Vikings Draft 2019: Spielman and Zimmer deserve major credit

The Minnesota Vikings general manager and head coach did a few things out of the ordinary during the recent 2019 NFL Draft.

For every individual on the planet, we each subscribe to a strong belief or philosophy for a particular practice.

A mother from, let’s say Denver, Colorado, may believe that her children will get the best education from homeschooling. A hiring manager may prefer a casual conversation with a job candidate at a diner opposed to a formal interview in their office.

Over time, however, that preferred method of practice may require some revision or perhaps an upgrade even as recent results prove to be less optimal. This in itself, accepting change, can be extremely difficult, perhaps next to impossible.

Over the last five seasons, under the Rick Spielman/Mike Zimmer regime, the Minnesota Vikings have operated under a defense-first philosophy. Invest resources and responsibilities primarily in the defense while relying on a “please don’t make mistakes” offense.

It makes sense given that Zimmer, a defense-first head coach, had previously spent 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals.

The results have been mixed though.

2014 was a wash as it was Zimmer’s first year going into the season with Matt Cassell as his starting quarterback. Then Cassell went down with a broken foot in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints, causing a shift to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

In 2015, the Vikings operated a game-managing offense paired with a robust defense. It got themselves to the Wild Card round where they narrowly lost to the Seattle Seahawks by a final score of 10-9.

Sure, Blair Walsh inexcusably missed a layup of a field goal 27 yards out with 26 seconds left. But had Minnesota managed to score just one touchdown that day, they would’ve advanced to the next round of the playoffs.

2016 saw the Vikings finish third in total defense but only end up with an 8-8 record due to what might have been the worst offensive line in team history.

In 2017, Minnesota got to the NFC Championship with the NFL’s top-ranked defense and 11th-best offense.

Last season, Minnesota’s fourth-ranked defense and 20th-best offense missed the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record.

This offseason it’s been no secret. The Vikings needed major help on the offensive side of the ball, specifically, a competent offensive leader of a coach and a respectable offensive line.

First, they brought in offensive guru Gary Kubiak as an assistant head coach to run the offense. Check.

Next came the difficult part. Zimmer and Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman desperately needed to prioritize the offensive immediately in this year’s NFL Draft. Trying to get by with coaching up the 29th-ranked offensive line just wasn’t going to cut it against a ferocious Chicago Bears defensive front in the NFC North next season.

It sounds simple, but typically defense was favored for the Vikings brass in the first round. Three of Minnesota’s previous top picks in the first round were on defense (Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes, and Mike Hughes).

Not only did the Vikings go offensive line with their first-round selection this year in center Garrett Bradbury. Not only did Minnesota go offense in the second round and pick talented tight end Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama. The Vikings went ahead and invested completely on the offense with their first four picks.

For those on the outside looking in, this can be interpreted as simply Minnesota’s leadership doing their jobs.

For those that follow the Vikings, this was Spielman abandoning his history of out-smarting himself. His typical philosophy in the draft with Zimmer is to go defense first and address the offensive line later, despite the position group being a glaring weakness for several seasons.

As for Zimmer, this was no doubt a tough weekend for him as he is essentially walking into the 2019 season with the same toys on defense that he had in 2018, minus Sheldon Richardson of course.

Perhaps Zimmer was licking his chops to go after cornerback Greedy Williams or wondering what it would take to possibly trade up for defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Instead, he deferred to Spielman, presumably under Kubiak’s consultation.

And while this may have been excruciating for the two, Minnesota’s 2019 draft class may potentially be the missing links needed to legitimately compete for a championship.

Both Spielman and Zimmer deserve a ton of credit for adjusting to the dire needs of the team during this year’s draft. This strategy may end up proving to be what’s best for the Vikings’ overall success in 2019.

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