Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
Very excited about the draft, it’s about that time of the process that everybody I think is ready to just get this going. Thursday, Friday and Saturday probably can’t get here quick enough as we go through this process. I’d like to thank a lot of people, but I went through and asked Kelly Kleine, my college coordinator, how many people actually have their hands on this process in our building? We counted over 90 people that contribute in some way, shape or form to this whole process. There’s a lot of great people that put a lot of time and energy, but the main people are the college scouts, the pro scouts. George Paton, our director, Jamal Stephenson, Ryan Monnens, our pro director, and Coach Zimmer and the coaching staff just put in unbelievable amounts of time, not only here in these meetings, but out on the road and doing all the film evaluations. I feel very confident where we’re at right now with our draft board. We’re doing some more things this afternoon and doing some tweaks here and there through tomorrow, and then Thursday we’re excited to get ready to roll.
Q: How deep is this year’s offensive line class?
A: I think there’s a lot of deep positions in this class. I think when we looked at our front board, this is the most number of players we have that we think are draftable. I don’t think every team has [a board] with 234 draft picks and say 234 players are draftable. I know from our board this year and the way it’s developed, the depth of talent, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, is one of the strongest that I’ve seen in a while. I know on Thursday, Friday, those two picks Friday, as of today, you should be able to land some players who can come in and make an impact on your roster.
Q: With all the big contracts that have been signed in recent years, how much of an emphasis is placed on acquiring additional draft picks and finding players in later rounds?
A: We’ve always put a point of emphasis on that. I know with how top-heavy our roster is right now with the contracts we have out there, these players that we’re bringing in have to come in and contribute. All these players that do have these big contracts were basically brought in, developed, and then received it. I think the process we have in place and us working hand in hand with the coaches, which I think is vital. In fact, the coaches were back in again, and we were bringing them in position by position with the coordinators, going through everything one more time because of the importance of the draft classes that are coming in being able to contribute. This coaching staff does a phenomenal job of developing these guys, because those are going to be the guys, if we do get anyone hurt, those are the guys that are going to line up and play for you.
Q: Has the arrival of Gary Kubiak altered the draft strategy at all?
A: I think it’s Kevin Stefanski, but I know with what he’s changed and with the influence of Gary Kubiak and the style of offense we’re going to run along with Rick Dennison at the offensive line position, there are traits that we’re looking for. As we talk about each one of these players, some players are going to be very good players, but they may not be very good players in what we’re going to require them to do from a schematic standpoint. Everybody talks about the zone scheme versus the gap scheme. To clarify, gap guys are more road graders, moving forward with double teams. Zone scheme guys are going to be more athletic, being able to work into the second level, out to the linebackers, being able to do outside zone and have to run laterally. There’s a point of emphasis on specific traits we’re looking for to run what they’re going to run on offense. When you can get on the same page with the coaches where we recognize that this guy is a good player, but he may be a very good starter in this scheme but may not be a really good starter in another scheme. You have to marry that up, and that’s why it’s so important for us on the personnel side to understand what the requirements are for these players at their position. That’s just from the football side. All the other things that we look for have to check the boxes as well.
Q: Is there more of an emphasis to find players that can contribute immediately, due to the team’s salary cap restrictions?
A: I don’t want to call it more of an emphasis. I hope that we’ve always put a high emphasis on the draft, and we want to draft those players. We understand if we can fill with the way the draft board has developed, if there’s a player that we have a lot of depth at [that players positions group] and there’s a player that we don’t have a lot of depth at, that now we can go ahead and fill a need. But that player to fill that need has to be the same value of where he is developed on the draft board. We will never, ever take a player developed lower just to fill a need, because that’s where you truly make mistakes.
Q: Do you understand the local angst with the condition of the offensive line?
A: Everybody has angst. My wife… I’ll leave that at home. She said, “If you draft another corner, don’t come home. You can just stay at the office.” Although there’s some pretty good corners that we like in the first round. But no, I understand where everything is, but I also understand that if we have a guy that we think is a Pro Bowl talent, and for some reason that guy falls to us at 18, how do you not take that player? Plus you have to balance out the depth at each position, too. If there’s a unique situation where a Pro Bowl- caliber player falls to you at 18 and you’re taking a lesser talent player, I think you’re going to make a mistake. But I also believe with the depth at certain positions, when it goes into the Friday draft you’re also going to get some pretty significant players. We always look as we make the decisions, you have a player at this position and a player at this position, and which one are you going to take? We can say we’re going to take this one because underneath him, there’s a huge drop off [in the position groups’ talent]. So if we don’t take him right here, we’re not going to get a need filled with a good player. If there’s four or five more players underneath that we do like, that’s when the potential is to take the one of those guys that falls to you. It could also be trading back in the draft to accumulate more draft picks, because we’re still going to get that same value of player as long as we have those four or five names there. You also got to really pay attention to where the run of the positions go in the draft. Two years ago we had to move up to get Pat Elflein, for example, because there was a run right in there and he was one of the few players left that we liked. Last year the run on the offensive linemen went earlier than where we picked. You have to weigh all that out, and you have to be able to react once you see how that board is coming off and where the runs are on positions.
