EAGAN, Minn. – Just like the 2020 NFL Draft will have a new look and feel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vikings scouting process leading up to the three-day event also has a different pulse this year.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spoke to media members Tuesday afternoon via video conference call and addressed certain challenges – while also acknowledging unique benefits – that come from conducting all business virtually.
Spielman said the "hardest thing" about the current situation is the fact that college pro days were eliminated due to coronavirus concerns, meaning players who did not participate in the NFL Scouting Combine weren't able to make their final pitch in-person to NFL teams.
"I can tell you, we've had a record number of videos sent to us on people working out and people timing [40-yard dashes]," Spielman said with a smile. "I had one agent ask me, 'What's the best way to do it?' And I said, 'Just shoot the whole 40 from a wide angle, and we'll try to time it as best we can from watching the [video].
"Our times were a little different than some of the times that were shown on the YouTube video, but at least you got some kind of sense, some kind of estimate," he added. "And most of the time, the estimates we had going into the season were pretty close, so I feel a good sense of that."
Spielman reminded, however, that some players who weren't at the combine were still seen by Vikings coaches and scouts at the Reese's Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Bowl or the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
He emphasized that the Vikings interview players and obtain measurables at each all-star game.
"Back then, I would have never predicted a pandemic – but we had enough information gathered at those places to feel comfortable with some of these guys that didn't go to the combine," Spielman said. "And there are a couple what I call 'rat hole players,' where our scouts dig up a guy that they know isn't going to get drafted or is not going to go to the combine, so we've done a pretty good job of digging as best as we can on getting the information on those guys, as well."
One aspect Spielman and the Vikings have worked to capitalize on is the extra availability of college coaches and players during a difficult time when teams are not able to meet for workouts and practices.
"The other thing that's good about – well, I won't say good, but opportunities we took advantage of – was the ability to FaceTime with these players because we weren't able to meet with them in-person," Spielman explained. "And the ability to get a hold of coaches around the country because they're in the same position we're in. They're not out there in spring ball."
Spielman generally disclosed that he has had "numerous calls," including one that lasted "probably two hours" over recent weeks with college head coaches were spent time going over in details players from their roster who are draft-eligible.
Because of the extra time and with the help of technology, Spielman is confident that he and his staff have been able to accomplish their necessarily homework through virtual means.
It's no secret that Minnesota has several needs on its roster heading into the draft, which will kick off tomorrow night at 7 p.m. (CT).
Taking into consideration the needs, the number of Vikings draft picks (12, including two first-rounders) and the unprecedented nature of this year's event, does the 2020 NFL Draft hold even more weight for Minnesota?
"I think, truly, every draft is important to us," Spielman said. "And we've prepared just as hard for other drafts as we have for this draft."
The difference, he added, is that a larger number of rookies will be asked to not only contribute but possibly play significant roles in the Vikings upcoming season. And with no rookie minicamp or in-person team activities currently on the horizon, that admittedly presents its own set of hurdles.
But Spielman has confidence in the Vikings coaching staff to execute the necessary prep work virtually with the young players.
"I don't know when we're going to be able to see these rookies or when we can get them on the field or what lies ahead," Spielman said. "But I know next week we'll start our virtual offseason program with our virtual meetings with the coaches and players, and then we'll have a virtual rookie minicamp.
"I do know that with the time and energy that the coaches have put into this, as well as the scouts, that they'll be able to get a head start at least virtually on learning the playbook and things like that," he added.
According to Spielman, Head Coach Mike Zimmer already has thought through scheduling and the best approach moving forward until restrictions at team facilities are lifted – and then how to move forward at that point.
"Coach Zim' has really thought through … how we're going to have to get these guys ready to line up and play," Spielman said. "Knowing this draft board and the depth of this draft, especially at some positions of need, that we feel not only in that first round but throughout the draft, we'll get guys who will be able to come in and contribute right away."