Spielman: Vikings Aren’t Locked In on Offensive Line in 1st Round

EAGAN, Minn. — If you scroll through Twitter or glance at almost any mock draft, it won’t take long to reach a conclusion for what fans and experts alike want the Vikings to do in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft.

If the Vikings don’t draft an offensive lineman with each of the eight picks they currently have, it’s a safe bet some of the Purple faithful won’t be happy.

OK, maybe the clamoring for an offensive lineman isn’t that extreme.

And yes, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman certainly knows which direction the fanbase wants him to go with the 18th overall pick.

Yet as he prepares for another draft, Spielman said Tuesday at his annual pre-draft press conference that the Vikings are not locked into any position in the first round.

“I understand where everything is, but I also understand that if we have a guy that we think is a Pro Bowl talent, and for some reason that guy falls to us at 18, how do you not take that player? Plus, you have to balance out the depth at each position, too,” Spielman said. “If there’s a unique situation where a Pro Bowl caliber player falls to you at 18 and you’re taking a lesser-talent player, I think you’re going to make a mistake.”

Put another way, let’s say the Vikings had a top-10 grade on a defensive lineman, a position Spielman on Tuesday called one of the deepest in the draft. If that player slipped to the second half of the first round Thursday night, he’d be an intriguing option for Minnesota.

But if the Vikings do indeed go with an offensive lineman, they aren’t just going to pick one on a whim.

Spielman and his staff have been hard at work in recent months to identify the best players in the trenches, and then matching them to what Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski envisions in his scheme.

“With the influence of Gary Kubiak and the style of offense we’re going to run [under Stefanski], along with Rick Dennison as the offensive line [coach], there are traits that we’re looking for,” Spielman said. “As we talk about each one of these players, some players are going to be very good players, but they may not be very good players in what we’re going to require them to do from a schematic standpoint.

“Everybody talks about the zone scheme versus the gap scheme. To clarify, gap guys are more road graders, moving forward with double teams. Zone-scheme guys are going to be more athletic, being able to work into the second level, out to the linebackers, being able to do outside zone and have to run laterally,” Spielman said. “There’s a point of emphasis on specific traits we’re looking for to run what they’re going to run on offense.

“When you can get on the same page with the coaches where we recognize that, ‘This guy is a good player, he may be a very good starter in this scheme, but may not be a really good starter in another scheme.’ You have to marry that up, and that’s why it’s so important for us on the personnel side to understand what the requirements are for these players at their position.”

Another item to consider, Spielman noted, is the depth of certain positions at various points of the draft.

Spielman, who has been Minnesota’s general manager since 2012 and has been with the organization since 2006, said Tuesday that both the offensive and defensive lines seem to have a number of quality players included in those groups.

If there is an impact player at one position available in the first round, perhaps the Vikings select him. But Spielman said they would only do so if it means getting a player at a different position down the road, presumably one who is around the same talent as the previous round.

“We always look, as we make the decisions, you have a player at this position and a player at this position, and which one are you going to take? We can say we’re going to take this one because underneath him, there’s a huge drop off [in the position group’s talent],” Spielman said. “So if we don’t take him right here, we’re not going to get a need filled with a good player.

“If there’s four or five more players underneath that we do like, that’s when the potential is to take the one of those guys that falls to you,” he added. “It could also be trading back in the draft to accumulate more draft picks, because we’re still going to get that same value of player as long as we have those four or five names there.”

This is just a small look into what Spielman and Minnesota’s front office and coaching staff go through for three days each year with the draft.

They have to weigh multiple scenarios in multiple rounds for multiple positions, including keeping an eye on potential runs on positions of need for Minnesota in any given round.

We’re only a few days away from finding out if Spielman and his staff do indeed take an offensive lineman early, which has been projected by many. Or if they go in a different direction. Or if they trade up or back.

But as the countdown continues to a crucial part of building each team’s roster, Spielman was able to make a joke at his own expense a little more than 48 hours before the first round begins.

“Everybody has angst [this time of year],” Spielman said. “My wife … she said, ‘If you draft another corner, don’t come home. You can just stay at the office.’

“Although there’s some pretty good corners that we like in the first round,” Spielman added.

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