MINNEAPOLIS - The NFL Draft starts Thursday night, and the Minnesota Vikings will be on the clock with the No. 14 overall selection.
We know that much right now, but how the first round and the rest of the draft shakes out is anyone’s guess. It will likely look and feel much different than it did last year. In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft was done all virtually, with coaches and front office staff on each team working from their homes via web chats. This year? The Vikings will have their own draft room, with up to 10 staff members allowed to be together without masks.
The Vikings are one of a handful of NFL teams whose staff is fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Spielman spoke with reporters Tuesday ahead of the first round, and said they’ll have secondary room with coaches and scouts that will be required to wear masks. But for the first time since 2019, most of the staff will get to be together for the draft.
"I can tell you my wife is extremely happy that they didn’t move all the stuff into our house again this year. It’ll be as close to normal as we’ve been in the past, except with all the COVID protocols in place," Spielman said.
The Vikings enter the NFL Draft with 10 selections, but don’t currently own a second round pick. They traded it last year to Jacksonville for Yannick Ngakoue, who played six games with the Vikings before being traded to Baltimore. The Vikings have at least 10 picks for the third straight year. Last year, they entered the draft with 12 and left with 15 new players.
The Vikings hold four of their 10 picks in the fourth round, and Spielman says that gives them the capital they might need to be active early on in the draft. That could mean trading up from No. 14 to get a coveted player that won’t last long, getting back into the second round. After 14, the Vikings have to wait until the No. 78 overall pick.
That’s a 64-pick gap, which will test Spielman’s patience.
"I don’t know if we’ll be that patient or not, yet to be determined. If that’s what it is, then you’re patient and you just follow your draft board," Spielman said.
Their pre-draft process, just like it did last year, had to be adjusted after the 2020 season. They were able to attend the NFL Combine in 2020 before sports shut down due to COVID-19. This year, the combine was strictly medical and virtual. Spielman and his staff had to rely on the Senior Bowl and college pro days to see prospects. Spielman said they did as many as 200 Zoom interviews with prospects leading up to the draft.
NFL Combine interviews were typically around 15 minutes. In a virtual offseason, they got up to five Zoom sessions with each prospect for up to an hour apiece.
All eyes will be on the Vikings at No. 14, assuming they stay there. It’s a pivotal year after finishing 7-9 and missing the NFC Playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons under Mike Zimmer. They need talent on the offensive line, defensive line, a third wide receiver, secondary help and maybe even a quarterback.
Kirk Cousins is under contract for two more seasons, and who knows after that.
"We’re not locked in on one position, I can tell you that," Spielman said. "There’s no position that is off limits going into this draft. I’ll just leave it at that."
Spielman also gave a brief update on Jeff Gladney, who is facing charges from an arrest earlier this month in an alleged assault in Texas involving his girlfriend.
"I know we’ve been in contact with NFL security. We’re letting the due process take its course right now and that’s the latest I can give you," Spielman said.
Spielman and Zimmer have never shied away from drafting defensive backs early, like they did with Gladney last year. If they do it again this weekend, Gladney’s future gets cloudy.
The first round of the NFL Draft is two days away, and Spielman says whoever they add Thursday night, expect to see them on the field in September.
"We feel very confident that if we do not move up or down in the draft, we are going to get a very good football player at 14," Spielman said.