EAGAN, Minn. — The first time Rick Spielman spoke directly with Christian Darrisaw was Thursday night after Minnesota decided to draft the left tackle out of Virginia Tech.
One could consider that quite a leap of full-steam-ahead faith by an NFL general manager on a prospect and definitely out of the norm, but pandemic disruptions of the NFL Scouting Combine steered Spielman toward a combination of tech and trust.
No team was able to meet prospects in-person at the combine for a 15-minute formal interview like normal, and the Vikings also were unable to host their annual Top 30 visits at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Spielman hit the road for as many college pro days as he could, but some of those fall on the same days, and one can't be everywhere. It's also impossible to travel and participate in the videoconferences that Vikings coaches and personnel members were able to utilize.
That left Spielman going back and analyzing the tape, breaking down words and the body language used during his answers to Darrisaw's questions. They shed light on who the Vikings can expect him to be.
He had already seen mobility on wide-zone run plays and the resolve that helped Darrisaw not surrender a sack in 10 games in 2020. Darrisaw fits the mold of getting to the second level on run plays, but importantly, he also has skills as a pass-blocker that enticed Minnesota.
And he passed the video conference tests for Spielman who in the past may have spoken directly with a first-round selection at the Senior Bowl, Combine, and during the Top 30.
View photos of Christian Darrisaw being announced as the 23rd overall pick at the NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio.
Spielman pointed out that the Vikings didn't talk to 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith in order to hide their interest in the safety, but that was in part because the coaching staff worked the Senior Bowl that year.
"But, I knew all of the information that we had [on Darrisaw]. I watched an hour-and-a-half of his [video conference]. I know [offensive line coach] Rick Dennison and [assistant offensive line coach] Phil Rauscher spent an hour-and-a-half with him on their Zoom call.
"I got more out of that hour watching his mannerisms and watching how he reacted to what the coaches installed than maybe I probably get in the 15 minutes we get at the combine, although we do follow up from the combine," Spielman said. "In this scenario, I was out of the road so much and traveling that I didn't get an opportunity maybe to reach out like I normally would. But, I know everybody that had talked with him, that had been through the process with him, I rely a lot and trust all the people that have done that."
Darrisaw, a junior who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds on his NFL.com bio page, said he wanted to convey "the type of player they're going to get."
"I'm a hard worker, a guy who's going to do whatever it takes to win, basically. Be the best player I can be," Darrisaw said. "A guy who's going to watch extra film, listen to the veterans and just do extra on and off the field – no matter what it means, just to be the best player I can be."
The official selection of the Virginia native who earned Second-Team All-America honors from The Associated Press and a First-Team All-ACC was at least Spielman's second leap of faith of the evening.
Initially scheduled to select 14th, Spielman sent that pick and the 143rd overall selection to the New York Jets in exchange for the 23rd, 66th and 86th overall picks.
There's always a risk in going that far down the board for a player that the Vikings legitimately considered taking with the 14th pick, which the Jets used to select guard/tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker out of Southern Cal.
Spielman admitted, "We were a little tight in the draft room" while waiting for other picks to be announced. "Once we got down to about four or five picks, when we went down to 23, we did try to go back up because we wanted to try to make sure that we got Christian. We were unable to [move up]. Fortunately, we did not have to. We were able to keep our extra picks that we gained and still got the player that we coveted. So, it worked out very well for us."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer quipped that he told Spielman, "Don't answer the phones anymore," after Minnesota traded down.
"I mean, we had several guys there that we liked," Zimmer added. "Obviously, Darrisaw was a guy that we did a lot of homework on. Rick, the scouts, the coaches all did a really nice job of evaluating him and also the other guys we had up there. Once it got to maybe 21 and we knew we had three guys there that we liked, we knew we were in good shape."
The Vikings envision Darrisaw being able to step in and fill the vacancy at left tackle that was created when Riley Reiff departed during free agency after four years as a starter in Minnesota, but Spielman and Zimmer made it clear positions are earned, not gifted.
"I hate to say 'instant starter.' These guys have to come in here and prove themselves just like everybody else does," Zimmer said. "Hopefully that's what he is. It was important for us to get some more size, like I said before, with our offensive line. We felt like we needed some bigger guys in there, as well.
"There were defensive guys we were looking at, too," Zimmer added. "It was kind of the way it fell. I know Rick mentioned that we talked about him at 14, and he ended up sticking around until 23, so some other guys went off the board that we kind of liked, as well."
The selection of Darrisaw continues the recent investment of high picks toward the Vikings offensive line that includes tackle Brian O'Neill (2018 second round), center Garrett Bradbury (2019 first round) and Ezra Cleveland (2020 second round). If he's able to man the left tackle spot, the Vikings will be able to keep O'Neill at right tackle. Bradbury hasn't missed a start at center, and Cleveland showed growth at right guard as a rookie after playing left tackle in college.
Darrisaw's excitement of realizing his dream was relayed during a video session with Twin Cities media members. He exclaimed, "Let's go!" when he was told he'd be interviewing in-person with many of the same people on Friday.
"I just want to thank Rick Spielman, Coach Zimmer and the Wilf family for giving me the opportunity and having a faith and just picking me to join the Minnesota Vikings," Darrisaw said. "It's definitely a dream come true, just growing up as a kid, wanting to be in this moment. And to be a Viking – I couldn't be more happy. It's a surreal moment, for sure. I'm just still grateful to be a Minnesota Viking, and I can't wait to get to work with all my teammates and coaches."
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