Zulgad’s four-and-out: Kevin O’Connell gets his guy and other observations from the Vikings’ draft
The Vikings’ draft is complete, the grades are in and the superlatives have been delivered. All that remains is to assess what Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did in his second draft as the Vikings’ general manager.
Here are four takeaways that don’t involve the quarterback position since we wrote about that on Saturday:
Kevin O'Connell gets his guy with first-round pick
Adofo-Mensah moved from the 12th to the final selection of the first round last year in order to add another pick and then took players on the defensive side of the ball with five of his first six selections.
The Vikings GM reportedly had another opportunity to trade back from the 23rd selection on Thursday, but this time there was no deal. Instead, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell got the player he wanted in USC wide receiver Jordan Addison.
Addison, the winner of the 2021 Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the country’s outstanding receiver, will be expected to be a day-one fit in the Vikings’ offense. His presence should give O’Connell the ability to open up his playbook and create more favorable matchups for Pro Bowl wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
Whether Adofo-Mensah’s top priority was to trade the 23rd pick in order to acquire more selections, will remain a well-kept secret at TCO Performance Center. Although Adofo-Mensah waited until the final seconds before the Vikings turned in their selection.
O’Connell had a look of satisfaction that he now has a more explosive replacement for Adam Thielen. That has to make Jefferson and quarterback Kirk Cousins happy as well.
It’s not as if Adofo-Mensah didn’t spend most of the weekend doing his thing. He went into trading mode after taking Addison and his next three picks were on defense.
And we thought Rick Spielman liked to make trades
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Former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman became known as “Trader Rick” in part because of his penchant for making draft-weekend trades and accumulating as many picks as possible.
Adofo-Mensah, however, appears to enjoy the art of the draft trade even more than Spielman. Last year, Adofo-Mensah made six trades over the three days and by my account traded away 10 picks, and one future selection, in order to accumulate 12 picks with which he then acquired eight of the 10 players the Vikings selected.
The Vikings only entered this draft with five selections, including no second-rounder, but Adofo-Mensah traded back in the third, fourth and fifth rounds and ended up taking five players with picks obtained in deals with San Francisco, Kansas City and Indianapolis.
Six picks doesn’t come close to being a Spielman number — it’s the fewest since the Vikings had five in 2009, when former coach Brad Childress had control of the roster — but Adofo-Mensah has shown he would rather get creative than go with the best available player on the board.
New defensive coordinator will have plenty to sort out
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The Vikings won 13 games and their first NFC North title since 2017 last season, but it was basically a lost season for the defense. The unit struggled under one-and-done coordinator Ed Donatell and there was limited development from the five rookies taken in the draft.
Safety Lewis Cine, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2022, didn’t get a chance to compete for a starting job in training camp and then suffered a gruesome leg injury in a Week 4 victory over the Saints in London.
The Vikings added three more players on the defensive side over the weekend, including cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon (third round, USC) and Jay Ward (fourth round, LSU) and defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy (fifth round, LSU).
Blackmon and Ward are versatile players whose selections were influenced by Flores’ presence. How will they fit in with cornerbacks Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans, who battled injury issues after being taken in 2022?
It’s likely that if he’s healthy, Cine will become a starter, and linebacker Brian Asamoah, a third-round pick, should do the same.
Flores is expected to bring a more aggressive approach to the defense and the only similarity with Donatell’s system will be that it will be a 3-4 base.
If Flores can get the most from the 2022 and 2023 draft picks — none later than a fifth-round selection — he essentially will have eight rookies to work with this season.
Don't forget about the Vikings' second-round pick
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OK, officially the Vikings didn’t have a pick in the second round, but to fret about that is to forget about the deal Adofo-Mensah made with Detroit for tight end T.J. Hockenson at the trade deadline last season.
The Vikings surrendered a second-round choice in this draft and a 2024 third-round pick for a guy who was drafted eighth overall in 2019. Minnesota also got two picks from the Lions.
Hockenson had an immediate and significant impact on the Vikings’ offense, catching nine passes for 70 yards in Washington, only days after being acquired. Hockenson had 60 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games with the Vikings. His catch total was tied for third on the team.
Hockenson, who will turn 26 in July, is expected to get a multiyear contract extension this offseason and is an important part of what O’Connell wants to do. That makes the decision to surrender a second-round pick a wise move by the Vikings’ brass.