EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — With two picks in the first round of the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings are poised to benefit from the potential anxiety of other teams if they’re willing to be patient again.
General manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings have been inundated by trade talk for the 23rd and 25th overall selections they’ll have on Thursday night.
Yes, the phones at Winter Park have been ringing, or vibrating, constantly.
“Whether you believe me or not, I’m telling you it’s been the most active it’s been in a while because of where we’re picking,” Spielman said Tuesday. “I don’t know the reason why, but there are a lot of teams potentially jockeying from the top of that second round. There’s some teams jockeying potentially in the bottom of the first round.”
Trading down, particularly given the extra first-round pick that came from Seattle in the Percy Harvin deal, will be even more desirous for the Vikings than usual. In 2012, they parlayed Cleveland’s interest in moving from the fourth to the third slot in the first round by fetching extra selections in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds by simply swapping one spot.
“Because of the depth at the positions of need that we have, we can still get a very similar player and potentially pick up some things either this year or next year,” Spielman said.
He was mostly referring to wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker and defensive tackle, all groups considered to be strong in the 2013 pool of prospects. With four of the first 83 selections and two of the first 25, the Vikings are confident they’ll find the necessary upgrades at those positions to build off of last year’s 10-6 finish and surprising playoff appearance. They have 11 picks in all.
The challenge, then, is to maximize that leverage to accumulate more middle-round and late-round selections while still getting the players they want and trust.
Spielman said he doesn’t see the Vikings spending the selections necessary to jump up in the first round, a move that could be required to snag a player like West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams or Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant. The belief, instead, is that there are enough quality prospects at each of those positions to wait and not miss much at all.
“The best thing we can do is bring in the best players possible to create the best competition possible. If you bring that in, then you have everybody pushing to make the 53,” Spielman said, referring to the size of the active roster for the regular season. “You want those 53 decisions to be very hard decisions.”
Gaps at cornerback, wide receiver and linebacker are obvious, after cutting Antoine Winfield, trading Harvin and letting Jasper Brinkley leave as a free agent. The defensive line is stacked, but only for this year for sure. Jared Allen, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison are all in the final season of their contracts, so bringing all three defensive ends back for 2014 and beyond is unlikely. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans ably manned the nose tackle spot last year, but at the under tackle position Kevin Williams is also in the last year of his deal.
Spielman acknowledged the strategy this weekend is as much for 2014 as it is for 2013.
“I don’t want to compare any of these players to Kevin Williams because I think Kevin Williams is one of the greatest defensive tackles to play that under position,” Spielman said, when asked if players in this draft compare to Williams: “I wish I could predict that. I don’t know that, but I know we feel very strongly about a lot of these defensive tackles.”
Then there’s wide receiver, where the Vikings have been in perpetual improvement mode since Randy Moss was traded after the 2004 season.
They’ve drafted nine players at that position since then, including Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice and Harvin in the first or second round. They’ve signed all kinds of free agents, from Travis Taylor to Bobby Wade to Bernard Berrian to Marcus Robinson to Michael Jenkins. The addition of Greg Jennings last month might’ve been the best post-Moss upgrade they’ve made, but with Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson the only other viable options on the roster the Vikings are a sure bet to grab a wide receiver on either of the first two days of the draft.
If Austin is gone, someone like Robert Woods of USC, Keenan Allen of Cal or Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech could fit their need with one of those four top-83 picks.