Rick Spielman settled himself in front of the robotic camera that the Vikings have used for nearly all media sessions inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for the better part of the year while the sixth — yes, sixth! — round of the NFL Draft was still ticking.
The Vikings general manager was done drafting for 2021, stopping with his 11th selection this year, but not done for the day. Spielman and the personnel department then shifted their focus to being ready to reach out to college free agents from the Thomson Reuters Draft Room.
It was the first time since 2008 that the Vikings did not make at least one selection in the seventh round of a draft.
One might think this the latest moment in strange times, perhaps even a view from Bizarro World, but Minnesota's early conclusion was more a product of multiple factors. Primarily, the field of players was reduced in number by the COVID-19 pandemic when many players opted to return to school, and the Vikings had made four selections in the third round on Friday.
One year after Minnesota set an NFL Draft record by making 15 selections in a seven-round format, which was accomplished by a dizzying array of trading down, Spielman generally stayed put. He set a personal record (since 2012 as GM) for fewest draft-day trades in a year with one.
The one he did make, going from 14 to 23 and picking up the No. 66 and 86 overall selections from the Jets, appears to be a big one. It could be even bigger in a couple of years, but that will be up to what tackle Christan Darrisaw (No. 23 pick), quarterback Kellen Mond (No. 66) and guard Wyatt Davis (86) do as Vikings.
Spielman explained how 2020 later rounds had been part of the strategy to get a jump on college free agency when the personnel department was working remotely. This year, however, he saw the strength of the draft in the middle rounds and remained patient in staying there.
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings efforts in the 2021 NFL Draft.
2020 seemed to matter | By Craig Peters
All but the final two of Minnesota's 11 selections were able to participate in the 2020 season.
The exceptions were tight end Zach Davidson, whose Central Missouri team did not play because of COVID-19, and defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, who opted out and focused on draft prep.
Spielman was asked Thursday if seeing Darrisaw play for Virginia Tech in 2020 might have given him an edge over other prospects and said it was "big."
"We saw him play against some pretty good competition in the ACC," Spielman said. "That helps with the evaluation because when we're looking at all these guys that had opted out, you're basically going off of what you saw in '19 and then not seeing them unless they did show up down at the Senior Bowl for practices and stuff."
Of course there can be exceptions to the rule, particularly with the type of production Davidson (15 receiving touchdowns) and Twyman (10.5 sacks) posted in 2019 and their unique athletic traits that the Vikings valued.
View college action photos of every Vikings pick from the 2021 NFL Draft.
A new approach up front | By Eric Smith
The Vikings continued their approach to building a young and talented offensive line, as Minnesota took a pair of linemen in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Darrisaw and Davis, who played at Ohio State, add to a recent trend of linemen taken in the first 90 picks or better, a group that includes Brian O'Neill (62nd in 2018), Garrett Bradbury (19th in 2019) and Ezra Cleveland (58th in 2020).
View behind-the-scenes images of first round draft pick Virginia Tech T Christian Darrisaw as he met the Vikings organization for the first time at TCO Performance Center.
But Darrisaw and Davis don't fit the prototypical mold the Vikings have aimed for of late, which are athletic and rangy linemen who excel on the move.
Darrisaw and Davis can play that way, yes, but they both bring some power to the field, too. Darrisaw is 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds, while Davis is 6-4 and 315.
Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has altered his flavor of what kind of lineman he's looking for.
"There was pretty much a directive from Zim', going into scouting this fall and throughout the season, 'Let's get bigger up front,' " Stephenson said. "That was the directive."
But wanting that and finding that, Stephenson said, are two different things.
"It's difficult. It really is," Stephenson said. "Because typically, the smaller lineman is the more athletic lineman. That's why we were so excited to land these two guys, because we feel like they have that combination of size and athleticism."
Spielman added: "We wanted to try to add some size up front. So the two offensive linemen … not only give us more size up front … but we felt they fit the athletic mode we're looking for. So to get some size around Bradbury is going to be a benefit to him. And now you got some guys who, wherever they line up, we're going to have a lot of size. But all these guys have some athleticism to go with that size, as well."
There's a chance that both Darrisaw and Davis could start early on as rookies. If they do, it's because they are not only athletic enough to run the Vikings offensive scheme, but because they also bring some power to the field.
A fresh face at quarterback | By Eric Smith
There is zero doubt that Kirk Cousins will be the Vikings starting quarterback in 2021. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said as much Friday night.
"Kirk's our starting quarterback," Spielman said. "There's no competition there."
But for the first time in a while, Minnesota also has an exciting young quarterback that was acquired using a Day 2 pick or better.
Mond is the first Vikings quarterback to be drafted in the third round since Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton in 1961. And he's the first quarterback to be picked by Minnesota in the first three rounds since Teddy Bridgewater was a first-rounder in 2014.
