Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
I am very excited about this year's draft class. We were able to add a lot of very talented football players in this third day. We did a little bit of movement on this day as well. First and foremost, I have to thank all of our scouts, directors and coaches for the effort that they put into this. I know that we are going to add and improve our football team coming out of this weekend. We're very excited about the UFA (Undrafted College Free Agent) class; we're trying to finalize that right now, but we're very excited about some of the names that we were able to get in the college free agency. I'll just start running down the line here.
Our first fourth-round pick, T.J. Clemmings, everybody is questioning the injury part. We found out about it at the Combine. We did a lot of calling on him, double-checking and triple-checking today. We feel that it was an old injury that was there, it was discovered at the Combine, he did not miss any practices during the year at Pitt, he did not miss any practices down at the Senior Bowl, he worked out at the Combine, we had our offensive line coaches at Pitt and he worked out there at Pitt as well. We're very excited that we were able to get a guy of that caliber, of that talent, that we were able to get him in the fourth round. He's a converted defensive lineman playing the offensive line the last two years. When you look at the junior tape on him and the jump that he made from his junior to senior year, it's pretty remarkable for how quickly he picked that up. We went down to the Senior Bowl. It probably was not as great of a week as he probably anticipated; we moved him over to the left side a little bit, he's basically been on the right side, but we're very excited to get an opportunity to work with him. He has the athletic skillset to play both sides, and I know our coaches, offensive coaches and offensive line coaches were very excited to get an opportunity to work with this kid just because of the tremendous upside that he has.
In our fifth round, we went to Mr. (MyCole) Pruitt from Southern Illinois, my alma mater, even though he didn't know I was from there. He's a very athletic half-back type full-back. They put him out on the slot and he played something on the line of scrimmage as a tight end. I know when we talked about him, he ran very fast at the Combine and he showed up at the All-Star game. He has a lot of the traits that we're looking for, especially in Norv Turner's offense, being able to do multiple things. He has very good hands, he's aggressive as a blocker, and Norv, as we sat there and talked about him through the draft meetings, felt that we can do a lot of different things with him and play him at a lot of different positions.
Our second fifth round choice was Stefon Diggs from Maryland. He's another extremely talented athlete. I know I was at a game his freshman year when they played Virginia. I saw him as a kick-off returner and he has done some punt returns in the past. He's a very gifted athlete with the ball in his hands. He was a guy, that when we got there at that point, he can do so many things – he's played outside, he's played in the slot, he's done some return stuff, probably had a little bit of a year that was down for him and his standards. The multiple things that he can do, and again, any time we see an athlete and ability to develop these guys, and we felt that he'd fit right in that mold.
Going into the sixth round, Tyrus Thompson from Oklahoma. Hank Fraley wemt down and worked out all of the Oklahoma kids. He was a left tackle at Oklahoma and we're projecting him to potentially be a swing tackle or also move inside to guard. He's another guy that has great length, great size, and he's a very mature kid as you guys know - he's married with two children. We could project him inside as a guard as well. When Hank came back from the visit, we went through our meetings, he's extremely sharp, and felt that he could play multiple positions for us.
In the sixth round, the second one was B.J. Dubose. He was another guy that's a multi-position player. He can play end, when you watch him inside, he can rush a passer as an inside guy and has a three technique. We had him here on a Top 30 visit. He pulled at the Combine, I believe on a second 40. He was unable to work out the rest of that so that's why we brought him in to sit down and get to know him a little bit. I was at the Florida State game and he really stuck out that night that I was down there. But, he has good tape all around and he's another guy that has a lot of position flexibility that can play base end or slide inside as an inside nickel rusher.
In the seventh round, we went with Austin Shepherd. There's another multi-position guy, he played right tackle at Alabama. He can slide inside and we'll probably start him out at guard once our coaches get their hands on him. He played some guard at the Senior Bowl as well. He's a very tough, physical and aggressive kid. He comes from a big time program, he's a kid that's well coached, and we felt like we got great value with where he was at in the seventh round.
Our last guy in the seventh round was Edmond Robinson, a linebacker out in Newberry. He's another very talented athlete that's a little raw. Adam Zimmer worked him out after the South Carolina pro day. He went over to Newberry to work this kid out. He's played outside and you don't see him a lot in the film at a stack position, but he has great length, he has great speed, range, and he's going to be another guy that has a lot of athletic tools to work with but it's going to be a little bit of a learning curve. But you can't teach his length, you can't teach his speech and you can't teach his athletic ability. So we'll look at him as a guy that can maybe play multiple positions at the linebacker spot, maybe do some pass-rush off the edge, but we're very excited from his standpoint. From the athletic skillset, he has a lot of tools to work with. We'll definitely look at him and see how quickly he comes along.
