Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Mike Zimmer famously said last year that Pro Football Focus, perhaps the most respected football analytics site out there, should be taken with a grain of salt. But if you believe Rick Spielman, the Vikings have taken a bigger bite into the analytics movement than ever before.
“We really took another step forward this year from the analytics,” Spielman, the general manager, said yesterday. “We really grew that department and how we’re looking at analyzing some things.”
The word of the day at Spielman’s annual pre-draft press conference was “analytics,” so much so that if it were an episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” no one would have left Winter Park with a voice. He brought up analytics in his opening statement and was asked about them five times.
Spielman wasn’t exactly forthcoming, but here’s what we learned about the team’s use of analytics:
1. Spielman said the Vikings have hired an outside consultant to provide “unique things from an analytics standpoint.” That person — Spielman wouldn’t say if it was a man or a woman, but he did slip up and say “the analytics guy” at one point — has been working with pro scout Scott Kuhn and Mike Band, a Vikings staffer, to not only come up with usable analytics but also contextualize them for Spielman and members of the front office and coaching staff who aren’t as savvy with numbers.
2. Spielman was adamant that the media shouldn’t read too much into the analytics stuff because he said the Vikings still prioritize breaking down game tape first and foremost. “You’re always going to make decisions based on your experience your gut,” he said. But he said when it comes to individual prospects, they might use tem to break ties between similarly-graded players at a position.
3. The Vikings looked at draft prospects over “the last five or six years” in “numerous areas” from an analytic standpoint in the hopes of identifying trends about why prospects did or didn’t pan out.
4. Analytics played a big role in the selection of Jerick McKinnon last year. Spielman didn’t go into specifics, but the running back’s exceptional athleticism have been quantified by SPARQ scores.
5. The Vikings also used analytics to try to gauge the value at each draft slot to try to see how much of a difference there was between, say, the 30th and 45th players in the draft. And that’s not all they looked at, according to Spielman. “We’ve got analytics on how far you trade back and front on the board. We’ve got analytics on the players and all of the different things we collected there. We’ve got analytics on the successes of positions and where you have to take those,” he said. “That’s all part of it. Analytics has become a lot more significant part of this than it has been in the past.”
Heading into the draft, we are giving the recent history at each of the Vikings’ seven draft slots.
We conclude this series with pick No. 11, the first of the Vikings’ seven selections. To say the 11th pick is rich with historical greatness would be an understatement. Seven Hall of Famers have been selected 11th overall. And there will be more to follow. The last 10 players to be picked 11th overall have combined for 21 Pro Bowl appearances.
Before we look at the good, bad and ugly, here is a list of the last 10 players to go 11th overall:
2014: Taylor Lewan, T, Titans
2013: D.J. Fluker, T, Chargers
2012: Dontari Poe, DT, Chiefs
2011: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
2010: Anthony Davis, T, 49ers
2009: Aaron Maybin, DE, Bills
2008: Leodis McKelvin, DB, Bills
2007: Patrick Willis, ILB, 49ers
2006: Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos
2005: DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Cowboys
The good… There are three choices. You take any two and I’ll be happy with the third. Willis recently retired with five first-team All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowls. Ware earned All-Pro first-team four times and went to eight Pro Bowls. Watt just won his second Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award and has been first-team All-Pro three times while going to three Pro Bowls.
The bad… “Bad” is a stretch for Cutler, but considering the strength of this group, the heightened expectations that come with quarterbacks and how little he did for the team that picked him, we’ll put Cutler here. In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick. He has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls. Two years later, Cutler was the 11th overall pick. Denver traded him after he went 17-20 in his first three years.
The ugly… Easy. Maybin. He lasted only two years with Buffalo, two with the Jets and was finished. He had one career start, with Buffalo in 2010, and six sacks, all of which came with the Jets in 2011.
