The Vikings are living proof that diamonds in the rough can be found at the wide receiver position.
General Manager Rick Spielman fielded questions from media members during a podium session at the NFL Scouting Combine, including an inquiry about Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The duo combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017.
Both have spent their entire pro careers in Purple. The Vikings selected Diggs in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and Thielen was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013 and re-signed to a multi-year deal last year.
“I have to give credit to our scouting staff and the job they did in that area on the third day and even in college free agency,” Spielman said. “I think what myself and [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] have established is the traits we’re looking for, not only on the field, but the traits it takes to be a Minnesota Viking off the field … the traits they have to have to fit culturally in our locker room.”
Diggs and Thielen both aligned with the qualities Spielman spoke of, and he will continue to keep his eyes open for similar opportunities in this year’s draft.
“We’ve been pretty selective in the part of the process where we’re interviewing these kids here at the combine. We’ll talk about them as we keep going through [and we ask], ‘Is this guy going to fit?’ ” Spielman said. “I’d rather take [someone] who is talented enough to play in the league but maybe a little less talented if he has all those other traits. Usually those are the types of guys you end up having success with.”
Spielman said he believes that the receiver position “takes some time to develop,” similar to young cornerbacks who enter the league.
“Just because, one, getting on the same page as the quarterbacks and two, just how precise the routes have to be with the type of coverage they’re facing that they haven’t faced in college,” Spielman said. “I think that’s part of the process and evolution as a receiver.”
Along the same vein, Spielman commented on Laquon Treadwell’s progress. The Mississippi alum was selected 23rd overall in 2016.
After making just one catch for 15 yards as a rookie, Treadwell saw a slightly expanded role in 2017, recording 20 catches for 200 yards.
“Laquon continues to progress. It’s going to be a big year for him – hoping to see that jump from him,” Spielman said. “You know, he does work extremely hard at it. He’s a pleaser. He wants to do well.
“And he just has to learn how to relax a little bit and not press so much and enjoy playing,” Spielman added. “ ‘Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.’
Here are three other topics Spielman covered during his podium session:
1. Reviewing Reiff’s season
While Minnesota works to primarily build its roster through the NFL Draft, Spielman and the Vikings sometimes act during free agency to fill a particular need.
In 2017, the Vikings signed tackles Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff as free agents to bolster an offensive line that struggled throughout the 2016 season. Spielman was asked about the latter, and he defined Reiff’s first season in Minnesota as “excellent.”
“He came in right off the bat, and we moved him right over to left tackle,” Spielman said. “He was not only a tremendous football player for us – fit everything we wanted culturally – but I think as we went through the OTAs, Coach Zimmer made him a captain.
“That’s pretty rare for a guy who has never been here,” Spielman added. “And I think that reflects on what we thought of him not only as a football player but what he brought to our football team in the leadership role.”
2. Spielman ‘dad first’ with son J.D., Huskers WR
This past season, Spielman’s personal and professional lives intersected when he was able to scout and also watch a handful of his son’s games at Nebraska.
J.D. Spielman, a wide receiver, wrapped up his first season with the Huskers after redshirting in 2016. He impressed with 55 catches for 830 yards and two touchdowns. He also contributed on special teams, returning a kick 99 yards for a touchdown in the opener against Arkansas State.
“Fortunately they play a schedule where I can see him play and still do the scouting I do on the weekends,” Spielman said. “My wife sits in the stands, and I sit in the press box, so that’s kind of an issue at the house, but I tell her I have important work to do.”
Spielman credited former Huskers Head Coach Mike Riley and his coaching staff with developing J.D., who played running back at Eden Prairie High School.
“But I also give credit to him for the work ethic he has. He’s been around this game his whole entire life at this level, so I don’t think it was too big for him,” Spielman said. “When I talk to him, I talk to him as a dad first. But then I’ll talk to him, ‘Well, you need to pull through that tackle at the half-yard line and get your rear end in and score. You can make a better catch in contested situation.’
“Then I get yelled at by my wife to be a better dad,” Spielman quipped. “I know he’s very excited to be a part of [new Head Coach] Scott Frost’s offensive system. That’s a great hire by Bill Moos and Nebraska, and we’ll see how it evolves. I think he’s a good fit for what Coach Frost has in mind for him.”
3. Griffin’s disability a ‘non-factor’ in draft potential
Every year, Spielman and his staff scout hundreds of prospects across the country.
Among intriguing names for teams this spring is University of Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin. The Senior Bowl standout was born with amniotic band syndrome, which affects development of the fingers, and at age 4 had his hand amputated.
When asked if it’s difficult to evaluate Griffin, Spielman emphasized that his disability shouldn’t hinder his chances at the NFL. He called Griffin a “very unique” athlete.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to meet him, but an outstanding kid. He’s very exciting to watch on film because he just plays with his heart, with passion, and he gives you everything he has with every snap,” Spielman said. “I don’t think that should be a factor just because he’s shown he can play at a high level against some high-level competition. I think each team will make that determination, but we think he’s a heck of a football player, and that won’t be a factor for us.”