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Rick Spielman's Best And Worst Draft Picks As Vikings GM

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

Harrison Smith

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 31: Harrison Smith #22 of the Minnesota Vikings walks the sidelines before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

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.

Anthony Barr

anthony-barr-tackles-aaron-rodgers
Aaron Rodgers (Photo Credit: Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

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.

Cleveland Browns v Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 03: Eric Kendricks #54 of the Minnesota Vikings runs onto the field before the against the Cleveland Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

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.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 08: Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings on the field after the game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 8, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Lions 20-7. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

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.

Divisional Round - New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 14: Stefon Diggs #14 of the Minnesota Vikings scores a touchdown as time expires against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of the NFC Divisional Playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium on January 14, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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.

Justin Jefferson

Tennessee Titans v Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - SEPTEMBER 27: Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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

Laquon Treadwell

New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 28: Marshon Lattimore #23 of the New Orleans Saints breaks up a pass to Laquon Treadwell #11 of the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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.

Mike Hughes

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings
(credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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.

Kellen Mond

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 02: Quarterback Kellen Mond #11 of the Minnesota Vikings passes as outside linebacker Rashan Gary #52 of the Green Bay Packers applies pressure during the 4th quarter of the game at Lambeau Field on January 02, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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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