Rick Spielman knows what he is doing.
Love him or hate him, the Minnesota Vikings’ general manager does not care about your feelings towards his stockpiling of late round draft picks or the occasional early round miss.
One thing is clear though, he is damn good at drafting players that are fit to be molded by head coach Mike Zimmer and Co.
Since his promotion from Vice President of Player Personnel to his current role in 2012, Spielman has knocked it out of the park in the draft finding the likes of Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Stephen Weatherly, and more with the 2015 draft alone bearing the likes of Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, and Stefon Diggs.
So, it is interesting when fans and pundits alike applaud him for his drafts, but knock him for trades that appear to be beneficial for the future of the organization.
That is where the blockbuster Stefon Diggs trade comes in.
After a breakout year in 2017 and an even better 2018 where Diggs hauled in over 1,000 yards receiving, 102 catches, and a whopping 68.5% catch rate, turmoil began to brew within the Vikings camp. Diggs began sending cryptic tweets, sitting out of practices, and butting heads with the likes of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
That did not stop Diggs from having a career year in receiving yards (1,130), but the writing was on the wall.
The toxicity from Diggs led to Spielman trading him and a seventh-round pick (sorry for your loss, Rick) away to the Buffalo Bills for a 2020 first, fifth, and sixth round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Now, this is where the story begins to unfold. Utilizing the first-round pick from the Bills, Spielman jumped at the chance to draft wide receiver Justin Jefferson in a deep class to hopefully fill the void the Diggs trade left in production.
Yet that does not seem to float some boats.
Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus’ Lead NFL Analyst, tweeted that he believes the drafting of Jefferson will never pan out to reach the heights Diggs’ career in purple and gold led to. Give that thread a deep-dive if you want to see some lunacy.
Sure, Diggs was a diamond in the rough being drafted in the fifth-round and producing the way he did, but to write off Jefferson before taking a snap is asinine.
Let’s look at the numbers because Jefferson came into the draft with insane advanced receiving numbers.
Justin Jefferson’s Advanced Receiving Stats (2019):
Slot % – 81%
ADOT – 8.7 yds
YPRR – 2.64 yds
Drop Rate – 5.8%
Contested Catch % – 92.3% (led CFB)
YAC/Catch – 6.4 yards
While the high slot usage and low ADOT yardage could come off as concerning, one needs to remember he was playing on a team that had one of the best offenses in college football history and was playing alongside Biletnikoff winner, Ja’Marr Chase as The Athletic’s Arif Hasan noted.
But looking at how the other numbers stack up to some of the best in the league, Jefferson is on pace to be in the echelon of Michael Thomas in YPRR and ADOT and he blows out nearly ever top-performing receiver in contested catch rate and YAC/Catch.
Throw in the fact his slot usage is likely to drop precipitously in a Gary Kubiak-run system and it does not make sense to say he will never become as good as Diggs.
Needless to say, the kid can play and could very well outproduce Diggs before his rookie contract is up while Diggs withers away in Buffalo as passes sail over his head from Josh Allen or, god-forbid, Jake Fromm. More on Fromm later.
Yes, time will tell, but this appears to be an extremely talented pick-up by Spielman that he should be applauded for instead of bashed.
So what is the timeframe to allow for skepticism to be rampant when it comes to these situations? One season? Two? The entirety of a player’s career?
I think one can say two is a good baseline and should be utilized when making as bold a comment as Monson’s.
Spielman knows what he is doing and has proven people wrong many times before and he will do it again. He has navigated a tricky cap situation and arguably had one of the two or three best drafts in the league this year.
Have some faith and banter on.