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Lunchbreak: 'Sports Illustrated' Highlights Vikings IT Staff, Behind-The-Scenes Draft Prep

When fans and viewers tuned into the 2020 NFL Draft, they saw Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman working the draft from his Minnesota home, while Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was stationed at his ranch in Kentucky.

The Vikings draft was a lengthy one — with a seven-round record of 15 picks — and also a smooth operation. The virtual three-day event seemingly went off without a hitch, despite hundreds of coaches, scouts and front-office personnel spread apart and on their own across the country.

Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated recently profiled Minnesota’s entire draft operation and the incredible work that the IT department and others executed.

Bishop wrote:

The preparations began last spring, unknowingly, when Cheryl Nygaard (information technology director) and Paul Nelson (information systems director) and their employees put together a business continuity plan. This report examined the infrastructure already in place, while planning for upgrades and improvements over the next five years. It even had a section on how the Vikings would handle a natural disaster, should some event occur that would force the entire organization to function remotely.

Like, well, a global pandemic.

When the novel coronavirus shut down the sports world in mid-March, the Vikings were more ready than most, and they moved quickly to implement creative solutions.

Bishop delved into the relentless and ever-changing preparations that the Nygaard, Nelson and numerous others conquered over the past month or so.

The Vikings initially moved their draft operation to a vacant office building in Eagan, but government orders forced them to change those plans. So Minnesota's staff relocated to a hotel at the Mall of America, with Spielman living full-time at the hotel for almost a month.

Everyone then changed course again because of a league mandate that employees must work from their homes.

Nygaard ran point at Spielman's house, making sure he was easily connected to the 31 other general managers and also helping update the Vikings draft board as picks trickled in. Nelson helped Spielman feel as if he was in Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, building the GM a smaller replica of the Vikings state-of-the-art draft board for his home.

The end result was a multitude of collaboration between dozens of people to help the Vikings pull off a successful draft haul.

Bishop wrote:

Most pundits placed the Vikings among their draft "winners," or graded Spielman with As and A-s … and Spielman knew exactly who to credit beyond the usual folks, like his coaches and his scouts.

"You rarely hear about the work that the IT department does," Spielman says. "But to me, they were the heroes of this draft."

Bishop's full feature on Minnesota's draft process can be found here.

Gladney among Bowen's 'favorite picks' of 2020 draft

The Vikings made 15 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, including nine players on the defensive side of the ball.

Cornerback Jeff Gladney was the first of those defensive players taken. The former TCU standout came off the board with the 31st pick after Minnesota traded down from its original spot at No. 25.

ESPN analyst Matt Bowen is a fan of the pairing of Gladney and Zimmer, as he recently highlighted the cornerback as one of his favorite picks through the seven-round process.

View photos of TCU CB Jeff Gladney who was selected by the Vikings in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Bowen wrote:

I've been looking at Gladney for a while because he has the competitive play style that I would love as a secondary coach. Give me the guys who want to challenge wide receivers. And in Minnesota, Gladney fits with Mike Zimmer's system.

The TCU product can find the ball as a zone defender in the Vikings split-safety schemes, and the man-traits are there for Gladney to play sticky coverage in 1-on-1 matchups. He can run with receivers on crossers, battle outside on back-shoulder throws and transition on dig routes to find the hip of the wide receiver. And Gladney can blitz, too. You can bet that Zimmer will dial up some cornerback/slot pressures for him in 2020.

Gladney earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors as a senior in 2019, when he led the conference with 14 pass breakups, a stat that also ranked eighth in the country. Gladney's 15 passes defended tied for second in the Big 12.

Gladney is the third cornerback Minnesota has drafted in a first round since Zimmer's hire in 2014.

Bowen played seven seasons at safety for four NFL teams from 2000-2006.