Having the Vikings ever picked 11th? Yes. Twice. They picked defensive end Derrick Alexander in 1995 and quarterback Daunte Culpepper in 1999. Alexander never made a Pro Bowl in five years. Culpepper played seven years with the Vikings, making three Pro Bowls.
Best 11th pick in NFL history? Like we said, there are seven Hall of Famers and more that will reach the Hall once they’re eligible. The Hall of Famers are receiver Michael Irvin (1988), receiver Fred Biletnikoff (1965), receiver Paul Warfield (1964), guard Billy Shaw (1961), defensive end Doug Atkins (1953), halfback Frank Gifford (1952) and defensive tackle Leo Nomellini (1950). If I had to pick, I’d go with Nomellini, the former Gophers standout. He was first-team All-Pro six times and made 10 Pro Bowls in a 14-year career with the 49ers.
Big thanks to Pro Football Reference and their invaluable Draft Finder for making our work easy.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman’s stance on running back Adrian Peterson didn’t change on Tuesday. Two days before the NFL Draft, Spielman once again said the Vikings intend to bring Peterson back this year.
“Adrian Peterson is under contract, his suspension was lifted and we’re looking forward to having Adrian Peterson back here as a Minnesota Viking in 2015,” Spielman said. “And that’s the end of the story.”
The NFL reinstated Peterson on April 17, and he has been cleared to participate in all team activities. He’s been a no-show during the voluntary offseason workouts at Winter Park and likely won’t participate during organized team activities next month. The big question remains where Peterson will show up to the first mandatory team gathering, minicamp, in June or if the Vikings fulfill the wishes of Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, and trade the 2012 NFL MVP.
Spielman was asked if the Vikings would not trade Peterson. He responded with a stutter before ultimately downplaying the idea of trading Peterson.
“I think coach Zimmer stated it pretty clear that we have no interest in trading Adrian Peterson, and we don’t,” Spielman said. “Adrian made a mistake. He’s paid the price for that mistake. I think if our organization didn’t believe in Adrian Peterson, he probably wouldn’t be here today. And that’s from our ownership on down, we believe in Adrian Peterson. I also know we’re a pretty good football team with Adrian Peterson in our backfield as well.”
Peterson will receive $12.75 million this season with the Vikings. He played just one game last season after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on his son on Nov. 18.
We’ll find out on draft night whether Spielman remains true to his word.
General Manager Rick Spielman just wrapped up his annual pre-draft press conference, and no, he didn’t tell us whom the Vikings plan to select with the 11th overall pick Thursday night.
Spielman did say their options are “wide open” when it comes to their first-round selection.
“We’re sitting at the 11th spot right now,” Spielman said. “But I just went through five different scenarios this morning. What if a potential pass rusher falls down? What if a potential offensive lineman [does]? And there’s multiple offensive linemen that we’re looking at it. What if a [defensive back] falls down? What if the receivers fall down? … We are wide open on any direction that we’re going to go. There’s no way set [position], honed-in, we’re taking this position.”
Spielman said that the way the team’s draft board has been assembled, with a smaller first tier of prospects and a large cluster of similarly-rated prospects in a second tier, the Vikings might have an opportunity to address a need with their first pick without sacrificing much, if any, prospect value.
“After we developed our draft board, and you look at maybe those top five or six players and how we drafted this draft, I think when you go from the seventh or eighth player down to the 20th player, I don’t know if there’s that much difference,” Spielman said. “We think they’re all very talented but we think they’re all close in talent. So the benefit to that now is that you have an opportunity to fill a need. … If those [prospects] are that close, then what are we going to do to fill a need?”
Spielman said that a trade-up is unlikely this year, but the Vikings are receptive to trading down.
With the NFL draft (mercifully) just two days away, let’s take our annual look at recent Vikings drafts by the numbers. This year, we crunched the numbers from 2007 to 2014, which coincides with General Manager Rick Spielman’s tenure with the team. We will also pull out some specific stats from 2012 to 2014, the three years since Spielman was given final say in the draft room.