Q: You’ve already determined the players that you grade as draftable. Does \that bring to mind the possibility of trading back to get more picks?
A: Depends on the position. There’s some really good depth at certain positions, but we may not need depth there. You kind of go in with the mindset of just going and getting the best players in this draft, and it will sort itself out once we get into the OTAs and once we get into Training Camp. If you don’t, then all of a sudden you have a rash of injuries and you’re kicking yourself over why you didn’t take that player. You always kind of go into a draft, I think, really, truly honing in on just getting the best guys that we possibly can, get them in here and hopefully fill the needs at the same time.
Q: How have the NFL Draft smoke screens evolved over the years?
A: I don’t think there’s any smoke screens out there, everything that I read that you guys write is really true.
Q: Do you believe anything that is out there being said in the media?
A: It’s entertaining to read, to be honest with you. But also, I don’t know what other teams are thinking right now. Teams don’t know what we’re thinking. Teams could be putting stuff out there that may not be true, but they want it out there. So all we’re doing is just honing on what we believe our draft is, how we have that draft board developed, and how we’re going to attack this draft. There’s a lot of stuff going around this time of year out there, but we kind of block that all out and just hone in on what you need to do to help your franchise.
Q: Do teams ever use Top 30 visits to throw the scent off of players?
A: I don’t know whether other teams do that or not. I won’t share if we do that or not. There’s a lot of games that go on around this time of year. Try to be very efficient at what we do.
Q: Do you watch other general managers’ pre-draft press conferences? Is there anything that they say that is useful?
A: No, we’re usually locked in draft meetings while everyone else is up at the podium like I am today. You know there’s always the clippings and things. Again, you take it with a grain of salt with what’s being said and what other GMs are saying. But you know you don’t know until the clock goes off and you get in the game. Then you can actually get a sense and feel what’s really true and what’s not true.
Q: Do you look to create some cap space to sign your upcoming draft class? Would you consider trading one of your current players?
A: I don’t know. No one has really approached us on any of our players to say if they do it’d have to be of value to get rid of a player, because I do think we have a pretty good roster. I know this is the last chance of this whole process to make a significant improvement to your roster during the draft. I can’t predict anything. I have no idea. I could say no right now and I can go up and get a phone call an hour later. As of right now I don’t anticipate anything.
Q: Do you consider having to clear cap space for the draft space a big deal? Or do you have a plan figured out?
A: No, once Rob [Brzezinski] gets out of cap jail he’ll come out and figure it out. No, we have a plan. Like I said, we’ve planned this process all the way out. This is not something that we’re just shooting at the hip. There’s a method and there’s a plan in place from a budgetary standpoint from what we need to do and how we need to get there.
Q: What do you know about Kirk Cousins that you didn’t know before signing him a year ago?
A: I think Kirk, just being around him for a year, I’ve never seen a guy work at it as hard as he does. I mean he was the first one in the building when they were allowed back in the building. He is non-stop all afternoon in that film room. I know the time and energy he puts in to be successful and to guide this franchise. I know, especially with Gary Kubiak coming in and Kevin Stefanski taking over the offense, really honing in on what Kirk Cousins does best as a quarterback, what we can do to help him as well. But there is no one as professional as Kirk Cousins is and how he approaches this job and how important it is to him.
Q: How is Mike Hughes’ health?
A: He’s running. It’s a process. In fact, he’s a little ahead of schedule, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I know he’s been here all off season working extremely hard at it. I know he’s anxious to get back on that field and I know Eric Sugarman and our medical staff and the success they’ve had with ACLs and knee injuries and how quickly they get those guys back playing on the field and playing at the same level or higher. As he makes progress but we’re excited about where he’s at this point in his rehab right now.
On college scout Scott Studwell:
Before I get off here I want to make an official announcement. Scott Studwell came to me a couple months ago and told me he’s retiring. He’s going to step away. I don’t know how many talks I’ve had with him to convince him otherwise. But he’s decided it’s time for him to step down. He came here as a player in 1977 and played through 1990. I think during that time he was the all-time leading tackler in the NFL until Ray Lewis broke his record. I remember growing up, my brother was such a big Minnesota Vikings fan because he loved watching Scott Studwell play with the passion, with the heart, with the determination that he played with. He took that same approach since he’s been in the front office. He’s been in the front office since 1991. I think there’s been 230 players that he’s been involved with drafting here, 14 of those players were 30 time All Pro players, 20 players that he had his hands on ended up accounting for 63 Pro Bowl honors, and 24 players were named to the All-Rookie team. He’s a great husband, great father, and unbelievable grandfather and I know it’s his time. You can’t replace a Scott Studwell in your organization. That’s an impossible task to do. I think it will be very difficult for our staff moving forward without him being part of this process in that room. The only thing I can say is, Stud, thank you for your guidance, your leadership, and probably the most important thing, thank you for your friendship. I’d like to invite Scott up to say a few words.