For Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, it’s a highlight of the offseason and an event he thoroughly enjoys. “I love the combine,” Spielman said. “It’s part of the whole process. It’s an opportunity when we go to get a lot of work done.” A great amount of effort goes into preparing for the combine and during the annual event. The Vikings take pride in the 70-plus personnel they bring to Lucas Oil Stadium each offseason. From owners and coaches, to scouts, to the medical team and members of the public relations staff, no stone is left unturned in working to assemble the best possible Vikings roster for each season.
-Vikings GM Rick Spielman
Click or scroll
| How the Vikings Scout the NFL Combine
TOP OF PAGE
Representatives from the Vikings and the 31 other NFL teams have made their annual trek to Indianapolis to work out, interview and evaluate collegiate athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine.
2015 Combine Trae Waynes
HOW THE VIKINGS SCOUT THE NFL COMBINE
Spielman, along with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff, share a common vision for the team and for the kind of players they need to win. The combine gives them a chance to start putting their plan into action, start building the puzzle. “From a football perspective, there is a clear direction on the type of guys we want down in that locker room,” Spielman said. Fans hear a lot about standout athletes at the combine every year – who ran the fastest 40-yard dash, who completed the highest number of reps in the bench press – but what does all of this information mean, and what kind of work really goes into the week? The on-field workouts are just one aspect that the Vikings assess at the combine. Here’s a look at the team effort that goes into building the roster.
| General manager
Vikings Mike Wobschall's One On One with General Manager Rick Spielman
Equating the scouting process to a football game, Spielman believes the combine represents the second quarter of their evaluations. “We’re still early,” Spielman said. “There’s a lot to go after the combine. ”He added: “I say we get into the fourth quarter in April when our coaches come into the draft meetings, and combined with what our scouts think with what our coaches think, we’ll finalize that draft board.” That makes for an extremely long “first quarter” of the scouting process, as scouts traveled from school to school throughout the duration of the previous football season. Spielman knows that process well, getting his start in the profession as an area scout with the Detroit Lions in 1990. A former linebacker out of Southern Illinois University, Spielman went undrafted before being invited to training camps with the Lions and San Diego Chargers. Like many in the scouting world, Spielman worked his way through the ranks. He was named director of pro personnel for the Chicago Bears in 1997 and then became the vice president of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins in 2000. Spielman spent one season as the Dolphins general manager before joining the ESPN broadcast crew for one year. The Vikings hired Spielman in 2006 as the vice president of player personnel, before eventually naming him general manager in 2012. In his first draft with complete control of the roster, Spielman selected tackle Matt Kalil (fourth overall) and traded back into the first round to pick safety Harrison Smith (29th). The move launched Spielman’s pattern of frequent trades during drafts, earning him the nickname “Trader Rick.”
Spielman’s navigation of trade waters led to the Vikings selecting the most first-round picks (eight) in the NFL since 2012. The number ties the NFL record set by Cincinnati from 1984-87 when an influx of talent helped the Bengals make the Super Bowl after the 1988 season. Of the eight Vikings selected, five have made it to the Pro Bowl. Four seasons later, the Minnesota Vikings finished the 2015 regular season with an 11-5 record along with a NFC North Championship. Many pundits have listed Minnesota as one of the NFL’s best rosters to be set up for future success. “I believe the Minnesota Vikings are positioned to be a team that’s going to be a bully in the NFC for a long, long time,” NFL media analyst Bucky Brooks said. That’s a tribute to the work Spielman and the rest of the scouting staff have done identifying young talent, and the combine is a crucial part of the process. Spielman looks to constantly stockpile players that he hopes will create more competition, thus improving the strength of the roster. Free agency is certainly a piece to the puzzle, but developing younger players will always be key to the Vikings success.