Stephenson actually compared Minnesota's new quarterback to a former one.
"His frame is probably more like a Teddy Bridgewater and the way that he's built," Stephenson said. "Maybe a little bit better athlete than Teddy in terms of just straight-ahead speed. He's got a good, strong arm. He's got a lot of tools to develop."
And Mond will certainly have time to develop, as Cousins isn't going anywhere. In fact, one of the most interesting storylines of training camp now centers around a trio of young quarterbacks.
Mond will join 2019 undrafted free agent Jake Browning and 2020 seventh-rounder Nate Stanley behind Cousins. The latter two players have plenty of promise but were hampered by a lack of preseason games in 2020.
With Mond now in the fold, there will be plenty of eyes on the Vikings backup quarterback situation going forward.
"We're going to see how all three evolve," Spielman said. "I think the most exciting thing is to actually see them in preseason games this year. They'll all be here through the OTAs.
"I know Jake and Nate are here right now. They've been working out extremely hard," Spielman added. "Then we'll get Kellen in here. Then let's just see how everything evolves."
Replenishing free agency losses | By Lindsey Young
NFL teams change during every free agency period, and Minnesota's roster was no exception this year.
The Vikings added difference makers like defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and cornerback Patrick Peterson. They also saw the departure of defensive players, however, including defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo (Giants), safety Anthony Harris (Eagles) and linebacker Eric Wilson (Eagles).
Minnesota replenished some of those positions throughout the draft, starting with North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt with the 78th overall pick. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber joined the Minnesota Vikings Podcast Friday to discuss the team's Day 2 moves and spoke highly of Surratt, who excelled after converting from quarterback to linebacker with the Tar Heels.
"As much respect as you can give a player for his toughness, the way he's adapted to playing a position on a different side of the ball," Leber said. "I'm excited to see what this guy can do. He's not afraid to blitz. He knows how to get downhill and be disruptive. He does have to learn to cover guys a little bit better, but he's got the athleticism and the toughness you're looking for."
The Vikings also added to their defensive line room with defensive end Janarius (pronounced juh-narr-iss) Robinson (No. 134) and a pair of Pittsburgh teammates: defensive end Patrick Jones II (No. 90 overall) and Twyman.
Spielman said it will be "fun" watching the defensive end competition during training camp this summer.
"It will be a pretty good battle. … Both those kids, Patrick Jones and Robinson, have the ideal length that we look for, the ideal athleticism that we look for, the wing span, and the twitch. Those are the type of kids that Andre Patterson loves to work with," Spielman said. "You pair them with Stephen Weatherly. You put in D.J. Wonnum, who we drafted last year, you're going to see at training camp they all look identical when they come out. They're all 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 guys. They're all lean, 270-pound guys with very long arms and very good athletes.
"Andre Patterson, once he stands on the table for someone, you've got to respect what he's saying because he knows what he's looking at in some of these athletic – I don't want to call them projects, but these type of guys that have a lot of upside to develop," he added.
In the secondary, Minnesota made an intriguing selection of Camryn Bynum, who played cornerback at Cal but will transition to safety at the NFL level.
Making special teams moves | By Lindsey Young
The Vikings seemingly bolstered their special teams unit throughout the draft, as well.
It's not uncommon for later-round picks to anticipate starting out on special teams. However, a few of the players Minnesota selected have particularly stood out in that phase of the game.
The Vikings selected running back Kene Nwangwu, who excelled as a kick returner at Iowa State, at No. 119, as well as Iowa receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who averaged 22.0 yards on eight kickoff returns last season.
"I came in as a freshman, and I didn't start playing running back, I started doing kick returns," Nwangwu said. "As the years progressed and I found out that was my role, I wanted to develop my skills as a kick returner and be the best in the nation. I tried to do that and I became the best kick returner at Iowa State. So for me, the way I approach anything is if the Vikings want me to be a punt returner, I'm going to do the exact same thing I did at Iowa State. I'm ready for that."
Bynum mentioned during his media session that at the Senior Bowl, he met with Vikings Special Teams Coach Ryan Ficken. And just for good measure, Davidson punted throughout his collegiate career and has done some work at long snapping and place holding.
Spielman acknowledged the Vikings struggles on special teams last season and that players added this weekend could potentially help strengthen that area.
"When you have the type of athletes we were able to get in the third day of the draft here, nine times out of 10, those guys end up playing and performing well on special teams as they learn their craft at the position," Spielman said. "Anthony Harris was an example of that. We have a lot of young guys that actually start out at whatever role they're on this roster, but they contribute and make our special teams better. I know we wanted to put an emphasis on upgrading our return units, as well."
Spielman said the roster may not be at its full offseason limit of 90 after the initial wave of college free agents are signed and said Minnesota will place a priority on bringing in a kicker to compete with Greg Joseph.
"I can guarantee you we'll have kicking competition," Spielman said.