Looking at Rick Spielman’s Draft “Hit Rate”
The Minnesota Vikings have been up and down since general manager Rick Spielman took over the team’s roster in 2012. Since then, the Vikings have a record of 79-63-2 regular season, have reached the playoffs four times, have a playoff record of 2-4 and have reached as far as the NFC Championship game.
In that time, the Vikings have undergone many identity changes, especially on the offensive side of the ball. With the team coming off a 7-9 season in 2020, Spielman needs a solid draft to continue rebuilding what was once a historic defense while maintaining an offense that put up some big numbers last season, despite a patchwork offensive line.
In order to tell what the chances of that happening are, we’re going to look at every one of Spielman’s drafts and decide his hit rate, and how long it took players to make an impact.
2012- (3/10 Hits/Total Picks)
Matt Kalil had an excellent rookie year, but never had another successful NFL season. Harrison Smith is a borderline Hall of Famer, if he snags a ring playing a somewhat major role, he’ll be in. While Jarius Wright and Rhett Ellison played key roles in the Vikings successes over the mid-2010’s.
However there’s one man that will live in Vikings infamy for all-time in the 2012 class. Blair. Walsh. This moment is one of the split decisions between Vikings faithful that has turned into a festering wound. Walsh had an excellent rookie season, setting the NFL mark for field goals made over 50+ yards, with nine.
Following this excellent campaign, Walsh experienced some ups and downs, but was still a solid NFL kicker. That is, until January 10, 2016. Vikings fans are somewhat relentlessly bullied by their kickers, especially in the postseason. Walsh appeared ready to take the Vikings to the next round of the playoffs with a simple 27-yard field goal following an excellent drive by Teddy Bridgewater and the offense.
Vikings fans no how this movie ends. Wide left and Walsh turns from a hit and the future of the franchise at kicker to shuffling out the door with a massive case of the yips.
- Pick 1,4 – Matt Kalil, OL, USC (Miss)
- Pick 1,29 – Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame (Hit)
- Pick 3,66 – Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida (Miss)
- Pick 4,118 – Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas (Hit)
- Pick 4,128 – Rhett Ellison, TE, USC (Hit)
- Pick 4,134 – Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas (Miss)
- Pick 5,139 – Robert Blanton, S, Notre Dame (Miss)
- Pick 6,175 – Blair Walsh, K, Georgia (Miss)
- Pick 7,210 – Audie Cole, LB, NC State (Miss)
- Pick 7,219 – Trevor Guyton, DL, California (Miss)
2013 had all the makings of an amazing draft class for Minnesota, with three first round picks when all was said and done. However, Medical issues kept Sharrif Floyd from living up to his extremely high ceiling. Xavier Rhodes became one of the best corners in the NFL for a couple seasons, but Cordarrelle Patterson never lived up to his hype outside of as a kick returner.
This could have been the draft class that carried Minnesota to the promised land, but instead it’s a black mark on Spielman’s record.
- Pick 1.23 – Sharrif Floyd, DL, Florida (Miss)
- Pick 1.25 – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State (Hit)
- Pick 1.29 – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (Miss)
- Pick 4.120 – Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State (Miss)
- Pick 5,155 – Jeff Locke, P, UCLA (Miss)
- Pick 5.196 – Jeff Baca, OL, UCLA (Miss)
- Pick 7.213 – Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State (Miss)
- Pick 7.214 – Travis Bond, OL, North Carolina (Miss)
- Pick 7.229 – Everett Dawkins, DL, Florida State (Miss)
The 2014 class has a few decent hits like pro-bowl linebacker Anthony Barr, even if he is a polarizing figure in the current Vikings fan base, and Jerick McKinnon who helped bridge the gap between the greatest running back in team history and Dalvin Cook. Even though he turned out to be pretty mediocre, Shamar Stephen has had a solid career for the team for a seventh round pick.
The biggest problem with this class is the unfortunate case of Teddy Bridgewater. Lauded as the future of the franchise, Bridgewater seemed to be living up to his hype. That is until a freak injury almost took his ability to play football away forever.
Bridgewater worked his way back to the game and even started last season for the Carolina Panthers. He’s now looking like he’ll be moved with the arrival of Sam Darnold, but it’s an incredible story so far. With his not being in Minnesota and not panning out as their QB of the future, he’s a miss, but one that lives on in the hearts of Vikings fans.
- Pick 1.9 – Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (Hit)
- Pick 1.32 – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Miss)
- Pick 3.72 – Scott Crichton, EDGE, Oregon State (Miss)
- Pick 3.96 – Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern (Hit)
- Pick 5.145 – David Yankey, OL, Stanford (Miss)
- Pick 6.182 – Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech (Miss)
- Pick 6.184 – Kendall James, CB, Maine (Miss)
- Pick 7.220 – Shamar Stephen, DL, Connecticut (Hit)
- Pick 7.223 – Brandon Watts, LB, Georgia Tech (Miss)
- Pick 7.225 – Jabari Price, CB, North Carolina (Miss)
The 2015 draft class is really one of Spielman’s best. Trae Waynes never became the best corner on the team, but he never had to with Rhodes on the roster. He played a solid role as second fiddle on some excellent defenses.
