Throughout Rick Spielman’s tenure as general manager, the Minnesota Vikings have done well in the NFL Draft. They found late-round gems like Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter while adding quality talent in the early rounds to help build a core that reached the NFC Championship Game in 2017.
Spielman has succeeded in every round of the draft, but he’s done his best work in the second.
When he took over as general manager prior to the 2012 draft, he established an aggressive philosophy of going after top-tier players. The Vikings made seven first-round selections between 2012 and 2014, and with those picks, he acquired foundational players such as Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr.
First-round picks are a great way to rebuild a team. But in an ideal world, hitting on your first-round selection should be an expectation. Picking in the second round is significantly harder. Players who were expected to go in the first round can slide for several reasons. If a team were to pick the wrong player, they could miss an opportunity to add depth to their roster or even a new starter. This is where the best GMs pounce.
The Vikings ran into the best-case scenario with their second-round pick in 2015. Eric Kendricks was an undersized linebacker coming out of UCLA but quickly made his way into Minnesota’s starting lineup after being selected with the 45th-overall pick. He developed into an All-Pro in 2019 and is an integral piece of the Vikings’ defense.
After failing to record an interception during his two seasons as a starter for Clemson, Mackensie Alexander fell to the 54th pick in 2016. Alexander hasn’t become a shutdown corner, but he has excelled in the slot and is projected to play there after returning this offseason.
Dalvin Cook was a first-round talent coming out of Florida State, but character issues caused a fall to the second round. Cook has been a model citizen since the Vikings selected him with the 41st pick in 2017 and has become one of the best backs in the NFL.
Taking Brian O’Neill in the second round of the 2018 draft was good scouting by the Vikings. He began his collegiate career as a tight end at Pitt, and there was thought of him needing a redshirt year to add weight so he could play tackle. With several guards coming off the board earlier than expected, the Vikings took O’Neill with the 62nd-overall pick, and he’s become one of the lone bright spots on the offensive line.
The Vikings’ last two second-round selections are question marks heading into this season but are critical parts of the offense. Irv Smith Jr. was selected with the 50th-overall pick in the 2019 draft and will get an opportunity to start after Kyle Rudolph was released. And Ezra Cleveland fell to the 58th-overall pick last year. Even if he stays at guard, the Vikings added another talented player on the O-line in that draft.
The Vikings have made six second-round selections during Spielman’s tenure, and all of them have carved out a meaningful role. This performance should motivate the Vikings to recoup their second-round pick from the Yannick Ngakoue trade last September.
And then there’s also the landscape of this draft class. The Vikings have multiple options at 14, but some of them don’t provide optimal value. They don’t want to fall into the same trap they did in 2019 when they took Garrett Bradbury in the first round.
Bradbury has been a good player for the Vikings and fits their zone-based offense. While he projects to be a starter for the foreseeable future, they could have traded down or selected a player with more value. With Elgton Jenkins and Erik McCoy posting better Pro Football Focus grades than Bradbury each of the past two seasons, the Vikings didn’t get the maximum value they could have received with that pick.
The Vikings could take Kwity Paye or Alijah Vera-Tucker at 14, but they could be better off by taking a similar prospect later in the draft. According to The Draft Network’s prospect rankings, Paye, Jaelan Phillips and Azeez Ojulari are the only three prospects in the top 20. Those players could slip if five quarterbacks are taken in the top-10 picks of the draft.
The gap is more significant along the offensive line, where just three offensive tackles — Rashawn Slater, Penei Sewell and Christian Darrisaw — are ranked as first-round prospects. But other players such as North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi and Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins should be available in the second round.
The potential to get a second-round pick could be the difference between leaving the draft with a new toy for Mike Zimmer’s defense or adding a guard or tackle who could make the Vikings a better team.