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Here are the best and worst Vikings draft picks of Rick Spielman’s tenure

While he’s long been viewed as a skilled talent evaluator, capable of hitting home runs with his draft picks, Spielman also had a number of swings and misses that ultimately led to his demise.

FILE PHOTO: NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter Nov. 21 against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL -- After an up-and-down 16 years with the organization, Rick Spielman’s time with the Minnesota Vikings has come to an end. That became official Monday when Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf released a morning statement announcing the firing of Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer.

Looking specifically at Spielman, he joined the Vikings’ front office in 2006 and spent time as the vice president of player personnel before being promoted to general manager in 2012. That’s really when he started to oversee the draft board on a regular basis.

While he’s long been viewed as a skilled talent evaluator, capable of hitting home runs with his draft picks, Spielman also had a number of swings and misses that ultimately led to his demise.

Here are some of the best and worst Vikings draft picks of Spielman’s tenure:

The best

5. Eric Kendricks (2015): Though he’s still among the most underrated players in the NFL, middle linebacker Eric Kendricks has been the heartbeat of the Vikings defense since being drafted in the second round in 2015. He’s a tackling machine, and his ability to play sideline to sideline is second to none. That, coupled with the fact that Kendricks has some incredible ball-hawking skills, and this is among Spielman’s best draft picks. It’s worth noting that star receiver Stefon Diggs might have got the nod over Kendricks on this list if he was still with the Vikings.

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4. Danielle Hunter (2015): It’s not often a team drafts a bonafide superstar midway through a draft. That’s exactly what Spielman did when he selected defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third round in 2015. Since the Vikings took a chance on him, Hunter has emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the league when he’s healthy. The issue with Hunter, of course, is that he hasn’t been healthy for the past couple of seasons. Now his future with the organization is in question as he’s set to make $20 million next season.

3. Dalvin Cook (2017): After an impressive college career, running back Dalvin Cook fell in the 2017 draft largely due to off-field concerns. Spielman opted to trade up in the second round to select Cook, and in the process, nabbed a top-tier talent at the position. While there’s been some injury concerns with Cook throughout his career, he’s unequivocally among the most dynamic players in the league when he’s at 100 percent.

2. Harrison Smith (2012): After taking full control of the front office ahead of the 2012 draft, Spielman made perhaps his best draft pick ever by trading up to take safety Harrison Smith in the first round. There hasn’t been a more consistent player on the Vikings roster over the past decade than Smith. Though the defense as a whole has struggled over the past couple of seasons, Smith still is playing at a high level.

1. Justin Jefferson (2020): After begrudgingly trading Diggs to the Buffalo Bills in a move that had to happen, Spielman immediately replaced him by selecting star receiver Justin Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 draft. Jefferson’s first two seasons with the Vikings have been record-setting, and it looks like his star is only going to continue to rise. It feels like only a matter of time before Jefferson breaks every franchise record that currently belongs to Randy Moss. Whoever takes over for Spielman is getting a gift in the form of one of the best receivers in the league.

The worst

5. Mike Hughes (2018): To no fault of his own, cornerback Mike Hughes was a massive bust after Spielman selected him in the first round in 2018. While he started his career off with a bang, recording a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in his NFL debut, Hughes couldn’t stay healthy after that. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament as a rookie, then sustained a lingering neck injury that more or less ended his Vikings career. He now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

4. Garrett Bradbury (2019): In need of some help up front, Spielman selected center Garrett Bradbury in the first round in 2019. It was a questionable move at the time since it’s not often a center gets selected with such a high draft pick. It looks 100 times worse in hindsight as Bradbury has looked physically outmatched throughout his career. It’s not hard to see the Vikings moving on from him at some point in the near future. He ceded reps to journeyman lineman Mason Cole this season.

3. Jeff Gladney (2020): With safety Antoine Winfield Jr. there for the taking in the 2020 draft, Spielman passed on the Gophers standout and instead selected cornerback Jeff Gladney. That has proven to be a huge misstep, as Winfield has developed into a playmaker for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Gladney is no longer with the Vikings. He was released on Aug. 3, 2021 after being indicted by a grand jury for felony assault of a woman.

2. Christian Ponder (2011): This has to be near the top of the list because of the implications it had on the franchise for years to come. The decision to select the quarterback in the first round in 2011 — Spielman was running the draft for the Vikings even though he wasn’t yet the general manager — did not work out at all. Ponder finished with a 14-21-1 record as a starter with the Vikings and was out of the NFL shortly after leaving the team.

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SPORTS-TRYING-TO-SALVAGE-CAREER-TREADWELL-MS.jpg
Laquon Treadwell was picked in the first round in 2016. He was basically nonexistent throughout his Vikings career, playing 53 games and finishing with 65 catches for 701 yards.
Star Tribune /Carlos Gonzalez / TNS

1. Laquon Treadwell (2016): The biggest mistake of Spielman’s tenure has to be taking receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round in 2016. He was basically nonexistent throughout his Vikings career, playing 53 games and finishing with 65 catches for 701 yards. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Treadwell had an entitled demeanor, believing he should be a focal point of the offense despite his struggles. It was a complete waste of a draft pick that Spielman will never live down.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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