“The reason I believe that is so important is because we know those guys the best,” Spielman said. “If you go out and sign a free agent, you haven’t been with that guy. You may have known him since college when you evaluated him on tape, but we don’t know that guy’s work ethic, we don’t know that guy’s personality. We try to do as much background as we can, but you can truly know your guys. When they come up for an extension or a new contract, usually you’re going to have the most success building that way.” Much has changed for Spielman since joining the organization nearly a decade ago, and he’s quick to point out some of the differences during that time frame. “Just the experience handling everything, not just personnel,” Spielman said. “Handling and overseeing the coaches, going out and having an opportunity to hire a head coach. Then to handle all of the day-to-day operations on the football side of it. My best time is sometimes in the evening when everything is kind of shut down. We can actually do personnel and sit and watch tape and get prepared for the draft and free agency. " There are a lot of balls in the air sitting in this role.”
| THE WIDESPREAD SEARCH FOR TALENT FITS
As the playing career of original Viking Jerry Reichow was winding down, Norm Van Brocklin, the first coach in franchise history, set the Pro Bowler up as a scout in a department of one. “I’m all alone and I don’t know anything about scouting hardly, and we got through that year,” Reichow told Vikings.com, recalling memories from more than five decades ago. “In January (of 1966), they asked me to become the personnel director. I said, ‘Who am I going to direct? We don’t have any scouts,’ and I had little kids, a family, so I said, ‘Only if we join a combine, so that’s when we joined BLESTO and have been there ever since, but they bailed me out because that’s where all the scouting was.”
- GENERAL MANAGER RICK SPIELMAN
Reichow built a relationship with Hall of Famers General Manager Jim Finks and Head Coach Bud Grant, who succeeded Van Brocklin, and the Vikings were able to keep together so many players they drafted in the ’70s during one of the most successful eras by an NFL team. Grant’s philosophy, Reichow said, was “‘If you see something good in them, it’s up to my coaches to get it out of them,’ so he was great to work with.” The operation has grown to stretch across the country, with Vikings scouts spending springs, late summers and falls on the road. They evaluate games in-person and do homework on prospects’ backgrounds during campus visits. The review of certain players can last multiple years, with younger players going on a scout’s “radar” early. They are aware of seniors, as well as draft-eligible players who might forgo remaining college eligibility. College all-star games offer reinforcement tools and comparisons, the latter of which is also available by attending the combine. NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said the combine is a "cross-check" to validate information that’s already been gathered. The review of college prospects is led by Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson with help from Scott Studwell, who previously held the position and remains on staff as a regional scout. Skills and attributes aren’t the only consideration. Offensive and defensive systems can benefit from certain types of players. Spielman said the personnel department is benefitting from its third year of working with Zimmer and a coaching staff that hasn’t changed much since Zimmer’s hiring in 2014. “That communication is so clear … just everybody being on the same page and talking the same language,” Spielman said before the combine. "I’m hearing the scouts down there say, ‘OK, this guy is a good player, but I know this isn’t what Coach Zimmer or the staff is going to want either offensively or defensively. “ A lot of it is very clear on the type of players we’re trying to bring in from a character standpoint,” Spielman said. “From a football perspective, there is a clear direction on the type of guys we want down in that locker room, and we’re very specific when we talk through those meetings about if those guys are going to fit that criteria or not.”
One On One with DIRECTOR OF COLLEGE SCOUTING Jamaal Stephenson
One On One with Head Coach Mike Zimmer
| VIKINGS HEAD COACH
It is somewhat ironic that Zimmer’s favorite timing and testing drill to watch is the 40-yard dash. The 59-year-old is known quite extensively as a no-nonsense guy, yet the 40-yard dash is the most aggrandized event. The sprint is a hallmark of marketing that’s turned into a way to benefit a great cause, with NFL Media’s Rich Eisen running in his suit for a 12th straight year. For a second year in a row, the “Run Rich Run” campaign will benefit the NFL Play 60 relationship with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In contrast to Eisen’s tie and dress shoes, prospects will be in workout attire hoping to run for riches. Straight-line speed is important for offenses with a vertical passing game, as well as for a defender to keep pace or close a gap. “I like watching the 40 as much as anything,” Zimmer told Vikings.com. “You watch them run and see who can run and who doesn’t run nearly as well and then you kind of put it all together and try to figure it out.” Trae Waynes, for instance, ran a 4.31 — the second-fastest time of any player last year — before the
Vikings selected the cornerback 11th overall in the 2015 draft. Vikings coaches caught up with film on prospects after the NFL season ended and met with scouts who have invested substantial evaluation time. An honest and open dialogue has helped coaches and the personnel department work together, Spielman and Zimmer said. Zimmer’s combine experiences have evolved over the years, with an expansion of responsibilities from 1994-99 as Cowboys defensive backs coach to a defensive coordinator (Dallas, 2000-06; Atlanta, ’07; Cincinnati ’08-’13) and now in his third year as Vikings head coach. Assistants will cycle through Indianapolis on days that are relevant to their position groups, but Zimmer is there for the duration. He’ll still be on the lookout for explosive quickness to break up a long week. “The length of time that you’re there, trying to fit everything in with the offense, defense and special teams players, it’s much more time consuming,” Zimmer said. “The week drags on quite a bit longer.”