So we really tried to hone in, coming out of the draft last night, that we're going to really hone in on the offensive side of the ball. There was a lot of depth, we felt, on the offensive side, and we really kind of honed in early with our early picks in the third day. Then, as we got through there, we started going and looking at our board and started taking the best player available. Then we're going to have a couple of free agents that I think are going to have a legitimate chance, and we'll get that list to you as soon as we can.
Q: How would you assess the way your draft unfolded this weekend?
A: We thought it unfolded well for us. There were a lot of guys there that we didn't anticipate that came into our lap. When we had an opportunity to trade down, I don't think we traded up at all to accumulate more picks, so we were able to do that. We're trying to get as many guys to create as much competition as we can on this roster. With the current guys on our roster, with some of the guys we were able to sign in free agency, and I know we didn't spend a lot of money in free agency, but those guys have some value. Now adding this along with our college free agent class, we feel that we're going to have a very competitive 90-man roster.
Q: You beefed up the offensive line today. Is this because you knew the draft was going to be pretty deep at offensive line?
A:* *Looking at our board, there were some good offensive linemen that we knew were going to be sitting there. When we took T.J. Clemmings, you see a run on offensive lineman right away. For the rest of that fourth round, all of those big guys start coming off the board. We were fortunate enough that T.J. kind of started it and he fell down to us so we felt he was the best guy there and to be honest with you, we graded him a lot higher than what we were able to draft him. There were a lot of good offensive linemen, especially in the third day today, and we were able to add a lot of value for those guys that we brought in.
Q: Were you looking for tackles specifically?
A: We were looking at multi-position guys. I think T.J. is going to be a potential left or right tackle, and I think the other guys that we drafted can play tackle but we can also swing inside of the guard as well.
Q: How long does that process take to slide a guy inside to the interior of the offensive line?
A: Our coaches get a pretty good feel for that when they're out there working those guys out. I can't emphasize enough how important it us for our coaches to get out there and work with those guys. They can come back and give you their honest assessment of where he is, what he can potentially be, but that all depends on each kid individually. Once we get them in here and we get into our rookie minicamp weekend, we'll start to get a feel for them. We should probably get a good feel by the end of our final mandatory minicamp on whether this guy can or can't. But again, especially up front with the offensive and defensive linemen, you're not really going to get a true indication until you get those pads on when we get down to Mankato. I mentioned in last night, but it's going to be a great opportunity to have that fifth preseason game because these guys are going to get a lot of extra reps and we're going to get a lot of chances to evaluate these guys.
Q: Is there any thought that Clemmings might have to clean up on that injury?
A: No, I think that the media has reported that that is why he fell. We beat up Eric Sugarman pretty good today, I said 'I know what you're telling me in that this guy hasn't missed any time.' And he hasn't. He's played with it and this is not a new injury. I think this is something that he had and it was just discovered at the combine so we'll bring him in and let him start to compete. We talked on the phone and the kid said he felt great so we'll just take it from there.
Q: Is that something that can deteriorate over the years?
A:* *I am not going to sit here at talk doctor with you. We've discussed a lot of things on it but we feel if he's able to play with it, and he has played with it, that he should be good to go.
Q: If he doesn't have a foot injury is he still looked at in that first or second round?
A: You would have to ask other teams that. We thought he was a very good football player.
Q: The fact that you waited to address the guard position, does that say anything about how you guys feel about David Yankey and the progress he's made?
A: Not at all. All were doing is that we're very excited about how David came back and I think we're going to have great competition up front on that offensive line. We added some guys at the end of the season, we had some guys at the end of last year that we're excited about that were on our practice squad or didn't play. The best thing you can do is continue to add players at every position and the best guys are going to come out and surface at the top. You're never going to not take players to create competition at a spot. I thought today when we really went hard on the offensive line that we are definitely going to create a lot of competition. It's definitely going to put a lot of sense of urgency and well find out who fits best for the Minnesota Vikings.
Q: Is La'el Collins someone you will consider in free agency?
A: La'el Collins is a very talented football player and I know the situation that came up, but until we get further information I am not going to comment on him.
Q: You had a lot of opportunity to add some safeties in the draft yet didn't, do you feel comfortable with the safety position opposite Harrison Smith?
A: I'll let you know when our college agency comes out. One thing I can tell you though is definitely [Antone] Exum from last year who made the conversion from corner to safety, we're very excited also about the progress he has made. Also with [Robert] Blanton and [Andrew] Sendejo I think we know what those guys are, but you know Exum is someone were definitely going to be keeping a close eye on and see how well he comes along from last year, but very talented athlete.* *
Q: You guys drafted a couple of those raw athletic players that might take a few years to develop, what goes in to picking players like that?
A: I think when you get down, especially into the third day, that if they have the tools that these coaches can work with, they don't have to come in and be immediate impact player right away. Some of these guys may not make our roster, but be great practice squad guys, guys that we have time to develop. As long as they have the traits and the athletic skill set that can play at this level, yet may not be totally polished to where they are going to be and they have upside, I'll take those guys every day of the week and that's how much belief I have in this coaching staff in developing guys.
