The NFL Draft is inside three weeks away. The Vikings are completing their Top-30 visits, finishing-up their evaluations of most draft prospects, and have assembled most of their draft board by now. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his staff have also likely reached out to other GMs to lay the groundwork for potential trade scenarios, so when the time comes and the conditions are right, they can execute them while they’re on the clock, which gives them between ten and four minutes to execute a trade, depending on the round.
Vikings Draft Strategy Continuity from Spielman to Adofo-Mensah
Some may not like to hear this, but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is much like his predecessor, Rick Spielman, when it comes to draft strategy. Spielman invested increasingly in analytics over the course of his career as Vikings’ GM, and Adofo-Mensah is the first GM that came from the analytics side of the front office.
Both Spielman and Adofo-Mensah have shown they are guided by the analytics behind trading down, as analytics suggest the first 50-60 picks in the draft are overvalued relative to the historical performance of players picked in those slots over the years, and later round picks are undervalued based on the Jimmy Johnson value chart- which is still the basis for draft-day trades today despite its known deficiencies.
In many ways, the analytics-based draft strategy is an indictment of the draft prospect evaluation process. No GM has been able to have much more than average success with picking winners on a per-pick basis over a several year period. There are several reasons for it including injuries or off-field incidents, the difficulty in determining how committed a player is to the work ethic and passion for the game that is so critical to success in the NFL, and having the right coaching and scheme to develop players to their full potential. Most top draft picks have superior traits that led to success in college, but no longer stand out in the NFL, so the commitment and ability to improve their game at the NFL level becomes a key determinant of success.
The Ravens have been among the most successful NFL teams in drafting players over the last twenty years, under two GMs- Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta. But their philosophy is quantity over quality, as DeCosta summarized a few years ago:
“Teams should always trade back and acquire picks, and never trade up. You should always accumulate, because the draft is basically a luck-driven process. If you have 10 or 12 draft picks in any given year, even if you suck at drafting, you’re probably gonna hit on five or six picks.”
Additionally, Adofo-Mensah, like Spielman before him, has shown he is a trader. Spielman was the most prolific draft-day trader during his career as Vikings’ GM, and last year Adofo-Mensah made the most draft-day trades of any GM in the 2022 draft. Here is my summary of Kwesi’s draft-day trades last year. Ultimately Adofo-Mensah, like Spielman before him, is trying to add value to the Vikings draft using analytics and a propensity to trade using them.
Vikings Have Only Five Picks in the 2023 Draft
The fact that the Vikings have only five picks in this year’s draft makes it more likely that Kwesi will look to trade down at some point in the draft, and perhaps with his first-round pick as he did last year.
The Vikings have a number of needs, from cornerback to wide receiver, defensive tackle to interior offensive line, edge rusher to a quarterback to succeed Kirk Cousins at some point. It’s difficult to fill all those needs, and some lesser needs too, with only five picks. The Vikings are also rumored to be open to trading Dalvin Cook, Za’Darius Smith, and maybe even Kirk Cousins. It wouldn’t be too surprising if Kwesi trades one or more of those players during the draft to acquire additional draft picks.
Rick Spielman used to say he wanted to have ten picks in every draft if possible. Last year Kwesi Adofo-Mensah ended up with...wait for it... ten draft picks. This year it may be a bit of a stretch to get ten picks- unless most of them are Day Three additions- but if the Vikings execute some trades that involve Cook and Za’Darius Smith, they could reach that amount.
Trade Down in First Round Seems Likely
The Vikings hold picks #23, #87, #119, #158, and #211. Those picks are in the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth round. Of their combined Jimmy Johnson value chart worth of 1003.4 points, 760 of those points are given to pick #23. So, any move down to pick up more than some late Day Three picks would have to include moving down from #23.
One of the most likely trade partners potentially looking to trade up to #23 is the Kansas City Chiefs at #31. The Chiefs need a right tackle badly, and so do the Jacksonville Jaguars picking at #24. There may be only one tackle remaining at #23 with a first-round grade and the Chiefs may feel its worth trading up to get him. Trading down to #31 could yield the Vikings three Chiefs picks #95, #134, and #250 (late 3rd, 4th, and 7th round) for exactly 760 points on the Jimmy Johnson value chart. Other teams may be interested in trading up as well- ahead of Jacksonville- depending on how the draft falls which could create a premium for the Vikings. There is a drop to late second-round grade for tackles beyond the top 4-5, so there could be some win-now teams picking late in the first-round willing to pay a premium to get their guy.
