EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The Vikings 2016 rookies may not have made a major splash in their NFL debut season, but General Manager Rick Spielman is optimistic about their course of development.
Spielman last week spoke with Twin Cities media members about a variety of topics, including last year's draft picks. He first reminded that Minnesota made just two picks in the first three rounds.
"Last year, with us coming off the NFC Championship game, we signed a significant number of players back to one-year deals," Spielman said. "Sometimes, when you go back and look at it, because I knew we had signed so many of those second-level area guys, that we traded a third-round pick so we could get a third- and fourth-round [pick] this year."
With their first two draft picks last year, the Vikings added wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (23rd overall) and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (54th overall).
A look at Laquon
In his first NFL season, Treadwell played in nine games and contributed on special teams. He recorded one catch for 15 yards.
Treadwell was coming off a leg injury suffered at Mississippi, and Spielman said he had "durability issues" through organized team activities and training camp. He added, however, that Treadwell's work ethic in itself has impressed the Vikings personnel.
"He is maybe the hardest-working kid that I've ever seen," said Spielman, who recalled leaving the office at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night and seeing Treadwell on the practice field running routes by himself.
"He is so determined to be a good player, and he has the skill set to do it," Spielman said. "I know it's a point of emphasis to get him going this year."
Spielman also said Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen both took on increased roles on offense in 2016, which allowed less room for Treadwell to get mixed in for experience.
In addition, with Treadwell having spent a season with quarterback Sam Bradford, who joined the Vikings just before the 2016 opener, Spielman hopes that chemistry with the veteran passer and young receiver will continue to build.
According to Spielman, there's often a learning curve for receivers coming out of college and learning to work with an NFL quarterback.
"The great quarterbacks in this league are going to throw the ball to a spot and expect the receiver to be there," Spielman said. "If I'm going to run a hitch route, if I'm supposed to run it to 9 yards and come back to 7, well, the ball's out while I'm at 9."
Added Spielman: "If you run it at 12 yards and come back at 10, and the quarterback throws an interception, the quarterback's going to get [angry] because he's going to get ripped for throwing an interception."
The intricacies of football at the pro level are all a part of Treadwell's learning process, and Spielman is confident that he's moving in the right direction.
"I know that if a kid has his talent, and I think with this work ethic and all the time he puts in to being good, that he's going to be a good player for us," Spielman said. "I do believe that in my heart."
Mackensie and more
When the Vikings drafted Alexander in the second round, he joined the team essentially behind four other cornerbacks.
Spielman explained that he weighed his decision on selecting Alexander knowing that Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, Captain Munnerlyn and Trae Waynes would likely be ahead of him.
"We felt Mackensie was great value where we were picking," Spielman said. "Was it going to be a need we had to get filled? No, because technically he was behind those four guys when he came in. So let's get him as prepared as we can."
Alexander had a solid preseason campaign and was an asset on special teams while getting occasional opportunities on defense. He recorded six tackles (five solo) and one pass defended before being placed on injured reserve in late December.
Spielman said Alexander's skill set and rookie performance will be considered when planning the roster for 2017, and he expects Alexander at some point to play an important role for the Vikings.
"Sometimes when you draft guys, they may not be an impact their rookie year, but you see them in two years, three years down the road," Spielman said.
In assessing Minnesota's later-round picks, Spielman said he often looks to the players' ability to contribute on special teams.
The Vikings signed four players drafted between the fourth and seventh round – guard Willie Beavers, safety Jayron Kearse, linebacker Kentrell Brothers and tight end David Morgan – to their active roster in 2016. Spielman said he and the coaching staff saw glimpses of potential from the late-round selections last season and were especially excited about things they saw from Brothers, Kearse and Morgan under Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.
"If they're getting better on special teams, that's a pretty good indicator that they're going to be pretty decent football players at their position," Spielman said. "A lot of our draft picks were guys that [we knew] probably weren't going to have a major impact because of the depth we had at the beginning of the season.
"But we're going to expect a lot of those guys to be stepping in this year," Spielman added. "Along with the  draft class that's going to get filtered in."