Some interesting trends emerged in this process, such as the Vikings showing a lot of love to Pac 10 and ACC players in recent years and Spielman using more seventh-rounders than first-rounders.
So keep these numbers in mind this weekend, when the Vikings pick another class of players.
— The Vikings drafted 65 players from 2007 to 2014. Of those picks, 32 were used for defensive players, 31 were used for offensive players, one was used for a kicker and one for a punter.
— Which positions have the Vikings targeted most? They selected 10 linebackers over that span. They drafted nine offensive linemen (though only two of them were taken in the first four rounds). They also drafted nine wide receivers and eight cornerbacks. On the flip side, they have only selected three running backs (the first, Adrian Peterson, is a pretty good one) and one fullback.
— They drafted players from 43 different schools. Spielman and the Vikings like their Golden Domers, selecting four from Notre Dame since 2007, including safety Harrison Smith and tight end Kyle Rudolph. That is tied for the most picks with Florida State and USC. They have taken three players apiece from Arkansas, Oklahoma, UCLA (all three in the past three years), and Penn State.
— They have drafted just one player, linebacker Nate Triplett, from the University of Minnesota.
— They have picked more players from the Pac 12 and ACC (a dozen apiece) than from any other conference. They have taken 11 from the SEC, six from the Big Ten and five from the Big 12.
— Since Spielman took over the draft room, they have really stocked up on players from the Pac 12 and ACC. The Vikings have taken eight Pac 12 players the past three years, including linebacker Anthony Barr. They drafted six ACC players, including three on the third day of last year’s draft.
— The Vikings have selected 10 players in the first round, including seven the past three years (only one was picked at their original draft slot). They have drafted six in the second (none in Spielman’s three years running the show), five in the third, seven in the fourth, 10 in the fifth and 12 in the sixth. They’ve taken a whopping 15 guys in the seventh, including eight under Spielman.
— Of their 10 first-round picks, only three were in the top 10 and just four were in the top 16. The Vikings hold the 11th pick in this year’s draft, though they could trade out of their slot (again).
— Their earliest pick was USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil at fourth overall in 2012. Their latest was the 237th pick in 2010, used on Ryan D’Imperio, a linebacker they drafted to play fullback.
— The most picks they had in one draft was 10 each in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The fewest was five, which they had in both 2008 and 2009. They will enter Thursday’s first round with seven picks, but it is worth noting that Spielman has drafted at least nine rookies in each of the past three years.
— The most valuable five picks, based on Pro Football Reference’s weighted career approximate value, in order were Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt and Sidney Rice.
— Of their 65 draft picks from 2007 to 2014, 32 are still on the roster (Chad Greenway is the 33rd, but he was selected in 2006). Just seven Vikings drafted between 2007 and 2011 remain.
|Washington - WP: D. Fister||1||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: D. Gee||0|
|Philadelphia - WP: S. Gonzalez||6||FINAL|
|Miami - LP: J. Cosart||2|
|Toronto - LP: J. Francis||7||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: M. Rzepczynski||10|
|Cincinnati - LP: J. Cueto||0||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||5|
|Tampa Bay - LP: S. Geltz||2||FINAL|
|Baltimore - WP: T. Hunter||4|
|Chicago WSox||2||Top 8th Inning|
|Detroit - WP: A. Sanchez||6||FINAL|
|Kansas City - LP: J. Guthrie||4|
|Seattle - LP: C. Smith||6||FINAL|
|Houston - WP: P. Neshek||7|
|Pittsburgh||1||Top 10th Inning|
|Milwaukee||5||Top 9th Inning|
|Oakland||2||Top 7th Inning|
|LA Angels||0||Top 5th Inning|
|Colorado||2||Top 4th Inning|
|Arizona||0||Bottom 4th Inning|
|NY Yankees - A. Warren||7:05 PM|
|Boston - J. Kelly|
|Memphis||60||3rd Qtr 4:46|
|Tampa Bay||5:00 PM|
|Sporting Kansas City|
|New York City|