Of course there is always the possibility of a player unexpectedly falling to #23 that the Vikings don’t want to pass up, and there are rumors that there could be a lot of surprises in the first round this year- more so than normal- so there’s always a chance the Vikings stay put at #23. And sometimes a trade, though desired, never materializes. But my guess is that Kwesi will look to trade down and accumulate more draft capital.
After the Vikings’ free agency moves so far, they still have needs at cornerback. Only recent acquisition Byron Murphy Jr. has played more than a few games worth of snaps in the NFL, as both Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans missed significant time due to injury their rookie year. Behind them are Kalon Barnes, a rookie 7th round pick released by the Panthers last season and acquired by the Vikings, Theo Jackson a 6th round pick released by the Titans last year, and Tay Gowen, a 6th round pick in 2021 released by the Cardinals. These last three are practice squad players. That leaves the Vikings with three viable cornerbacks on the roster, two of them unproven and so far injury prone.
So, clearly the Vikings need to add at least two cornerbacks during the draft- one starting-level caliber and another to improve depth. I would expect the Vikings to use their first draft pick on a starting-level cornerback, and another Day Three pick to improve depth.
Guys like Deonte Banks or Kelee Ringo could be available for the Vikings at the end of the first round and would compete for a starting job at an outside cornerback spot.
WR2 is also a need, given the release of Adam Thielen. The Vikings would like to have a genuine deep threat to draw attention away from Justin Jefferson, and also be a viable target than can gain separation consistently. It will be interesting to see how much of a priority this position gets in terms of draft capital. The Vikings have deep threats in Jalen Nailor and Jalen Reagor that could fill the role. Nailor seems the more promising of the two given Reagor’s mental struggles last season, while Nailor- who WR coach Keenan McCardell pounded the table for in last year’s draft- made the most of his offensive snaps and could be ready to move up the depth chart this season. And while the Vikings praise KJ Osborn, it doesn’t seem like he’s their solution at WR2 either. The emergence of TJ Hockenson as the Vikings’ second-leading receiving target may also make WR2 a bit less of a priority than it otherwise would be.
The Vikings have met with several late first/early second-round wide receiver prospects such as Jordan Addison, Zay Flowers, and Quentin Johnston, but it seems unlikely for the Vikings to spend a first-round pick on a WR2. There is only one wide receiver with a clear first round grade- Jaxon Smith-Njigba- the rest have fringe first-round/second round grades. Part of the reason for that is many of the top receivers in this year’s draft class are smaller, slot-receiver types that don’t typically warrant a first-round pick, or don’t have the speed/route running/size combination worthy of a first round pick.
If they trade down and take a cornerback with their first pick, they could potentially use that extra draft capital to move up with their next pick for a receiver- perhaps if a guy like Jalin Hyatt fell far enough in the second round to make a run at him. Or perhaps take a chance on another LSU wide receiver Trey Palmer, who’s projected to go in the third round. He played his senior year at Nebraska. Or they could take another Day Three flyer on a guy like Bryce Ford-Wheaton, another wide receiver with all the desired traits but needs development as a route runner. All these guys have the speed and acceleration to be bona fide deep threats.
Defensive Front Seven
The Vikings also have secondary needs at interior defensive line, outside and inside linebacker. They have Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport, Za’Darius Smith, and Dean Lowry on the roster, which could make for an excellent defensive front, but these guys all have one year, or effectively one-year, left on their contract. Hunter and Davenport could be extended, but Lowry may not be ideal as an interior pass rusher and Smith may or may not remain on the roster. There’s not much for proven talent behind them, so spending one or more mid-round picks to bolster the depth here seems a likely scenario for the Vikings. Guys like Derick Hall (Edge) and Karl Brooks (DT) are possibilities here.
There is also a need to bolster depth behind Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah at linebacker. The Vikings have Troy Dye, William Kwenkeu, and newly acquired Troy Reeder, but there is room for improvement. On the other hand, this isn’t a great year for linebackers in the draft, so the Vikings could end up not using much or any draft capital here and elect to roll with what they have on the roster. It wouldn’t be surprising if Brian Flores looked to a hybrid type defender to fill some snaps here as well.
