot of jockeying going on in that first round?
A: Oh yeah, I think it’s going to be a very active trade, this years draft in the first round.
Q: How does the small college crop look, even the Ivy League guys, it seems like there are more in this draft?
A: Yeah, there are some rumors out there about some guys that didn’t go to the combine that were there. There are a couple very good Ivy League players this year. Kevin Murphy, the offensive tackle from Harvard. Those guys, you know when you watch those guys on tape you’re projecting a little bit. The one thing that does pop out a little bit, and we’ve done this with some players as well, is okay you’ve seen maybe one of these small school corners and seen him against that level of competition. Then all of the sudden he pops up at the Senior Bowl and he just plays lights out at the Senior Bowl. All of the sudden that solidifies something in your mind that yeah, this guy is on the move and this guy has a chance to be a pretty good player. We don’t really down grade guys at those All-Star games, but we have elevated some guys once they got to that level of competition and maybe did not see that level of competition during their collegiate career.