EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — An event about to occur for the 80th annual time is steeped in history, but has continued to evolve over the years. Such is the case for the NFL Draft, scheduled for April 30-May 2 in Chicago.
General Manager Rick Spielman is preparing for his ninth draft with the Vikings and fourth under the GM title. Here's the express version of five points came up during Spielman's pre-draft press conference Tuesday:
An emerging trend in the pool of players is whether they are best suited to be 3-4 outside linebackers, 4-3 defensive ends or strictly situational pass rush specialists. Spielman said scouts identified 13 "tweeners" among the draft entrants. Spielman said coaches and scouts met in February before coaches put players in workouts in March to see if they would or wouldn't fit into the Vikings defense.
Spielman said the Vikings went through a similar process last season when they evaluated Anthony Barr and predicted he would play well as an outside linebacker in the 4-3 base defense, but also be able to rush the passer. Barr started and impacted games from the get-go.
ZIMMER, COACHES' FEEDBACK VALUED:
Spielman said Head Coach Mike Zimmer and assistants have been heavily involved in the evaluation process. While scouts had all fall to mine information on college campuses, coaches escalated their involvement when the season ended, including weeks at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
Spielman said he and Zimmer are like "opposites that kind of attract." It's clear, however, that there's a high level of respect between the two.
"He puts a lot of time in. He has tremendous knowledge of football," Spielman said. "I know when we listen and when our scouts listen and he's explaining things, you learn something new all the time."
ROLE OF ANALYTICS EXPANDS:
Spielman said the Vikings increased the role of analytics in the evaluations of this year's prospects.
The process involves an outside consultant and work by part of the scouting staff to "translate French to English" to breakdown an algorithm. Spielman said the information gathered included looking at the past several drafts. The info yielded may be used to separate players that have prompted multiple discussions but not yet a conclusion.
Spielman said analytics played a part in Minnesota drafting running back Jerick McKinnon in the third round last year, but added, "you're always" going to go back to the player's game tape, "your experience and your gut."
BRIDGE CONNECTED TO OFFENSE AND DEFENSE?
Spielman was asked if there's an increased focus on adding to the offense because of the emergence of 2014 first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback last season. He said it's possible a player on either side of the ball could help the QB by sustaining drives and keeping the offense on the field or by helping force an opponent off the field. The Vikings ranked 26th in the NFL in time of possession average (28:43) in 2014. More time on the field could turn into more scoring opportunities, and less time on the field could help defenders stay fresh.
"We're going to take the best player because I think if you take the best player it's going to help your offense and it's going to help your defense," Spielman said. "It's kind of like when we went through the coaching search – do you want an offensive head coach or a defensive head coach? I want the best head coach, and just like that, we want to try to get the best players we possibly can."
DEAL and NO DEAL?