The 2023 NFL Draft is officially over and the Vikings have also officially signed 15 undrafted free agents (UDFAs) to bring their roster to a total of 88 players- two short of the maximum allowed until the end of August.
The Vikings entered the draft with just five draft picks- #23, #87, #119, #158, and #211. In the end, they made six selections at #23, #102, #134, #141, #164, and #222 after two trades down, and one trade up. They also acquired a fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft in the process.
Not A Lot of Surprises
Overall, the Vikings were able to address a number of needs, including primary needs at wide receiver and cornerback, but also adding depth players at other positions including defensive tackle, slot corner/safety, quarterback, and running back. They also added a couple of draftable players that were ranked in the top 120 or so as UDFAs- LB Ivan Pace Jr. and ED Andre Carter II. There weren’t many surprises in terms of the positions the Vikings targeted, and unlike last year most of the players the Vikings selected had met with them during the pre-draft process, so they weren’t too surprising either.
It also wasn’t surprising to see Kwesi Adofo-Mensah make some trades- particularly trading down to acquire more draft picks. In the end he netted two additional draft picks- one this year and one next year.
Theme of this Vikings’ Draft: Production
In previous drafts, the Vikings have focused on drafting a number of top athletes- players with high relative athletic scores (RAS) for their position compared to others. That wasn’t a theme this year, as the Vikings didn’t draft any players with elite overall RAS based on pre-draft testing at the Combine and player Pro Days.
Instead, the theme of players the Vikings drafted this year was production. Most players the Vikings drafted had top end production and PFF grades in college (Addison, Blackmon, Hall, and McBride in particular, but also UDFA linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.). They weren’t terrible athletes either, but in some cases didn’t score as high because they were on the small side, or didn’t do as well in an ancillary test that impacted their RAS more than their ability or production on the field.
USC and LSU
The Vikings' first four picks were unusual in that the players came from just two schools: USC and LSU. It may have been a coincidence that both Jordan Addison and Mekhi Blackmon came from USC (although in both cases they were transfers to USC in 2022), but the two players from LSU may have been drafted due to a Vikings connection. Vikings’ defensive backs coach Daronte Jones was defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach for LSU in 2021, so he has familiarity with the defensive players at LSU in this year’s draft. That likely had an impact on those two players being drafted by the Vikings.
Low-Key Draft for the Vikings
With one of the least amounts of draft capital in this year’s draft, which was one of the weakest draft classes in many years, the Vikings draft isn’t likely to draw much attention or accolades. The Vikings drafted only one player among the top 100 on the consensus board (the 101st was UDFA Andre Carter II), and so not a lot of hype with any of the players the Vikings drafted.
Still, the Vikings did well in addressing their two biggest needs- wide receiver and cornerback- with limited draft capital while shoring up other position groups as well. Kwesi made a few trades, but none of them were blockbusters by any means, nor were they particularly one-sided. Depending on which value chart you reference, the Vikings may have come out a bit ahead, but I’d say the trades were fairly even overall.
All of the above may leave you a bit underwhelmed with the Vikings draft, and certainly it wasn’t as exciting as a few others in recent years, nor did it produce as big a haul of players. But at the end of the day, if this draft can produce one or two impact players, to go with TJ Hockenson who the Vikings traded their second-round pick to acquire last year, it will be a good draft. Fewer than 10% of all draft picks prove to be true impact players for the team that drafted them, so even one impact player from this group of six draft picks would be a better than average draft.
Let’s move on to look at each player drafted.
Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Addison was ranked among the top three receivers in this draft class, and he may be the best of the immediate NFL-ready receivers. Here is my break down of Addison. Addison is a terrific route-runner who can run the whole route tree and at all three depth levels. He’s also versatile as he’s played both inside at the slot position and outside. For those reasons, Addison is likely to compete immediately for the WR2 position and I would be surprised if he did not win it early on.
Addison has been compared to receivers like Stefon Diggs, Tyler Lockett, and Devonta Smith. Like Devonta Smith in 2020, Addison won the Fred Biletnikoff award given to the best wide receiver in college football in 2021. Smith has averaged 1,000 yards/season over his first two seasons, and that could be a good benchmark for Addison.