Q: Does that play into the trust you have in the coaching staff and their ability to develop players?
A: Oh yeah. Our coaches have a lot of say in that too. As we go back in forth in the meetings, "Hey I'd love to work with this kid he may not be ready this year but this guy has tremendous upside and were going to work like heck to get him to be the best player that we can."
Q: Just tell me about the depth at running back, you didn't take one. What was the thinking on not taking a running back?
A: It's just how the board fell, and we didn't want to force any issues but also we tried to address as many needs as we could on this third day. That's why I love to have as many picks as we had. I think we got to ten, didn't we today? So again, creating as much competition, and when you get all those picks whatever guys can come out and surface, if you hit two or three of those guys you've done pretty well.
Q: You mentioned on the analytical side, about how it helped out last year to get a guy like Jerick McKinnon, was there a guy this year who you felt analytics helped out drafting?
A:* *Yeah, there were a few guys. I'll let you know if they make it.
Q: Just from the outside looking in there was an obvious trend of the guys you've took, high character guys as you'd like to say. Can you talk about why that's so important for you?
A: When Coach Zimmer came in here we really wanted to emphasize that. Smart, tough, compassionate but very high character guys because I think once you have high quality, high character players, those are the guys eventually you're going to win ball games with.
Q: Rick how excited are Mike and the defensive coaching staff to get the three guys you got early and add them to that young core you got defensively?
A: I don't know if Coach Zimmer ever gets excited, but I know he is very happy we were able to get the defensive guys. I know our coaches right now are glad probably that this process is over and they're very excited about next weekend and getting the opportunity to start working with these guys.
Q: Do you feel in the past two years you've been able to bring in the kind of talent that Zimmer wants for his defense, to fit his scheme?
A: When we do personnel, we're doing it to fit the schemes and what this coaching staff wants. I mean and I've said this in the past, I can tell you and our scouts can tell you what this guy is and isn't, but we have to get some direction from the coaching staff also, yes he can or no he can't fit into what we're going to ask him to do in our scheme. And I think the communication between the coaches and the personnel department; you don't have the chance to have success unless you're both on the same page.
Q: You've mentioned Pruitt at fullback, are there thoughts of having him compete with Zach Line for the starting job?
A: Well, he can play multiple positions. And I know I've read and I've heard some things on [Charles] Clay from down at Miami, he did a lot of multiple things for them and I know he played very well against us down at Miami when we were down there this year, but Norv felt that to get an athlete of that caliber that can do multiple positions can give you that much more of a weapon on the offense. So Norv can say, "Well I can use him sometimes in a slot to try and create a mismatch." We can use him as a potential Rhett Ellison, use him in a lot of different places to try to utilize his speed and his athletic ability and his ability to catch the ball to create mismatches.
Q: How you look at Joe Berger, he's been a versatile piece for you for a few years, maybe if he slides into that starting spot, is that why you're looking for versatility in some of these guys?
A: Joe, since he's been here has been very valuable for us because he can play center, he can play guard, he stepped in and played extremely well for us last year. He was one of the priorities that we definitely wanted to sign back because of his versatility, because of his experience, and we are going to have a very young group of guys coming up behind him, but the one guy that we really wanted to target to keep on our roster from our own UFA's was Joe Berger.
Q: Just overall, with this class, how do you feel it about it compared to some of your other classes?
A: I'll let you know. Let me at least see them run around. I think the one thing that really sticks out about these guys is I know we've got some pretty good athletes. That's been a point of emphasis. Fitting the scheme, fitting the traits, but I know if we're able to get the best athletes at their position as possible then they have a chance to develop if they're willing to step up and do it.* *
Q: That plan is really long term. Do you feel like you're in the position to win now with the players that you have slated to start?
A: Right now we're focused on getting through this rookie minicamp, getting through the OTA's. I think we're very excited just to see where we're at as a football team once we get going. I know Coach Zimmer will address that next week when he talks to you, but until you get all these guys together and you start seeing the competition, until you see some of our guys from last year and how much they've progressed, where they're at, I'm anxious to see a lot of the guys from last year that maybe got redshirted or didn't play as much. We haven't had them on the field yet, but from all indications that we've seen so far through phase one of the OTA's we're very excited about some of the draft class from last year.
Q: This was you second year drafting for Zimmer and Norv Turner's scheme. Did you feel more comfortable at all just knowing the guy's they wanted you to bring in?
A: It was good last year, it was great this year. Because we've been through the process one time around, I've been able to see these coaches coach, I've been able to hear what they're teaching. I understand even more and I think our scouts even understand what they're looking for. To go through the tape and to hear the traits last year but then to actually go through it one full year, to go through a full season, to listen to them evaluate our team as we go through it, it made that picture even that much clearer.* *
Q: Was there any consideration for a young developmental quarterback at any point in the draft?
A: We'll see in college free agency.