Ten years is a lifetime in the NFL. With John Elway’s reign coming to an end, the Denver Broncos are going to whatever places George Paton takes them. It marks the dawn of a new era. There is no doubt this change will be felt in the Broncos NFL Draft process as Paton breathes life to his vision for the roster.
It’s impossible to isolate who made which decisions in an NFL front office without leaks or admissions. While Paton’s long tenure and influential role near the Vikings should provide some hints, we probably won’t know what picks were “his” unless he admits as much. Rick Spielman sure won’t:
“I will leave all those decisions internally here. I will not go down that road. We do enough and grind hard enough to get everybody on the same page. There’s going to be disagreements in personnel. A coach might not like a player, but a scout likes a player, or a scout hates a player and the coach loves the player. There’s a way we do things that eventually we get to the end result where everybody is on the same page. That’s part of the process, and to me, that’s the most important part of the process. Where you start—especially in your draft process—you start to put everybody’s opinion together, and where there is disagreements, what is your method to get everybody on the same page so when you do select or not select a player that everybody is in agreement on that? That’s the unique part of this business, as hard as it is. I think it’s also the people you work with because in the end, it’s not Rick Spielman’s player or George Paton’s players, it’s the Minnesota Vikings player. We went through our processes with as long and as hard as they are to get to that end result. Once we pick that player, it’s a Minnesota Vikings player.”
With that in mind, I still believe it worth exploring the Vikings draft process. One of the goals of every NFL team is to find the best athletes available. It’s why testing numbers become such a large part of the process to the chagrin of old school tape grinders. No one I know does a better job breaking down and contextualizing these numbers than Kent Lee Platte.
If you didn’t already know about Platte, he created Relative Athletic Scores, a metric and analytics system that takes pleasure measurements, puts them on an easy to understand zero-to-10 scale compared to their position group. A final score is then produced, which is also on a zero-to-10 score, to show overall athleticism for a draft prospect.
I rely on him every year to fully grasp where each prospect tests in relation to both his peers and historically. Honestly, if you plan to dig into the 2021 NFL Draft I’d recommend bookmarking his site, and if you don’t already follow Math Bomb on Twitter? You need to.
Platte’s also a lifelong Lions’ fan who kept up with George Paton during Detroit’s own general manager search.
1st and 10
I’ve been on pins and needles watching the Lions’ process until Paton came to Denver. Beyond the draft implications, what do you think of the Broncos’ new general manager?
Platte: Since every front office is both different from one another and secretive about their organization and strategies, we’re left to glean as much information as we can about new hires based on the tendencies of their previous stops. Paton wasn’t my first choice, nor was he my second for GM, and that largely dealt with the Vikings’ draft strategies over the past several seasons. That isn’t to put some dagger in and claim he was terrible; there were several decisions that were top notch at the time but are only being lauded as so now that they’ve been shown to be successful picks.
The easiest example of this is his first round selection of Justin Jefferson in 2020. Jefferson was considered an early draft pick, but there were only a few calling him a first-round type of talent. His athletic profile suggested incredible value, however, and the Vikings current personnel and QB tendencies further pointed to an early fit in the NFL. That sort of marriage between testing, scheme, and personnel is a very strong sign of a GM that is intelligent enough to listen to everyone involved in the decision being made and the aggressiveness to pull the trigger even if facing potential backlash for perceived value.
Want a slot receiver who can win against almost everyone and open up your offense in new ways? I'd love to see what Darrell Bevell could do with Justin Jefferson as a weapon.https://t.co/JItM4089u9 pic.twitter.com/LNOvQJCPAg— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 3, 2020
2nd and 7
Are there any notable trends you notice when you look at the Vikings draft history since George Paton came aboard in 2007?
Platte: During Paton’s time with the Vikings, at least in more recent years, they’ve focused on acquiring elite athletes on their offensive line. I’ve spoken before about the differences in approach on the OL and ultimately whether or not a team focuses on elite tier athletes over technical ability is less important than how stringently it is applied and quite simply being right about who is picked. Paton gambled on athleticism on his OL and has mostly been right in his selections. His one bigger whiff was on Pat Elflein, who actually tested terribly (going against how Paton has selected OL normally).
Despite this, the Vikings have also gambled on players with poor athletic profiles and their results have not been great. Dalvin Cook is clearly a hit despite struggling early on with injuries and other issues, but the Vikings overdrafted players like Jaleel Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Willie Beavers, and a few others that you could argue were simply taken too early for where they tested and how they played. While it could just be natural ups and downs of draft history, the Vikings have seemed to improve over the last few seasons in this regard, but small sample size always gives me pause.
The Minnesota #Vikings have been taking less risks with athleticism lately. The struggles of Laquon Treadwell and Pat Elflein may have played a part, but the selection of Irv Smith Jr. shows that they are still willing to go tape first even if the risk is high. pic.twitter.com/jW3Dmofp27— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 6, 2019
3rd and 3
Many teams seem to have different strategies for the early part of the draft vs Day 3 and beyond. One thing I noticed is the Vikings went heavily after cornerbacks early. Is there anything that stands out to you?
Platte: The Vikings going so heavily at corner was in part due to emptying the cupboards on their roster. They let pretty much everybody walk or let them go themselves, leaving them in a bit of a spot. They have yet to really make up for that personnel snafu despite making several selections, but as is often the case, we’re very much in the ‘jury still out’ phase of those draft picks since it’s so early. The types of athletes they’ve picked at that position is all over the map, so it’s tough to draw too many conclusions there either.
With pick 89 in the 2020 NFL Draft, the #Vikings selected Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 25, 2020
He posted a poor #RAS with good size, very poor speed, at the CB position.https://t.co/cdI5xWbOCH#Skol pic.twitter.com/3tBLfmUBCT
4th and 2
The Broncos quarterback situation is so wide open that I feel like fans need to consider any and all potential options. What are the odds Matt Stafford becomes available? What do you think it’d cost in terms of draft capital if he was, and would you trade him?
Platte: While it’s popular given the Lions general dysfunction and Stafford staring down his potentially fifth new offense, it’s highly unlikely he is dealt in 2021. In previous years, it would have been laughably impossible, so I guess highly improbable is an improvement, but we’re still talking in the low single digits in terms of percentage chance of occurring in 2021. This remains true even if the Lions were to spend their first round pick on a quarterback, so even if that happens it probably isn’t worth getting too tightly wound about the possibility if it happens.
Now, 2022 it gets interesting. The Lions are facing an out in Stafford’s contract, their roster is in tatters, and they’re facing a potentially long rebuild. Acquiring draft capital to rebuild a roster is a huge deal, and this one sits right about 50/50 at the moment and could jump as high as a certainty if the Lions make a move in the 2021 NFL Draft.
As far as capital, you’re still talking about a top-tier QB playing extremely well who would be relatively cap friendly to the team dealing for him. While I wouldn’t rule out multiple firsts (these types of deals never happen for a reason), it’s most likely at or around a first round pick along with a day two pick regardless of if we’re talking the 2021 or 2022 offseasons. Looking back at the types of QBs who have been dealt for similar capital, it’s simply a pipe dream to imagine less than that.
As far as if I would trade him, that answer is “no” in 2021. Even in a full-on rebuild, even if the Lions took a QB, there’s simply more harm than value to trade him until his cap out hits in 2022. After that, it’s just a matter of what direction the Lions are going. Matthew Stafford is the all-time leading passer in every category for the Lions by a wide margin, and he’s the greatest QB they’ve ever had. Seeing him leave would be a massive culture shock to even the most jaded fans. It just...might be time.