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Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Rick Spielman: Crazy smart or just crazy?

By Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At one point during a lively news conference Tuesday, a nonagenarian Twin Cities reporter offered some veteran advice for Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman:

If you don't take that tackle, you're crazy.

"Well, maybe I am," Spielman said in a way that wasn't entirely unconvincing.

Matt Kalil
Would the Vikings risk losing out on a potential franchise left tackle in Matt Kalil to collect more picks in the draft?
If Spielman has demonstrated any particular draft approach in his first year as general manager, it's to create the public impression that he's just crazy enough to do anything. That includes making something other than the obvious pick at the No. 3 overall spot in the draft, a decision he claims to be considering by insisting that USC left tackle Matt Kalil has "exactly the same grade" as LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. It includes the kind of unsolicited information he passed along Tuesday, notably his unprompted claim that trade discussions for the No. 3 pick have "really heated up" in the past 24 hours and that there is already "potential for a trade."

And it includes the kind of non-traditional thought Spielman espoused when wondering "how important a left tackle" is "compared to having another playmaker on offense."

The only rule of NFL draft season is that no one tells the truth, so I certainly won't judge Spielman if he has joined the fun. That's how it works. But it leaves us with a few options in reading his exotic tea leaves:
  1. Spielman is covering for a decision he long ago made to draft Kalil at No. 3, hoping to convince a team to trade up for either Claiborne, Blackmon, Trent Richardson or Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and then grab Kalil a few spots below.
  2. He's pulling a double Jedi-mind trick, telling the complete truth -- that he has given strong consideration to not drafting Kalil -- because he assumes everyone will believe he's lying.
  3. With the No. 1 and No. 2 selections all but made, Spielman figures he has nothing to lose by floating every scenario, operating from a position of strength and seeing where it takes him.

Kalil, Claiborne, Blackmon, Richardson and even Tannehill are all excellent prospects. But the two players most likely to spur movement at the top of the draft are going to go No. 1 (Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck) and No. 2 (Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III). Do we think a team behind the Vikings will give up a second choice to draft Kalil, Claiborne, Richardson, Blackmon or Tannehill? With three days remaining before the draft, that question is at best debatable.

So the question returns to whom Spielman would select at No. 3. Many of us have wondered why he would draft Claiborne, an elite press corner, for a defense that has long employed the Cover 2 scheme. So Spielman went out of his way Tuesday to note those objections, noting the Vikings play "some" Cover 3 and could move to more Cover 1 with new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. (Anything would be better than last season's cover-no-one defense.)

In the end, I'm going to continue to guess that Kalil is the pick. After the quarterback, is there a more important position on offense -- or on an entire team? I'm not sure. The Vikings have a chance to lock down that position. They're not crazy enough to ignore that opportunity -- I don't think.