Earlier this week, the Minnesota Vikings cut disgraced second-year cornerback Jeff Gladney after he was indicted by a Texas grand jury for felony domestic assault. The Vikings selected Gladney with the 31st pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to retool their cornerback room and switch course on the common belief that they could not draft cornerbacks in the first round.
Minnesota’s first-round draft history under Rick Spielman has been shaky at best. For every Harrison Smith or Justin Jefferson, you have a Laquon Treadwell or Matt Kalil. Spielman’s recent history in the first round has been a cause for concern for some.
His first-round picks since 2016 are:
- 2016 – Laquon Treadwell
- 2017 – N/A
- 2018 – Mike Hughes
- 2019 – Garrett Bradbury
- 2020 – Justin Jefferson and Jeff Gladney
- 2021 – Christian Darrisaw
Laquon Treadwell is one of the biggest busts in Vikings’ history. He was chosen ahead of Michael Thomas, and the contested-catch abilities he showed off in college never manifested in the NFL. He was cut by the Vikings and has bounced around the league ever since.
The Vikings sent Mike Hughes and a seventh-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason in exchange for a sixth-round pick. Hughes showed flashes of talent in his short stint with Minnesota, but he was plagued by injuries, from a torn ACL to issues with his neck.
It’s hard to pronounce Garrett Bradbury a bust for two reasons: He has started every game in his NFL career, and even though he has struggled mightily in pass protection, Bradbury’s run blocking has been solid. However, Bradbury might not receive a second contract from the Vikings unless he improves in pass protection.
Justin Jefferson is the exception in recent history, keeping Spielman’s record from looking completely bleak. The 22-year-old receiver set the NFL rookie record for receiving yards with 1,400, made the Pro Bowl, and earned second-team All-Pro honors.
Christian Darrisaw is a rookie and therefore hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, so his value remains to be seen.
Spielman is known to make his living on the second and third days of the draft. The second round has been a strength for him: Mackensie Alexander, Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Cook, Brian O’Neill, and Irv Smith Jr. have developed into the core of the team.
Sprinkle in some other late-round hits like Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, and Cameron Dantzler, and you got yourself a pretty damn good general manager. Spielman’s critics tend to focus solely on his first-round misses, but it is important to note that his hit-to-miss rate is better than most general managers.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks haven’t had a first-round pick for six of the last 10 drafts. Most of the time, they choose to trade down to acquire more assets or trade for a player (see Jamal Adams). With the four first-round picks the Seahawks used, they selected Germain Ifedi, Rashaad Penny, L.J. Collier, and Jordyn Brooks.
Each of these players was seen as a reach, demonstrating how Seattle’s draft board differs from the consensus. Ifedi, the best pick out of the four, is an average offensive lineman at best. Penny is the backup to Chris Carson, and Collier is a rotational pass rusher who hasn’t developed into anything more so far.
The New England Patriots are the greatest sports dynasty ever, but they’ve had struggles drafting in the first round as well. Since 2013, the Patriots have made a selection six times and ended up with the following players: Dominique Easley, Malcolm Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry, and rookie Mac Jones.
Even with their misses in the first round, the Patriots appeared in three Super Bowls and won two since 2013. New England hasn’t been a huge spender in free agency either — their ability to hit on the mid-to-late-round picks helps keep them competitive every year.
This is true for every team in the NFL. Success rates in the first round are volatile. Naturally, it’s easiest to hit on great players early in the draft. But if general managers are parading high draft picks every year, there is a strong chance they aren’t doing a good job.
So, while Rick Spielman’s first-round history looks abysmal, it is right in line with the rest of the NFL. If he continues to have solid drafts in Rounds 2 through 7, the Vikings will be in good shape.