MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Good or bad, Rick Spielman made plenty of impactful draft picks as general manager of the Minnesota Vikings.
He drafted future Hall of Famers, first-round busts and late-round gems. He became notorious for dealing on draft day, moving up into the first round in multiple years and stockpiling day three picks. From 2012-2021, when Spielman officially held the title of general manger, only the Browns made more first-round picks than the Vikings.
Note that the list below includes only picks Spielman made in that 2012-2021 window. He was involved in Vikings drafts prior to that, picking great players such as Adrian Peterson, Everson Griffen and Kyle Rudolph, and busts like Christian Ponder and Chris Cook.
Here are Spielman's best and worst draft picks as GM.
Best Draft Picks
In Spielman's first draft as general manager, he drafted a future Hall of Famer and one of the most well-loved Vikings of all time. The Vikings traded up to the 29th overall pick to take Smith out of Notre Dame, and he's been the core of the defense ever since. His 29 interceptions are tied for sixth-most in team history, and no Viking has scored more defensive touchdowns. His 16.5 sacks are the most ever for a Vikings defensive back. He's a six-time Pro Bowler and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2017. "Harry the Hitman," as he's affectionately known, is the longest-tenured Viking and earned a contract extension last offseason. There's no doubt he was the best draft pick Spielman ever made.
Barr was the first pick of the Mike Zimmer era, and his versatility would define Zimmer's defense for years to come. Taken ninth overall out of UCLA, Barr immediately became a Swiss Army knife on Zimmer's defense, flying around the field to tackle runners, covering tight ends and slot receivers admirably and terrifying opposing quarterbacks with his speed off the edge and up the middle. Based on comments made after Zimmer's firing, Barr's time with the Vikings may be coming to an end. Fans will surely miss the four-time Pro Bowler.
Eric Kendricks/Danielle Hunter/Stefon Diggs
The 2015 draft was Spielman's magnum opus. Though first-round pick Trae Waynes didn't earn a second contract with the team, he was a solid second cornerback in his years in Minnesota. Beyond the first round, though, Spielman nailed three huge picks.
In the second round, he took linebacker Eric Kendricks out of UCLA. Kendricks has been among the best middle linebackers in football over the past few years, excelling in pass coverage and snagging nine interceptions. He was named First-Team All-Pro in 2019.
One round later, the Vikings selected Danielle Hunter from LSU. The defensive end was seen as an athletic project, but immediately became a contributor, notching six sacks in limited playing time his rookie year. In 2019, Hunter became the youngest NFL player ever to reach 50 sacks. It's yet to be seen how back-to-back season-ending injuries will affect Hunter's trajectory, but he far outplayed his third-round status in the first five years of his career.
Spielman was well-known for compiling late round picks, and Stefon Diggs was the best of the bunch. A fifth-rounder who played college ball at Maryland, Diggs was inactive for the first three games of his rookie season. Once they put him on the field on gameday, he exploded. In his first three games, Diggs caught 19 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown. He topped 1,000 yards twice in Minnesota, and he and Adam Thielen were the best receiving duo the Vikings had since Randy Moss and Cris Carter. He's also responsible for maybe the most joyous moment in the history of the franchise, the Minneapolis Miracle. Diggs' time in Minnesota came to an ignoble end before he was traded to the Buffalo Bills, where he has continued his ascendance to a top-flight receiver. The Vikings got multiple picks back for Diggs, including a first-rounder that the Vikings used to draft another of Spielman's best picks.
Jefferson was taken with the Bills' first-rounder, and he has not only replaced Diggs but surpassed him as one of the best receivers in the league. He set the modern rookie receiving record in 2020-21 with 1,400 yards. This season, the 22-year-old fell just 17 yards short of Randy Moss' franchise single-season receiving record. He is the only player in NFL history to record 3,000+ receiving yards in his first two seasons. If the Vikings can hold onto the young receiver, he'll surely go down as one of the best Vikings of all time.
Worst Draft Picks
While Spielman has had plenty of busts – Matt Kalil, Jeff Gladney, Sharrif Floyd – many of them have been due to injury or off-the-field incidents. Treadwell stands out as a player who just wasn't good enough. The 2016 first-rounder had just one catch for 15 yards his rookie season. He finished his four-year Vikings career with 701 yards and two touchdowns – both marks below what the aforementioned Diggs, taken a year earlier, had in his rookie season alone. Treadwell became a serviceable No. 3 receiver in Jacksonville in 2021, but his career has fallen well short of being worthy of a first-round pick.
It was an oft-repeated joke among Vikings fans that the team loved to draft first-round cornerbacks. In Spielman's 10 drafts as GM, the team took a cornerback in four first rounds. Aside from Gladney, who was released from the team before his sophomore season due to a domestic violence charge, Hughes was the biggest whiff in the secondary. He was traded before his rookie contract expired, and recorded only two interceptions in three seasons. He landed on the injured reserve list every year he was with the Vikings.
It remains to be seen how Mond's career will play out. The third-round quarterback threw only three passes in his rookie season. But with a regime change, it's highly unlikely Mond is the quarterback of the future for the Vikings. The team's lack of faith in Mond's development was evident in its decision to play starter Kirk Cousins in a meaningless week 18 game over Mond. Ahead of that game, Zimmer was asked if he wanted to see Mond take some snaps. He said no, because "I see him every day." Mond might have made sense as a developmental pick, but both Spielman and Zimmer were on the hot seat when the 2021 draft took place. In the fourth year of Cousins' contract, two years removed from the team's last playoff berth, Spielman would've been better served spending the pick on a player who at least had a chance to immediately contribute.
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