Mekhi Blackmon, CB, USC
Blackmon was a reach with the last pick of the third-round according to the consensus board, but I could see the Vikings not wanting to leave him on the board overnight heading into Day 3, allowing teams to re-evaluate their draft boards and best available, with 16 picks ahead of them and cornerback being a primary need they hadn’t addressed.
Blackmon seems to have been largely overlooked, but his measureables and college PFF grades are very similar to the top cornerback taken- Devon Witherspoon- with the #5 overall pick. The biggest difference between the two is that Blackmon is 24 and Witherspoon 22. But in terms of production, play style, and traits, they’re remarkably similar players.
If you’re looking for big numbers differences between Devon Witherspoon & Mekhi Blackmon, you’re not likely to find many. pic.twitter.com/DB6CtDXOtK— Warren Ludford (@wludford) April 29, 2023
Blackmon has a lot of college experience and shows a good understanding of route combinations and good instincts, which along with good technique should put him in a position to see significant playing time early on.
It will be interesting to see how the cornerback room plays out this off-season and training camp, but I expect Blackmon to compete for one of the outside cornerback positions opposite Andrew Booth Jr., with Byron Murphy Jr. in the slot. Murphy could potentially be used outside as well in base defense, depending on the Vikings’ comfort level with their young cornerbacks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Booth, Blackmon, and Murphy emerge as the starting cornerbacks when the season begins.
Jay Ward, NCB/S, LSU
I wasn’t as big a fan of this pick, as Ward has yet to really distinguish himself at any one position. Versatility is his main asset, as he can play safety, slot corner, and wide corner. But he seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, defensive back while at LSU. Terell Smith from the U of MN was still available here, but I suspect the Vikings were looking for a slot corner, which Ward is but Smith is not. Ward has some potential to improve if he’s given more of a position focus, and in the meantime could be an asset on special teams.
Jacquelin Roy, DT, LSU
Roy has the traits to be a good pass-rushing nose tackle and could be a good fit to rotate with Khyiris Tonga in that capacity. He needs to develop more of his pass rushing toolkit but shows promise with his hand usage and had good production at LSU, even if he declined a bit his last year. He has the strength, anchor, anticipation, and consistent effort to be productive as an interior lineman as well. A successful rookie season for Roy would see him earn significant reps as a rotational defensive tackle and continue to develop his pass-rushing toolkit.
The addition of Roy, who looks like more of a penetrating tackle than a push the pocket type, gives the Vikings a good mix of skillsets and mix of young and veteran players along the interior D-line.
Jaren Hall, QB, BYU
Hall had a productive two seasons at BYU. He showed the key qualities desired in a quarterback- accuracy, good decision-making, and pocket poise- and is thought to be a smart and mature quarterback. He scored 93% (one of the highest scores among QBs in this draft class and a very high score) on the S2 test which measures the ability to process information quickly, instinctive learning, rhythm and timing, ease of being distracted, impulse control, etc. So often those are the skills that young QBs struggle with at the NFL level after being drafted, so it’s encouraging that Hall scored well. In terms of physical skills, Hall is a dual-threat QB with some running and scrambling ability, but not a Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields in that regard either. He can extend plays and make them when the play breaks down. He can make all the throws with accuracy and touch, but not to the degree of Bryce Young, and he’s generally described as an average arm talent.
Overall, Hall has played enough football and shows enough above-the-shoulders ability where is probably more NFL-ready than other QBs that were drafted ahead of him except Bryce Young, but his ceiling may be lower than Anthony Richardson’s, for example, because he doesn’t have that level of athletic ability. Still, it's the mental aspects of the QB position, along with being able to make all the throws at the NFL level, that determine success to a much greater degree than arm strength. Tom Brady and Payton Manning had average arm strength too.
