EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Even though the hype surrounding the 2013 NFL Draft hasn't waned, many experts are down on this year's class, but Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said they should be looking deeper.
"I think both this offensive and defensive line class is very deep. I think the safety class is very deep. I think the corner class is very deep. I think the receiver class is very deep, and I think the linebacker class is very deep," said Spielman. "So, that's why I feel very comfortable saying that let's just take the best player available."
There's good reason that Spielman is confident about the draft. The Vikings have 11 draft picks including a pair of picks in the first round, their own pick at No. 23 and Seattle's pick at No. 25, which was acquired in the trade of Percy Harvin.
"It's kind of like putting a Rubik's Cube together," Spielman described.
The Vikings have needs at linebacker, cornerback, defensive line and wide receiver, so comparing the uncertainty along with the twists and turns of an NFL draft to a 1980s toy actually makes sense.
"A lot of it will be predicated on who comes down to us, I think, and what happens with the quarterbacks," Spielman said. "We've prepared ourselves if there are no quarterbacks taken before our pick and what kind of scenario we could be facing."
Spielman said that phone calls about trading either No. 23 or No. 25 have already started coming in. The depth makes trading down and acquiring more picks appealing. The depth also could affect how the Vikings pick when it comes to filling positions of need.
"If there is less depth at one position, we may take that position over another position where there is more depth at, even though those players may be equal in ability," Spielman said.
It's true; there is not an Andrew Luck or a Robert Griffith III making pre-draft headlines. While the top-tier players might be missing, Spielman insists that there are more really good players available, players that can come in and help their team win despite what round they were drafted in.
"There isn't a draft that you don't think your fifth round pick is not as important as your first round pick," Spielman said. "You always have that mentality on who you're picking, wherever you're picking, that you want that guy to make your football team and you want that guy to help you win ball games regardless of what round he's in."
Ben Leber, a former Vikings linebacker, said all the critiques and rankings can be tough on players.
"I was lucky enough to go in the third round and so you kind of hate the speculation," Leber said. "Then, when you're on the team and people are like, 'Oh, these linebackers they've got aren't very good. They need to draft some.' You're like, 'Man, they're talking about us.' So it's a stressful period for the players that are coming out and the guys on the team as well."
Aside from the signing of wide receiver Greg Jennings, the Vikings focused more on keeping players like Phil Loadholt and Jerome Felton this offseason. It was yet another sign of Spielman's philosophy of building a team through the draft.
"If there's a player there that may not have as significant of a role in 2013 but can have a tremendous impact for our team in 2014 that is definitely going to come into consideration as well," he said.
"I can honestly say whoever we end up with I do know that they'll be a major part of this franchise and a major part of this football team next year and going forward," Spielman added.
On Thursday night, the first of those players will be announced at the Vikings annual Draft Party at Mall of America Field. Fans with faces painted, wearing the jerseys of their favorite players will be thinking about the future as well as what could be.
What's ironic is that the real gems in this year's draft might not even get picked until Friday or even Saturday.
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