EAGAN, Minn. — The 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone, but not before the Vikings ended up with 12 new players.
Minnesota made a dozen picks over seven rounds, with at least one selection in each of them, but the draft might be remembered most inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for the emotional retirement of Scott Studwell.
Those inside the Vikings draft room paid homage to Studwell on Saturday by wearing T-shirts and hats honoring Studwell, a man who spent 42 years in the organization as a linebacker (1977-90) and in the personnel department (1991-2019).
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman opened his post-draft press conference by showing off the shirt, and almost choked up again in describing Studwell’s impact on the franchise.
“We had a big tribute for Scott Studwell at the end here,” Spielman said. “Everybody wore their Scott Studwell T-shirts … but it was an honor to work with him for all these years, and I know how much he meant to everybody in that room.
“It was very emotional on both ends,” Spielman added, “and he will always be a Minnesota Viking.”
Here are four other takeaways from Spielman’s podium session Saturday:
1. Extra attention leads to picks
Every NFL team gets a chance to see draft prospects at the Senior Bowl, the combine and at various school pro days. But when a team’s coaching staff gets picked to coach a side in a college All-Star game, it can only help the evaluation process.
That was the case in January when Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer was the West Head Coach in the East-West Shrine Game. Additionally, Vikings assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken was the special teams coordinator and Vikings assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez was the defensive line coach for the West.
On the other sideline, Vikings assistant line coach Andrew Janocko was the offensive coordinator, and assistant defensive backs coach Jeff Howard was the defensive backs coach for the East.
The extra exposure paid off, as the Vikings snagged two players who played in the game — fourth-round defensive tackle Armon Watts (West) and sixth-round offensive tackle Olisaemeka Udoh (East).
Spielman explained how the chance for Vikings coaches to work with players in January was able to pay off a few months later in April. Both Watts and Udoh were picked in the sixth round.
“When we got into the sixth round, a couple of the guys that we ended up taking and why it was a benefit for us, is [that] our coaches at the East-West [Game] worked with some of these kids,” Spielman said. “So they had an opportunity to be with them in meetings, to teach them out at practice.
“Both those guys, I know, worked with our coaches,” Spielman added. “Our coaches were very excited about what they saw and what they were able to learn from these players while they were down working with them at the East-West [Game].”
2. Depth at corner
At first glance, cornerback doesn’t appear to be a position of need for the Vikings.
But the Vikings took one in the seventh round Saturday, choosing Texas cornerback Kris Boyd.
Spielman said with Mike Hughes returning from an ACL injury and Holton Hill suspended for the first four games of the season, the Vikings wanted to make sure they had enough depth at the spot.
“We have pretty good depth at the corner position, but also Mike Hughes is coming back from injury. I know you know the situation with Holton Hill,” Spielman said. “So we wanted to make sure when we were down there that we get another corner in here to develop.
“And it seems as you go through the year, especially with the defense and the demand that’s put on the corners — and it’s true, you can never have enough of those guys because when you do get injuries you have to have guys that have that athletic skill set that can play in this scheme because a lot of corners are very good corners, but they may not be as good of a corner in our scheme because of what’s demanded of them on the outside, and a lot of the man type of defense that we play in this system,” Spielman added.
Minnesota also has Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander on the roster as players who started multiple games in 2018.
Take a look at all of the Vikings 2019 NFL Draft Picks in photos.
3. Battling it out
Perhaps one of the most interesting position battles to watch in the coming months will be the competition at receiver behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
While those two players are established, the group behind them has the chance to earn some reps. Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra return from 2018, and the Vikings also added Jordan Taylor in free agency earlier this month.
On Saturday, the Vikings spent a pair of seventh-round picks on wide receivers Dillion Mitchell (Oregon) and Olabisi Johnson (Colorado State).
“We haven’t evaluated them on the practice field yet, so that evaluation part starts this weekend coming up with the rookie mini-camp,” Spielman said of the seventh-round picks. “Then we’ll just – that’s what training camp is for. All we want to do is get the best 90-man roster we can possibly get right now.
“Both of them are very athletic. Dillon Mitchell has explosive speed and play making ability,” Spielman added. “Olabisi is a very quick-twitched athlete for a bigger receiver that has excellent hands. So we’ll get a better sense [next week].”
Mitchell had 1,184 receiving yards in 2018, which led the Pac 12 and was a school single-season record. He also had 10 touchdown catches.
Johnson caught 125 passes for 2,019 yards and 11 touchdowns (16.2 yards per reception) in four seasons at Colorado State.
4. Getting to 90
The Vikings made 12 picks, meaning their roster is now up to 79 players in all. Spielman said the team will look to add undrafted free agents and get the total to 90 before rookie minicamp opens next week.
“We’re going to get the best 90 guys in here, and once they get here we’re going to play the best players,” Spielman said. “We’re here to win football games”
The goal, Spielman said, is to bring in the best possible players and create the most competition around.
But Spielman also noted that just because a guy isn’t drafted, it doesn’t mean he has no chance to make the roster.
“We’re up there hammering away and spending money and trying to get the best guys we can get in here,” Spielman said. “They’re finalizing that now, but think about how many college free agents are on this roster right now. How many guys in college free agency have started for us? From the Eric Wilsons to the Anthony Harrises. We have a lot of guys, Thielen and C.J. Ham.
“So we have a lot of guys and a lot of college free agents that come in here and make this football team, and I think that’s why — we drafted a corner in the first round and have [three] first-round corners and a second-round corner and Holton Hill played for us last year,” Spielman added. “[If] you drafted or if you come in as a college free agent or if you come in as a rookie tryout guy next weekend, we’re going to try to find the best players that are going to help us win football games. That’s kind of been the philosophy since [Head Coach Mike] Zimmer has been here, and I believe in that, too.”