Speaking of defenses, the Vikings defense wouldn’t be what they are without Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter. Both are quickly making their way to team legend statuses and are probably the two biggest hits in Spielman’s time as GM.
Oh, and they also drafted a little wide receiver named Stefon Diggs, who just happens to have the best play in team history.
- Pick 1.11 – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State (Hit)
- Pick 2.45 – Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA (Hit)
- Pick 3.88 – Danielle Hunter, EDGE, LSU (Hit)
- Pick 4.110 – T.J. Clemmings, OL, Pittsburgh (Miss)
- Pick 5.143 – MyCole Pruitt, TE, Southern Illinois (Miss)
- Pick 5.146 – Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland (Hit)
- Pick 6.185 – Tyrus Thompson, OL, Oklahoma (Miss)
- Pick 6.193 – B.J. Dubose, DL, Louisville (Miss)
- Pick 7.228 – Austin Shepherd, OL, Alabama (Miss)
- Pick 7.232 – Edmond Robinson, LB, Newberry (Miss)
In 2016, Spielman made a lot of small hits, and one big whiff. Solid role players like David Morgan, Stephen Weatherly, and special teams ace Jayron Kearse litter the last couple rounds. Even Mack Alexander has been a solid slot corner and has just made his return to the team.
The biggest issue with this class is Laquon Treadwell. He was supposed to be the big-bodied redzone target the team needed. However, he only scored twice as a Viking and never tallied more than 302 yards in a season. This earns him the label of “biggest bust” for many Vikings fans, and I can’t really disagree.
- Pick 1.23 – Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (Miss)
- Pick 2.54 – Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson (Hit)
- Pick 4.121 – Willie Beavers, OL, Western Michigan (Miss)
- Pick 5.160 – Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri (Miss)
- Pick 6.180 – Moritz Bohringer, WR, Germany (Miss)
- Pick 6.188 – David Morgan, TE, UTSA (Hit)
- Pick 7.227 – Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt (Hit)
- Pick 7.244 – Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson (Hit)
A class that is headlined by one of the current best running backs in the NFL. Dalvin Cook may be the big name here, but Jaleel Johnson, Ben Gedeon, and Ifeadi Odenigbo have all played roles on Vikings defenses. When you consider their draft positions, you realize that they came out much better than expected.
- Pick 2.41 – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State (Hit)
- Pick 3.70 – Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State (Miss)
- Pick 4.109 – Jaleel Johnson, DL, Iowa (Hit)
- Pick 4.120 – Ben Gedeon, LB, Michigan (Hit)
- Pick 5.170 – Rodney Adams, WR, South Florida (Miss)
- Pick 5.180 – Danny Isidora, OL, Miami (Miss)
- Pick 6.201 – Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech (Miss)
- Pick 7.219 – Stacy Coley, WR, Miami (Miss)
- Pick 7.220 – Ifeadi Odenigbo, EDGE, Northwestern (Hit)
- Pick 7.232 – Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State (Miss)
- Pick 7.245 – Jack Tocho, CB, NC State (Miss)
Technically the jury is still out on the 2018 class, especially Mike Hughes, but I’m pretty confident in most of these calls. O’Neill has been a pleasant surprise, something that the Minnesota offensive line hasn’t really had in the Spielman era. Tyler Conklin and Jalyn Holmes both played bigger roles in 2020 and did well enough relative to their draft position.
Daniel Carlson lasted a whole two weeks as a Viking before a three miss performance in a tie at Lambeau Field got him cut. Everybody else in this class has had zero impact.
- Pick 1.30 – Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida (Miss)
- Pick 2.62 – Brian O’Neill, OL, Pittsburgh (Hit)
- Pick 4.102 – Jalyn Holmes, DL, Ohio State (Hit)
- Pick 5.157 – Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan (Hit)
- Pick 5.167 – Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn (Miss)
- Pick 6.213 – Colby Gossett, OL, Appalachian State (Miss)
- Pick 6.218 – Ade Aruna, DL, Tulane (Miss)
- Pick 7.225 – Devante Downs, LB, California (Miss)
Take these next two classes with a huge grain of salt because we don’t know how well some of these are going to end up working out, we only know how they’ve worked out so far.
2019’s class is so far all role players. Irv Smith Jr may be poised to break that label this season with Kyle Rudolph gone. He has flashed some skill as a vertical threat tight end the past couple seasons, but is still looking for his breakout campaign.