More than 20 years ago, Zimmer stood on the field, under the inflated roof of the now-gone RCA Dome, guiding defensive backs through on-field drills as an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Two decades later, Zimmer has returned just south of where he once led the drills to survey the whole field of prospects in his third offseason at the helm of the Vikings. Zimmer won’t take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, but the coaching staff will have active roles in reviewing performances by this year’s prospects in on-field timing and testing drills, skills demonstrations and interviews. Zimmer said working directly on the field provided a benefit in the form of more unique access to players, but he won’t require any of his assistants to do so. “I think the value is you get a chance to be around the players a little bit more and in a different type of setting, where they’re not [as guarded as during the interviews],” Zimmer said. “I think it’s good if [coaches] want to do it, but I would never force them to do it.”
The table below is from NFL.com and demonstrates the target numbers for each combine drill based on player position:
COGNITIVE ABILITY TEST
Every year in February
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Indiana. The combine has taken place in Indianapolis since 1987. Prior to its establishment there, the event was first hosted in Tampa Bay (1982-83), New Orleans (1984, 86) and Arizona (1985).
What it measures: Agility, flexibility and change of direction Important for: Offensive/defensive linemen, linebackers, running backs Record since 2006: 6.42 seconds – WR Jeffrey Maehl (2011)
What it measures: Initial quickness and burst Important for: Defensive/offensive linemen, running backs, tight ends Record since 2006: 1.40 seconds – RB Chris Johnson (2008), CB Justin King (2008), RB Cedric Peerman (2009)
The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test™ was designed as a basic measure of a player’s ability to learn and solve problems. The 50-question exam is composed of basic English, logic, math and vocabulary problems and must be completed within 12 minutes. The highest official Wonderlic score reported was recorded by Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who registered a 48 at the 2005 NFL Combine.
What it measures: Lower body explosion and leaping ability Important for: Receivers, defensive backs, defensive linemen Record since 2006: 45 inches – WR Chris Conley (2015), CB Donald Washington (2009)
The combine is a week-long showcase for draft-eligible college athletes that takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis) every February. College football players perform physical and mental tests under the observation of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts. Prospects also undergo medical exams by team trainers and physicians, which was the initial purpose of the combine.
Every year, lots of buzz surrounds the combine. We’re all used to hearing about impressive 40-yard-dash times or bench press results, but what do all these numbers really mean?
Several drills are completed by draft-eligible athletes at the combine. Some drills are position-specific, while other drills are completed by all players. How much does it matter what a wide receiver runs in the 40-yard dash or how high a linebacker can jump? Below is a breakdown of the basic drills completed by all position players and a brief explanation of what teams look for.
Receiver Stefon Diggs was selected by the Vikings in the 2015 draft. Below are his results from the 2015 combine.
| What you need to know
2014 Combine Anthony Barr
What it measures: Lower body explosion and balance Important for: Tight ends, offensive/defensive linemen, linebackers Record since 2006: 12 feet, 3 inches – CB Byron Jones (2015)
What it measures: Agility and lateral movement Important for: Running backs, defensive backs, linebackers Record since 2006: 3.81 seconds – CB Jason Allen (2006), WR Brandin Cooks (2014)
Players receive invitations to participate in the scouting combine.
