The breakdowns of the Vikings’ draft have been published in various publications and websites, the grades assessing all the selections have been submitted and general manager Rick Spielman has told us how much he likes each of the eight picks he made.
The reality, of course, is that it’s too early to evaluate anything in terms of how this group of players will do.
But with three days of drafting and seven rounds now complete, I do have one question about what took place in the Vikings’ new facility in Eagan. How did Spielman not do more to address the immediate need that existed, and still does, at right guard?
The assumption of many entering the first round on Thursday was that the Vikings would use the 30th pick on someone who could replace the retired Joe Berger. The Vikings, however, decided to take Central Florida cornerback and return man Mike Hughes with their pick in the opening round.
This did not come as a complete surprise considering coach Mike Zimmer’s fondness for defensive players and the fact that a team can never have enough depth in its secondary in the pass-happy NFL.
Plus, the Vikings still had an opportunity to put themselves in a position to address the guard spot because only one, Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, had gone in the opening round and that was with the sixth-overall pick.
Thus, the new assumption on Friday was that Spielman was going to do whatever was necessary to move up in the second round to grab a list of available guards that included Nevada’s Austin Corbett; UTEP’s Will Hernandez; Auburn’s Braden Smith; and Texas’ Connor Williams.
But the Vikings were extremely quiet as Cleveland took Corbett with the first pick of the second round. Hernandez, a guy many thought the Vikings might grab in the first round, went with the second pick of Round 2 to the New York Giants. Smith then went to the Colts with the fifth pick of the round and Dallas stopped Williams’ fall with pick No. 18 of Round 2.
Spielman, who has long embraced maneuvering in the draft, decided to stay put and with the 30th pick of the second round he took Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, who is 6-foot-7, 297 pounds, started his collegiate career as a tight end before moving to tackle. He sounds like a heck of an athlete. He also sounds like a project.
The Vikings did eventually take a guard, Appalachian State’s Colby Gossett in the sixth round, but they did nothing to address the one area that could have used a pick who could have stepped right in.
“The one thing I didn’t want to do is I didn’t want to tap into any picks next year,” Spielman said. “The other thing, moving up there, you are talking about a fourth-rounder which we don’t have, at least we didn’t have at the time. You have to be careful on moving up to go get one of those guys but is it going to cost you more opportunities to pick up players?”
Sometimes it’s worth it and this was one of those cases. What’s curious about the decision not to make a trade that included a pick or two from the 2019 draft is that the Vikings have an opportunity in the present that doesn’t come along often.
This is a team coming off a 13-3 season that made a run to the NFC title game and, until this draft, had made every move possible to make that team better. Kirk Cousins received a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract because the Vikings thought he was an immediate upgrade on Case Keenum. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson signed a one-year, $8 million contract because the Vikings wanted an upgrade at that spot.
So why get cute with any spot in front of Cousins?
Didn’t Spielman learn his lesson in 2016, when the Vikings got off to a 5-0 start but won only three of their final 11 games in part because their offensive line lacked depth and fell apart?
The Vikings addressed that issue last offseason by signing left tackle Riley Reiff to a five-year, $58.75 million free-agent contract and right tackle Mike Remmers to a five-year, $30 million free-agent deal.
Spielman also was fortunate when Ohio State center Pat Elflein fell to the third round and the Vikings were able to grab him with the 70th-overall pick. This enabled Minnesota to shift Berger to right guard and gave the Vikings a much-improved line.
The line took a hit late in the season when Nick Easton fractured his right ankle against Green Bay. In the Vikings’ two playoff games, they started Reiff at left tackle, Remmers at left guard, Elflein at center, Berger at right guard and Rashod Hill at right tackle.
Remmers can play guard but is more suited to playing on the right side. That means that with Easton returning, it would not be surprising to see Remmers at right guard and Hill at right tackle to open training camp. There also is a chance that free-agent additions Tom Compton or Josh Andrews could get a chance at right guard or maybe it will be Danny Isidora. Or, heck, O’Neill could get a long look at right tackle with Remmers inside.
Nothing is certain about how this will shake out and that’s the problem.
The Vikings might have had to sacrifice a little bit for the future to have created that certainty and gotten near the top of the second round, but when you’re talking about protecting an $84 million investment wouldn’t it have been worth it? Especially for a team poised to go after its first-ever Super Bowl title?
That answer seems pretty obvious.