Alexander Mattison is an excellent second punch to Dalvin Cook and has been a lot better than expected so far. Armon Watts hasn’t been exceptional, but has been solid enough to justify his draft position.
Kris Boyd has made a big impact on special teams and has started to flash some skills as a depth corner. Certainly he may be the biggest hit relative to draft position in this class. Finally, Olabisi Johnson has already been a solid target when others have gone down with injury.
The problem with this class is that another offensive lineman drafted high by Spielman and company isn’t working out yet. Garrett Bradbury was supposed to shore up the middle of the offensive line and give the zone blocking scheme the leader it needed. However, he’s been pretty mediocre. It doesn’t help that he’s essentially had tackling dummies next to him his first two seasons in the league, but that doesn’t fully excuse poor play.
- Pick 1.18 – Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State (Miss)
- Pick 2.50 – Irv Smith Jr, TE, Alabama (Hit)
- Pick 3.102 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State (Hit)
- Pick 4.114 – Dru Samia, OL, Oklahoma (Miss)
- Pick 5.162 – Cameron Smith, LB, USC (Miss)
- Pick 6.190 – Armon Watts, DT, Arkansas (Hit)
- Pick 6.191 – Marcus Epps, S, Wyoming (Miss)
- Pick 7.217 – Kris Boyd, CB, Texas (Hit)
- Pick 7.239 – Dillon Mitchell, WR, Oregon (Miss)
- Pick 7.247 – Olabisi Johnson, WR, Colorado State (Hit)
- Pick 7.250 – Austin Cutting, LS, Air Force (Miss)
Spielman went a little crazy in 2020, stockpiling pick up on pick in the later round. Funnily enough, none of those late rounders have made an impact on the field, yet.
However, the early rounds are filled with players who have already made a difference on the field and are looking to grow in 2021. Justin Jefferson was arguably the best rookie in the NFL in 2020 and put up historic numbers for a first-year receiver.
Ezra Cleveland looked decent enough compared to the atrocious other offensive linemen in Minnesota. DJ Wonnum and James Lynch both played depth rolls on the defensive line with Wonnum actually sealing the Vikings win in Green Bay with a strip sack of Aaron Rodgers.
Troy Dye and Harrison Hand both played a decent amount and were spots of hope on an abysmal defense by the end of the season. Jeff Gladney looked okay when he was on the field, but he is currently embroiled in legal troubles among some very serious accusations of felony assault.
Possibly the biggest surprise has been Cam Dantzler. He was worked over in the Vikings one point Monday Night Football loss to the Seahawks, but got better and better as the year went on and finished 2021 as possibly the best Vikings cover corner. If he can keep growing, he might be the steal of this class.
- Pick 1.22 – Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU (Hit)
- Pick 1.31 – Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU (Miss)
- Pick 2.58 – Ezra Cleveland, OL, Boise State (Hit)
- Pick 3.89 – Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State (Hit)
- Pick 4.117 – D.J. Wonnum, DE, South Carolina (Hit)
- Pick 4.130 – James Lynch, DT, Baylor (Hit)
- Pick 4.132 – Troy Dye, LB, Oregon (Hit)
- Pick 5.169 – Harrison Hand, CB, Temple (Hit)
- Pick 5.176 – K.J. Osborn, WR, Miami (Miss)
- Pick 6.203 – Blake Brandel, OT, Oregon State (Miss)
- Pick 6.205 – Josh Metellus, S, Michigan (Miss)
- Pick 7.224 – Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan State(Miss)
- Pick 7.244 – Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa (Miss)
- Pick 7.249 – Brian Cole II, S, Mississippi State (Miss)
- Pick 7.253 – Kyle Hinton, OL, Washburn (Miss)
Spielman loves stockpiling picks in the later rounds, but most of his success has come in the early rounds. Of the 34 hits in his nine seasons as GM, 15 have come in the first three rounds. If we include the fourth round, that number jumps to 21.
It’s good to remember that most picks in the later rounds are going to fail, but that doesn’t mean they were bad picks. Hindsight is a hell of a thing, but when you hit the fifth-seventh rounds, you’re really taking chances on potential and hoping for the best.
Where Spielman has really failed has been building the Vikings a consistent offensive line. On this list there are two offensive lineman that are hits, Ezra Cleveland and Brian O’Neill. While O’Neill is established enough that I feel safe in calling him a hit, Cleveland has played sparingly so far and alongside some of the game’s worst linemen. This might mean that he’s actually a miss, but just looks okay because of bad play around him.
It is obvious that Spielman is hesitant to spend too high of a draft pick on an offensive lineman, especially after being burned by Matt Kalil. However, if he wants the Vikings to have a chance at the Super Bowl, he needs to figure out how to find some decent offensive linemen through the draft.
On thedraftteam.com, we’re hoping to analyze all of the NFL’s GMs and front offices in the coming year in preparation for the 2022 NFL Draft.