EAGAN, Minn. —It was a year ago that the Vikings were without a first-round pick heading into the 2017 NFL Draft.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his front office staff knew the importance of making the most with their next handful of picks.
The Vikings used a trio of selections to snag running back Dalvin Cook [second round], center Pat Elflein [third round] and linebacker Ben Gedeon [fourth round]. Each youngster became a Week 1 starter and contributed in their own ways to Minnesota's 13-3 season and run to the NFC title game.
Spielman traded up to get Cook and Elflein. He didn't plan it that way, but said the Vikings reacted as they watched the board unfold.
So with a successful 2017 draft class in their rearview mirror, those involved in the Vikings draft decisions are aiming for similar success this weekend.
"You are always hoping for the same success every year," Spielman told Vikings.com earlier this week. "The amount of time and energy that goes into this, starting all the way back in August with our college scouts, with [Director of College Scouting] Jamaal Stephenson, who does an outstanding job in charge of this area for us, and the analytical side of it, the medical side of it, the psychological side of it, the intelligence side of it … there are so many pieces that go into trying to do the best you can to make the best decision.
"I don't think it's any different any year, you're always trying to do the best you can and have success every year," Spielman added.
The Vikings currently have eight picks in the 2018 draft, beginning with the No. 30 overall selection on Thursday night.
It is the lowest Minnesota will have picked (when having a first-round selection) since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer came on board. Minnesota picked ninth overall in 2014, had the 11th pick in 2015 and used the 23rd pick in 2016 before not having a first-round selection in 2017.
Even though the Vikings might have to wait a while before adding to their roster, Spielman said the evaluation process doesn't change whether Minnesota has a high pick or is at the end of the first round.
"No, we do everything the exact same way," Spielman said. "You have to be prepared, because what if something unique happens and that 11th player on your boards falls. You have to have all the answers if he's there at 30 or if he's there at 25, then all of the sudden is this guy too good not to go get?
"We have to take the same approach every year regardless of where you're picking, whether you have a first-round [pick] or don't have a first-round [pick]," Spielman added. "The preparation is always the same."
Spielman has also made it clear that the Vikings have options with what they can do at pick No. 30. That could include trading up or down throughout the draft. After trading up to land Cook and Elflein, Spielman traded down seven times in 2017, garnering 11 total selections.
He said in his annual pre-draft press conference Tuesday that the Vikings draft board has **five different positions** that are possibilities at that spot.
And in his chat with Vikings.com, Spielman said the organization could have an eye on the future instead of just the 2018 season.
"At 30, we'll definitely be looking at the best player available. When you tie this in, you know some of the needs you have to fill," Spielman said. "But if there's a player there in a position that may not fill an immediate need this year but could fill a need next year, you have to look at that.
"So not only are you looking at your 2018 roster, but if you have six guys up that are coming out of contract, it's an opportunity for a guy to learn and get some playing time, but you're expecting him to play a significant role the following year," Spielman said. "That's why it's important for us to take the best player available."
Spielman's philosophy is echoed by others in the organization. He is entering his 12th overall season with the Vikings (was named GM before 2012 draft), which equals Assistant General Manager George Paton. Rob Brzezinski, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations, joined Minnesota in 1999.
Furthermore, Zimmer is entering his fifth season (and draft) with the Vikings. Most of his coaching staff has been in Minnesota during that time.
Spielman and Zimmer showed how comfortable they are with each other during an appearance
on 9 to Noon by "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen on KFAN 100.3-FM on Wednesday from TCO Studios.
Zimmer stopped by Spielman's segment and the back-and-forth ribbing began when Allen asked Zimmer what his role is around draft time.
"I try to make Rick a little more nervous," Zimmer cracked.
"Just like I do on game day when I go see him before the game," Spielman quipped back.
A day earlier, Spielman reiterated in his Vikings.com interview that everyone in the organization is on the same page.
"We have been together for, I think, going into our 12th draft. Everybody understands roles and responsibilities," Spielman said of himself, Paton and Brzezinski. "When you've been together as long as we have, you almost don't have to say anything. Everybody kind of knows what's going on. Sometimes I'll look over and Rob or George may already be on the phone before I get it out of my mouth, just because we've been together so long.
"And I think the other thing is that now that we've been together with this coaching staff for a while, going through the process during our meetings and our group study, you have everybody understand from a philosophy standpoint what we're looking for, not only on the field but off the field as well," Spielman added. "I know that everyone in that room is pretty much on the same page in terms football players we do pass on, not because he's not a great person and not because he's not going to be a great football player, but he may be a good football player in another scheme for what they're going to ask him to do. It's very important that the personnel side and the coaching side understand what those physical traits are going to be in order for that player to have the best chance of success."
That formula has proven to be successful, and not just based on the home runs the Vikings appeared to have hit in the 2017 draft class.
Spielman and his staff have put together an impressive track record, as eight of Minnesota's past 12 first-round picks have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl. Those names include current players such as safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Anthony Barr.
Beginning Thursday night and rolling into Saturday evening, the Vikings will be on the hunt once again for more impact players.
"We're not drafting just to let these guys out of here in four years," Spielman said. "I think if you're doing well in the draft, and they're developing in your system and they're good people off the field and represent the team organization the right way and they're good players on the field, those are the guys you want to know the best.
"Those are the guys that hopefully you're saying are the safest guys to invest the resources into because you know them," Spielman added. "If you can get a homegrown approach, and we've been able to get very aggressive when we've drafted these players and they ended up being good players for us, those are the guys that become the priority as far as extending out."