The one-liner got a good laugh, Rick Spielman’s revelation that his wife told him to don’t bother coming home if the Vikings general manager drafts another cornerback. Funny quip, but Mrs. Spielman also wasn’t wrong.
Don’t overthink this one, Rick.
Take the best offensive lineman available with the 18th pick Thursday night. Put a premium on that position after years of draft neglect. That move would be greeted in Minnesota by a choir of angels singing in heavenly tones.
The debate over whether the Vikings should prioritize need or best player available with their first pick can be answered by revisiting two moments from last season.
First, watch video of Kirk Cousins throwing a panicky backward pass to Latavius Murray in Week 14 against Seattle. Adam Thielen was open downfield, but constant pressure all season had turned Cousins so jittery that he reacted like the pocket was on fire. He felt he had to get the ball out of his hands, even if it meant throwing behind him.
The second moment came during the regular-season finale loss to Chicago. A miscommunication between Cousins and Thielen on a pass route led to a sideline argument that started with Cousins saying, “I don’t have 10 seconds.”
There’s your answer.
The Vikings have a roster deficiency that is flashing like the Batman signal. They have one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines with no wiggle room left in their salary-cap pie chart.
Under normal circumstances, I side with the belief teams should draft the best player available regardless of position priorities because reaching to fill a need can create more problems. Every team probably has a history of examples in which trying to fill a need backfired.
This isn’t a normal circumstance. The Vikings signed Cousins to a historic $84 million contract and paired him with an inadequate line. Year 1 of a marriage that began with Super Bowl expectations ended with Cousins screaming at his star wide receiver that he didn’t have all day for him to get open.
Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer recently had their contracts extended through the 2020 season, but that guarantees a severance package more than ironclad job security. The whole operation faces pressure to return to the playoffs and maximize this window for contending with a core group of veterans signed to massive contracts.
Drafting a three-technique defensive tackle in the first round isn’t going to solve their No. 1 issue.
Spielman reiterated this week that he adheres to the best-player-available philosophy, but here’s a scenario: Let’s say the Vikings are on the clock at No. 18 and North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury is available, but Spielman’s draft board has a player at a different position rated slightly higher. Would Spielman really pass on the offensive lineman based on a decimal-point difference in how his scouts ranked prospects?
If a lineman that Spielman’s staff has assigned a first-round grade is available, take him. No position on the roster has greater priority.
To be clear, the offensive line wasn’t solely responsible for last season’s failure. Everyone shares blame for missing the playoffs. But it’s incumbent on the organization to set conditions that give Cousins the best chance to succeed because his three-year contract term demands immediate improvement from him and his line.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus rated the Vikings offensive line 29th in the NFL in 2018. According to PFF, Cousins was pressured on 260 of his dropbacks, the second-highest total behind Houston’s Deshaun Watson. Cousins faced pressure on 38.9% of his dropbacks.
Cousins’ passer rating while being pressured finished in the top 10 among starting quarterbacks per PFF, but he ranked 20th the second half of the season. The cumulative effect caused his play to deteriorate as the season progressed.
The NFL draft has become a case study in subterfuge and information overload. Sometimes the right choice is the most obvious choice. The Vikings have a glaring need and this is their chance to address it.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org