What it measures: Vertical speed and acceleration Important for: Wide receivers, running backs, defensive backs Record since 2006: 4.24 seconds – RB Chris Johnson (2008)
What it measures: Upper body strength Important for: Offensive and defensive linemen Record since 2006: 49 reps – DT Stephen Paea (2011)011
| PLAYMAKING AND PERSONALITY
Besides Spielman and Zimmer, Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson, area scouts and position coaches are also present. If the Vikings are interviewing an offensive player, Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner will pepper the prospect with questions. And if it’s a defensive player, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards will question the prospect. Zimmer said he relishes the chance to pick a player’s brain on football and life. “The interview times, when you get a chance to sit down with the guys and get a feel for them, you know, a lot of times it’s rehearsed, but you still get a feel for the player,” Zimmer said. The Vikings also have a few tools at their disposal to test a player’s specific football knowledge. Besides asking questions, teams usually have a television in the room so a prospect can break down film, as well as a whiteboard so they can draw up plays they like or how to beat certain schemes. Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway recently recalled his time at the combine back in 2006. The veteran said the interviews were more draining than the on-field drills. “It is such a grinder for the players,” Greenway said. “It’s one of the toughest job interviews you’re ever going to have. “It’s physical, it’s mental, they want to learn everything about you they possibly can from a personal level,” he added. “Every skeleton in your closet is going to come out, they’re going to dig and figure it out." When the combine rolls around, there is pressure on both the players and teams. Not that they’d have it any other way.
PHOTOS FROM 2016 COMBINE
When hundreds of the top college prospects converge at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the combine, drills such as the 40-yard dash and the 225-pound bench press get most of the fanfare. But peek behind the scenes and there’s another aspect of the combine that all 32 franchises see as one of the most crucial parts of the week. Each NFL team is granted 60 interviews with players. For the Vikings, this is a chance for scouts and coaches to dive deep with potential future draft picks. Teams only get 15 minutes, the equivalent of 900 seconds. They can’t afford to waste any time. “You have to get a lot accomplished in 900 seconds,” Spielman said. Spielman believes that the interview process might be more important than how fast a player can run or how far they can jump. “The biggest thing is our ability to get in front of these players and interview them to find out if this is the type of player and the type of personality that we want to bring into our organization,” Spielman said. “We’ve been very selective on the character guys we’ve brought in over the last couple years to fit the chemistry we have built in that locker room. “That is the also the only time of year where you have your doctors there, your trainers, your sports psychologists, where we can evaluate 300 players in those areas,” he added. “A lot of the tools we use to make decisions, that information has to be gathered at the combine.” The players who meet with Minnesota’s personnel sit on the “hot seat” in the interview room.
One-On-One with Vikings Director of sports Medicine/head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman
At a week-long event that features numerous on-field drills and intense interviews with NFL general managers, it might sound strange that many players often refer to the medical evaluation as the most “grueling” part of the whole process. “Most people see the made-for-TV part of the combine. Well, a lot of things happen before that,” Vikings Director of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman said during an exclusive tour of the NFL combine medical evaluation rooms. While most fans gravitate toward the televised drills at Lucas Oil Stadium, the medical tests are not only extremely arduous for the players, but they’re arguably the most valuable for clubs. “The teams, all 32 of them, are about to invest a lot of money in a lot of these guys,” Sugarman said. “You want to know everything you can about these guys. We have to really analyze these players and make sure we know what we’re getting.” The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine marks Sugarman’s 20th trip to Indianapolis for the annual event. It’s also his 11th combine with the Vikings. The process, as Sugarman explains, is routine. It’s been developed with input from training staffs across the league. While routine for the trainers, all players will be put through a series of at least six medical exams. After going through an initial trip to the hospital where additional lab work can be ordered if needed, the players will then go to the medical center in Indianapolis. Each player undergoes an impact concussion test upon entering the facility to go along with a standard physical. After that, they’ll go into the first of six orthopedic rooms. The Vikings share a room with doctors from the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. Each player will be evaluated randomly by one of the doctors. That doctor will then take the player to the evaluation room, where they’ll discuss the findings with the group of teams. Sugarman, along with three other Vikings trainers and specialists, can weigh in if they want additional tests to be ordered. They’ll make notes for every player that comes through and factor that into their overall player evaluations. That process has to be repeated five times by every player in the remaining five evaluation rooms. If a player does have a significant injury, it can take hours before he's done with the medical process. If there are players the Vikings have concerns about, Spielman makes sure the medical staff takes note. “I’ll sit down with Eric Sugarman and point out certain guys that we may have an interest in to make sure our doctors put their hands on to check out A, B or C on their body,” Spielman said. After the combine, the athletic staff takes part in pre-draft meetings with the entire scouting staff, factoring in any medical risks to arrive at an overall grade.