Success for Hall as a rookie will be to show enough ability and readiness to displace Nick Mullens as backup quarterback. The Vikings may not keep three quarterbacks on the roster, and so Hall will need to earn the backup spot or risk being poached by another team. I would think the Vikings were selective in picking a quarterback they felt could be an immediate upgrade to Mullens- who hasn’t been bad as a backup- rather than take one that may not make the roster and therefore may not make it to their practice squad.
DeWayne McBride, RB, UAB
McBride had a tremendous college career at UAB and was one of the most productive running backs in college football in the past several years. His forced missed tackle rate was second only to Bijon Robinson, and he averaged 7.3 yards per carry over his college career (11th in NCAA all-time)- higher than Robinson and most other backs in this draft class albeit outside of a Power 5 conference. McBride’s downsides center a bit on ball security- he had five fumbles last season- and that he has virtually no experience as a receiver- he had only 5 receptions the past two seasons. UAB simply didn’t use him as a receiver, so there’s simply not enough data or tape to know how he rates in that regard.
But getting a back like McBride in the 7th round is the reason smart teams don’t draft a running back in the first round- with rare exceptions. It’s becoming more common for teams to find a good running back on Day 3, and the Vikings likely drafted another good one in the 7th round.
I doubt McBride will see a lot of snaps as a rookie, with Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler ahead of him on the depth chart. Dalvin Cook will almost certainly be traded or released. McBride could potentially displace Mattison as soon as next season, but there hasn’t been much of a history of late-round running backs moving up the depth chart as rookies for the Vikings. It’s been more of a wait-your-turn thing.
Success for McBride as a rookie would be to show-up well in training camp and pre-season and earn a few reps each game this season.
The Vikings signed 15 UDFAs after the draft, and while I won’t detail each of them, there is one that stands out as having a good chance to make the team and be a contributor: Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati.
Pace is a made to order blitzing linebacker for Brian Flores’ defense. He was the highest PFF graded linebacker in college football last year and the second-highest graded defensive player. He had the most tackles-for-loss and the most QB pressures among linebackers. The reason he didn’t get drafted is because he’s 5’10” and perhaps seen more as a blitzer than an all-round linebacker. I’d say he’s at least a good base linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He had an okay (70) PFF coverage grade and has great range as well. But more than that, this kid has true game-wrecker potential. One of the first thoughts I had after watching some of his game tape is that he needs to watch out for roughing the passer penalties and other teams are gonna be pissed with the way he lays wood to their quarterback. It’s not that he’s a dirty player at all, he just brings it like a ton of bricks.
UDFA LB Ivan Pace Jr (5’10”, 231 lbs.) meets 2nd round pick G O’Cyrus Torrence (6’5”, 330 lbs.) pic.twitter.com/X2Nk7OfqpM— Tanner Weber - Purple Post (@Purple_Post) April 30, 2023
If you look at the clip above, Pace takes out second-round drafted guard O’Cyrus Torrence, who has 100 pounds on him, like he got hit by a truck. And it wasn’t like he was coming with a big head of steam either- it was from a near standstill. That’s how strong this kid is.
Pace was a state-champion wrestler in high school, which says a lot about him in terms of strength, use of leverage, balance, endurance, etc., and he can squat a Brinks truck full of cement. He was also the fastest linebacker at the Senior Bowl in terms of game speed using GPS. He’s also a good football player. I’ll do a breakdown of him later but suffice it to say he’s got a good shot at making the team and being a contributor as a rookie both on defense and special teams.
The Vikings had only modest draft capital to work with in this draft, which wasn’t the end of the world as it wasn’t a great draft class, and managed to address their most urgent roster needs and add depth at other positions as well. The Vikings seemed to focus on production as a key component of their evaluations, as most of the players they selected ranked high in that metric- higher than they did in RAS.
We won’t know how successful a draft class this is for the Vikings for 2-3 years, but initially in terms of overall value of each player compared to where they were drafted, I’d give the Vikings an overall grade of B, including the UDFAs, a couple of which had mid-round grades. Of course draft value doesn’t matter once the players hit the field, what matters is their performance and to what degree they contribute to the team. Time will tell.
What grade would you give the Vikings draft, including UDFAs, in terms of quality of players acquired compared to draft capital spent?
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