EAGAN, Minn. — That draft was Spielman-sized.
Minnesota's haul of 15 picks was actually larger than any before by Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.
In fact, it set a record for the number of selections made by one team in a seven-round format of an NFL Draft (since 1994), topping the 1997 Dolphins and 2016 Browns classes that had 14 members apiece.
Never mind that the entire draft was held with Spielman, the personnel department and Vikings coaches scattered across the country in their homes, or that all public events in Las Vegas were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spielman saw the 12 selections he made last year and raised it another three. He entered the final day of the 2020 NFL Draft with 13 selections, thanks to a trade late Friday night. Minnesota wound up making 11 picks on Saturday while trading down a couple of times to add spots in the 2021 event.
The 11 choices tabbed in Rounds 4-7 joined a pair of first-rounders on Friday, plus one choice in the second round and another in the third.
Spielman told Twin Cities media members in his wrap-up video conference that he was unaware of breaking the NFL record.
"I never even thought of it to be honest with you. … All I knew is we were trying to manipulate the board. … It's great to have that many picks," Spielman said.
He noted that some uncertainty surrounded a new process of reaching agreements with undrafted free agents, which had a role in preserving draft capital.
"We had enough draft capital just to take guys that if we didn't have that much draft capital in those later rounds, we may not have gotten them as free agents," Spielman said. "So that was a little bit of a strategic thing we looked at, as well, especially during this year."
We'll bring you coverage of the undrafted free agents when we can, but here's a look at three main factors that prompted the Vikings to break the NFL record.
1. Plentiful Roster spots were available | By Craig Peters
The Vikings entered the draft with only 60 players on the roster, just two-thirds of the way to the 90-man offseason maximum, because of several departures during free agency last month that included cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, as well as Xavier Rhodes, who signed with Indianapolis after his contract was terminated.
Minnesota had plenty of job opportunities but not much wiggle room against the salary cap. Contracts of draft picks are generally set, which prevents a bidding battle.
Because all teams are not holding offseason programs in-person, there is a little less urgency to reach the 90-man max.
Teams were able to see how the draft played out and then revisit decisions on any remaining free agents based on needs not addressed during the draft.
2. The board fell in place | By Eric Smith
After drafting a wide receiver and a cornerback in the first round Thursday night, the chatter heading into Day 2 was that the Vikings would potentially need to use their strong draft capital to move up and get a player they coveted, particularly an offensive tackle.
That didn't happen Friday evening; instead, Boise State tackle Ezra Cleveland worked his way to the Vikings at No. 58, a scenario that likely thrilled Spielman and his staff.
The Vikings GM said as much Saturday night.
"I knew once we started seeing that Ezra Cleveland was going to fall to us … we got a young, talented offensive tackle that we're going to have under contract for the next four years," Spielman said.
There was similar talk among draft experts Saturday morning, as some guessed Spielman would need to use some of his 13 picks on Day 3, including three fourth-rounders, to move up and take an impact player early on the fourth round.
But once again, Minnesota felt it didn't need to make a move, instead choosing to stay put and draft solid defensive players at Nos. 117, 130 and 132.
South Carolina defensive end D.J. Wonnum was the first of those picks, followed by Baylor defensive tackle James Lynch and Oregon linebacker Troy Dye.
Again, Spielman felt the Vikings didn't need to move up, especially since they picked the players they coveted at their currently-held selections.
"I think the way the fourth round felt to us, to get those players where we got them [was a success]," Spielman said. "D.J., the South Carolina defensive end, fit us from an athletic-traits standpoint. That was one of [Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator/defensive line coach] Andre Patterson's guys that he really he wanted to get his hands on and work with."
"To get Lynch that fell us to, as well, [he] just plays his rear end off, can play some end, but we are probably going to slide him inside as a nickel inside pass rusher," Spielman added. "And to get the athletic linebacker [in Dye, as well]."
Spielman and the Vikings felt they got tremendous value throughout the draft with the players that fell to them.
3. Draft capital kept growing | By Craig Peters
As Eric pointed out, the Vikings didn't have the desire to pole vault up the board. They could simply repel down it when taking a call from a team that wanted to move up.
New Orleans, for instance, traded into the back of the third round Friday night to select TE Adam Trautman at 105 and sent a choice in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds to Minnesota.
Spielman could pretty much keep his draft capital and even add to it for next year, collecting a couple of picks for 2021 that will go along with scheduled picks and selections likely to be awarded through the NFL's compensatory formula. Future picks can sometimes serve as contingency plans in case a trade for a player is needed during camp or before the trade deadline.
"I treasure [picks] and I try to collect as many as I can," Spielman said. "So that's why we — when you have that much draft capital going into it and you're able to flip some picks into next year's picks — I don't know what the depth of next year's draft's going to be — but to start off right now where we stand to [potentially start with] 12 draft picks, who knows where we're going to end up next year."
Who's who in the Vikings draft class of 2020? | By Lindsey Young
Round 1, 22nd Overall: WR Justin Jefferson (LSU) – Believes he’s “pro ready” because of experience with 2019 National Champion LSU
Round 1, 31st Overall: CB Jeff Gladney (TCU) – “Battle-tested” defensive back is ready for the heat Coach Zimmer brings
Round 2, 58th Overall: T Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) – Ready to get back to work with Boise State teammate Alexander Mattison
Round 3, 89th Overall: CB Cameron Dantzler (Mississippi State) – Garnered attention for performance against LSU's go-to target Ja'Marr Chase
Round 4, 117th Overall: DE D.J. Wonnum (South Carolina) – Excited to learn from Vikings DE Danielle Hunter, whom he's drawn some comparisons to
Round 4, 130th Overall: DT James Lynch (Baylor) – Watched the Vikings while growing up and has admired Zimmer's defense in recent years
Round 4, 132nd Overall: LB Troy Dye (Oregon) – Led the Ducks in tackles for four consecutive seasons, a program record
Round 5, 169th Overall: CB Harrison Hand (Temple) – Tied with Jeff Okudah at the combine for best vertical jump among corners with 41 inches
Round 5, 176th Overall: WR K.J. Osborn (Miami) – Attracted Vikings attention with potential at punt returner and high character off the field
Round 6, 203rd Overall: T Blake Brandel (Oregon State) – Started all 48 games with the Beavers, which is the third-longest streak in school history
Round 6, 205th Overall: S Josh Metellus (Michigan) – A versatile athlete, having played linebacker, both safety spots, outside corner and nickel for the Wolverines
Round 7, 225th Overall: DE Kenny Willekes (Michigan State) – Made it from a walk-on for the Spartans to an NFL Draft pick
Round 7, 245th* Overall: QB Nate Stanley (Iowa) – Grew up a Bears fan but changed his allegiance within the division
Round 7, 249th Overall: S Brian Cole II (Mississippi State) – Journey to the NFL included JUCO stop
Round 7, 253rd Overall: G Kyle Hinton (Washburn) – Played 40 games (34 starts) for the Ichabods and participated in the NFLPA Bowl Game in January