| ERIC SUGARMAN
The youngest player in the NFL this season, defensive end Danielle Hunter, bucked questions about his age and was second in the league among rookies with 6.0 sacks after being nabbed in the third round.
Anthony Harris didn’t get picked in the draft and was an undrafted free agent. But the safety still made his presence felt as he chipped in on both defense and special teams.
First-round pick Trae Waynes gained valuable experience behind veterans throughout the season. The cornerback recorded a key interception in the Wild Card playoff game against Seattle.
said. “That’s how we build this football team. I think by building through the draft you can maintain consistency year-in and year-out.��� The first part of Spielman’s process — drafting players — was a high point of the 2015 season as many rookies made an immediate impact. Minnesota’s 2015 draft class impressed Zimmer, who said he enjoys helping young players evolve.“ "I love the young players," Zimmer said. "The good thing about them is you can kind of mold them into what you’re trying to get them to be, trying to get them to understand what it’s like to be a professional."
Receiver Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick, was inactive early before bursting onto the scene. Diggs led the Vikings in receptions (52) and yards (720) and was second in touchdown catches with four.
Offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings was thrown into the fire early as he started all 16 games plus the playoff tilt. Clemmings, a fourth-round pick, began his collegiate career as a defensive lineman but switched for his final two seasons.
Spend time around Spielman, and the word “process” will undoubtedly come up. Spielman looks at the combine through the same prism. Evaluations and workouts at the combine lead to players getting selected in the NFL Draft, which then gives them an opportunity to make an impact with a franchise in the short and long term. Spielman firmly believes in building his team through the draft, developing prospects and retaining them by extending players who have earned another contract. The draft has always been our focal point,” Spielman
Seventh-round selection Austin Shepherd, a reserve offensive lineman, played special teams and certain situations on offense.
Eric Kendricks, a second-round selection, started 11 regular season games and the playoff contest. The linebacker tallied 105 tackles, the fourth-most by a rookie in franchise history.
Edmond Robinson, a seventh-round pick, made two starts at linebacker and also fared well as a special teams performer during his rookie season. He finished with nine total tackles.
The performance of the Vikings rookies impressed many, including ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., who re-graded Minnesota’s draft in April and gave the Vikings an ‘A’. “When you consider how much the Vikings improved, and that they should have at least one playoff win, this rookie class looks even more impressive,” Kiper noted. “Trae Waynes had his share of struggles, but you expect that from a rookie corner, and he’ll get better. Eric Kendricks is a stud, and Danielle Hunter looks like an absolute steal. Stefon Diggs is a player I couldn’t imagine falling so far during his final year at Maryland, but there he was in Round 5, and the Vikes got a steal. We’ll see what becomes of T.J. Clemmings, but he’s got some ability to work with. Even Edmond Robinson played well on special teams. Just a fantastic start for a class — no way around it.” Less than a year after being selected, the Vikings 2015 rookies were near the head of the NFL’s class. The Vikings will do their best to make sure the same can be said about this year’s group.
Tight end MyCole Pruitt, a fifth-round pick, saw his role increase as the season progressed. He caught 10 passes for 89 yards and started three games.