MINNEAPOLIS -- In the spring of 2011, after their attempt to coax one more playoff run out of an aging team led to a 6-10 season, the Minnesota Vikings turned to the draft with a new emphasis on building a roster that could last. General manager Rick Spielman -- then the team's vice president of player personnel -- made 10 picks in the 2011 draft, after taking only 26 players in his first four drafts with the team, and the Vikings weaned themselves from the emphasis they'd placed on free agency before then.
They've drafted 29 players in the past three years, and it hasn't taken long for their roster to have a significantly different look. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert pointed out earlier today, the Vikings have 27 of their draft picks on their roster, which is tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. What's more, their recent drafts have been some of the league's best.
In our review of the Vikings' seven drafts under Spielman last month, we used Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric to get a rough idea of how the Vikings have done compared to the rest of the league. Their total AV of 463 from 2007-13 is the 10th-best mark in the league (Not surprisingly, the teams with better scores are the ones who have been even more successful at filling their roster through the draft; the Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Ravens and Bengals have the most homegrown players, and they rank 2nd, 1st, 4th, 11th and 9th in draft AV.). And in the past three drafts, the Vikings have the 10th-best draft AV; the Bears, Packers and Lions are 25th, 26th and 32nd, respectively.
The biggest black mark on Spielman's build-from-within strategy, of course, is the quarterback position; his pick of Christian Ponder in 2011 hasn't panned out, and that's probably cost him a chance to reap credit for some solid drafts in recent years. But if the Vikings are able to solve the quarterback situation and add some talent to their defense this year, they might validate Spielman's belief that they're not far away from a quick turnaround. It's tough to find any serious holes on offense other than quarterback, and while the Vikings need to get better at linebacker, either through internal development or more help in the draft, they've gotten help on the defensive line and at cornerback through free agency.
"I think the offense is, truthfully, a quarterback away from being good," ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson said on Monday. "I think it all sets up very well for them, compared to the other quarterback-needy teams in the league."
The Vikings, though, still can be classified as a quarterback-needy team, and until they fix the position, Spielman's draft record will have an asterisk. There is no tougher position to fill from the outside, and any success the Vikings can claim from building through the draft won't be complete until they find the right QB.