Is Rick Spielman Part Of the Solution?

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski (USA TODAY Sports)

At 4-5, the Minnesota Vikings continue to hang on by the skin of their teeth for relevance within the NFC. And with the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers coming to town on Sunday, the pressure is on for Minnesota to put up or shut up once and for all. This season is proving to be a crucial one for general manager Rick Spielman and/or head coach Mike Zimmer. Safe to say, it hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Vikings’ brass.

Coming into the season, it’s fair to say that a majority of Vikings fans were in support of Spielman and his ability to effectively build Minnesota’s roster. While it’s no secret that Spielman has historically whiffed on almost every preseason trade he’s made throughout his career — including trading a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick for quarterback Sam Bradford — a majority of Skoldiers seem to believe that Spielman is a maestro when it comes to the NFL Draft.

However, after taking a look at Spielman’s track record throughout his career, the results of his drafts have clearly left a lot to be desired.

For this piece, I differentiated hits and misses by their overall impact on the Minnesota Vikings. Each player’s impact was determined by their Average PFF Grade throughout their career, whether or not their contract was extended past their rookie deal, and/or where they stacked up in comparison to other players at their position according to PFF.

Let’s start by revisiting Spielman’s track record when it comes to first-round draft picks.

Of the 14 players selected by Spielman in the first round, only three received a second contract with the Vikings. We should all know by now that draft picks are not created equal, and this level of futility in the first round can not be ignored. The table above doesn’t even account for the egregious trade that he signed off on in order to part ways with the ’17 first-rounder for Bradford.

For context, Mickey Loomis, the general manager of the New Orleans Saints, has drafted the following players in the first round since 2011:

Since 2011, Loomis has had 12 first-round picks. And with the seven unquestioned “hits,” that’s what success looks like in the first round of the NFL Draft. And in case the first round wasn’t enough, Loomis also drafted Pro Bowlers Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead, and Akiem Hicks outside of the first round.

Conversely, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are notoriously bad drafting out of the first round. Since 2014, he’s taken N’Keal Harry, Sony Michel, and Dominique Easley in the opening round. It’s easy to understand why Tom Brady had a wandering eye during his final years in New England. But unlike Spielman, the Patriots front office are among elite company at taking advantage of desperate trade partners. For example, the Patriots traded Randy Moss to the Vikings back in 2010for Minnesota’s third-round draft pick. Minnesota ended up cutting Moss less than 30 days later.

Circling back to Spielman’s unfavorable track record in the first round of drafts. Garrett Bradbury is classified as a miss because he’s ranked 26th, 24th, and 22nd amongst all NFL centers by PFF throughout his three seasons in the league. Which means he’s one of the worst starting centers throughout the entire league.

Mike Hughes is a miss because after three injury-riddled seasons with Minnesota where his grades ranged from 54.4 to 65.3, he is currently playing the best football of his career (according to PFF) in his first season with Kansas City with a grade of 71.9.

Trae Waynes is a miss because he graded as the 96th, 62nd, 60th, and 75th ranked cornerback throughout the league (according to PFF) from 2016 to 2019. Meaning that Waynes was one of the worst starting corners throughout the league, despite being picked 11th overall. Big miss.

Teddy Bridgewater, the Ricky Rubio of Vikings quarterbacks, is a miss because he spent just two seasons as Minnesota’s starting quarterback. “Teddy Two Gloves” was graded as the 13th and 22nd best quarterback throughout the league in 2014 and 2015 per PFF before the injury misfortune struck.

Next, let’s take a look at Spielman’s second round picks throughout his career.

A 50% hit-rate in the second round is clearly where Spielman can hang his hat on, after solidifying the roster with Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro caliber players Eric Kendricks and Dalvin Cook. But what’s head-scratching about the second round for Spielman is that he’s only made six picks in the round throughout his 10-year career as GM of the Vikings. Spielman most recently wasted Minnesota’s 2021 second-round pick in last season’s trade for Yannick Ngakoue.

Ezra Cleveland is a miss because he’s currently graded as the 72nd-ranked guard throughout the league, per PFF.

Mackensie Alexander is a miss because he graded as the 155th, 22nd, and 70th ranked corner from 2017 to 2019 per PFF. And after returning to Minnesota on a minimum contract in 2021, he currently ranks as the 182nd cornerback in the NFL today. While no one can argue against Alexander’s stellar 2018 season, one good year doesn’t excuse for career’s worth of below average football, especially with second-round draft capital.

Below you’ll see Spielman’s history in the third round.

Danielle Hunter is no question Spielman’s biggest hit in the third round — and probably his only real success story in the round. Outside of Hunter and a pair of backup running backs, Spielman’s third round is comprised of more whiffs than hits.

Despite grading as the 37th-ranked cornerback as a rookie last season, Cameron Dantzler is difficult to classify as anything but a miss when his own general manager feels inclined to sign both Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland in order to replace him in the starting lineup. As it stands so far this season, Dantzler is Minnesota’s highest graded corner per PFF, but is fourth in snaps played — trailing Peterson, Breeland, and Alexander.

And as the table below illustrates, all that Spielman has to show for success in the fourth round throughout his career is a WR3 and backup tight end.

Similar to Hunter in the third round, Stefon Diggs is the home run of Spielman’s career in the fifth round of the draft. And while K.J. Osborn has proven to be a reliable WR3 in his sophomore season, the rest of the fifth round is much ado about nothing throughout Spielman’s tenure.

Similar to Dantzler, Tyler Conklin is classified as a miss simply because of the actions from Minnesota’s front office. After spending his first handful years in the league as the third-string tight end, opportunity knocked for Conklin when Irv Smith Jr was lost for the year. With Conklin now in line to be Minnesota’s TE1 for the season, Spielman responded by trading Minnesota’s 2022 fourth round draft pick to the New York Jets for rarely used tight end Chris Herndon. Not exactly a vote of confidence in Conklin.

For the sake of being respectful to both yours and my time, I’ll spare you the information overload of Spielman’s struggles throughout his career in the final two rounds of the draft. I’ll put it this way, you won’t find a single player drafted in the sixth or seventh rounds that had any sort of impact on this franchise.

In total, Spielman is responsible for only 15 “hits” in the draft throughout his 10-year career.

And for those that want to point at Spielman uncovering “diamonds in the rough” such as undrafted free agents Adam Thielen and C.J. Ham, let’s not pretend that Spielman was anything other than the recipient of good fortune there. Do you honestly think the Vikings would’ve landed those guys if they were from Kansas City or Dallas instead of Detroit Lakes and Duluth?

As Skoldiers wrestle with the dilemma of replacing both Spielman and Zimmer come season’s end, be sure to think twice when considering this teams success in the NFL Draft.

When you factor in miss-rate throughout NFL Drafts, propensity for getting fleeced in trades by opposing GMs, and the minimal impact he’s had on building the roster through free agency, how much longer can the Vikings afford to operate with Spielman leading the front office?

With a win against the Packers on Sunday, Spielman should be able to breathe a little easier about his job security. Lose and fall to 4-6? Well, seats will continue to only get hotter.

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