Brian Flores likes defenders with position versatility. So, an interior lineman that can also play off the edge. Or an edge rusher that can move inside. Or an edge rusher that can also play off-the-ball linebacker. Or a safety-linebacker. Or a safety-nickel cornerback. Or an inside-outside cornerback. A lot of the guys they’ve been looking at have this position versatility.
Interior Offensive Line
The interior offensive line remains the weak spot in the Vikings offense, with all three interior linemen struggling in pass protection. Garrett Bradbury stepped up enough in the final season in his rookie contract to earn a modest extension, and Ezra Cleveland finds himself in the same position this year. Cleveland allowed 55 QB pressures last season, second only to rookie Ed Ingram, and hasn’t improved as a pass protector since his rookie campaign. So, Cleveland will likely need a break-out season in pass protection if he’s to receive a contract extension from the Vikings.
Other interior offensive linemen on the roster include Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann, but these are back-up only guys that aren’t competing for a starting job at this point. Josh Sokol is also on the roster as a practice squad center.
The Vikings don’t have the draft capital to spend on an immediate starting-level caliber guard to challenge Cleveland or Ingram, although a free-agent acquisition remains a possibility, so they’ll likely look to use a Day Three pick on a guy that could compete for a starting job next season. One possibility is Anthony Bradford, a big (330 lb) guard out of LSU, or Chandler Zevala out of NC State if he falls into Day Three.
Like last year, it’s not a good draft class for interior offensive linemen this year which could result in them getting overdrafted like last year too.
Depending on the status of Dalvin Cook, who the Vikings are said to have received some trade offers for, the Vikings could also add a running back to the group. Alexander Mattison and I believe Ty Chandler based on some comments by Kevin O’Connell, look likely to head-up the running back room should Cook be traded. That leaves Kene Nwangwu, who while he has all the athletic traits you could want in a running back, doesn’t have the on-field experience and reps in college at the position, and is still a work in progress. So it would make some sense for the Vikings to spend a Day Three pick on a running back to add depth to the room. It is becoming increasingly common for teams to find a good running back with a Day Three pick and I expect the Vikings will look to draft another running back on Day Three, like they did with Ty Chandler last year.
The Vikings would also like to find an eventual successor to Kirk Cousins, as he makes his way through his mid-30s. The Vikings have been in extension talks with Cousins, who is willing to sign for less than his market value of around $40 million/year. However, the sticking point in talks a couple months ago apparently was on guaranteeing Cousins’ 2025 salary. The Vikings were willing to guarantee Cousins’ 2024 salary, but not 2025. And so the talks have stalled for the time being. I suspect the Vikings want to wait and see who they acquire as a potential successor to Cousins, and that in turn will inform their strategy on extension talks.
Barring an improbable ‘all-in’ trade-up strategy that leverages most of the Vikings’ draft capital for the next few years in a move up to the top five for a quarterback, the Vikings will likely be considering quarterbacks likely to go later in the draft. Those include guys like Hendon Hooker from Tennessee, Tanner McKee from Stanford, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) from UCLA. All of these quarterbacks, like the top four in this year’s draft, come with question marks and there is no guarantee any of them will pan out. There are some rumors that Hooker could go in the first round, despite his ACL tear that will delay his start until 2024, at which time he’ll be four months from turning 27. The Bucs among other teams have done some work on Hooker and potentially could draft him as early as #19. The Bucs have Baker Mayfield on a one-year deal and Kyle Trask, so drafting Hooker to compete next year for a starting job makes some sense.
In any case, it makes sense for the Vikings to take another shot at quarterback after the failed experiment with Kellen Mond. Spending a 4th or 5th round pick on DTR is a low risk, potentially high-reward strategy. The Vikings have the timeframe to draft another young quarterback in hope of developing him to succeed Cousins. If he doesn’t work out, they have time to do so again too if they extend Cousins.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is likely to continue his analytics-based approach to the draft, in furtherance of his competitive rebuild strategy. He could use a few more picks to address current and future needs, and following draft analytics by trading down a bit to accumulate more picks makes sense.
Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings came away from the draft with two cornerbacks, a defensive interior lineman, edge rusher, quarterback, wide receiver, interior offensive lineman, and a running back. We’ll see how it plays out. There is always the unexpected.
In which round will the Vikings draft a quarterback at the end of the month?
This poll is closed
They won’t draft a quarterback