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Spring is hinting at being around the corner in Minnesota, but the arrival of the NFL Draft is more certain. We've entered the month that will conclude with the three-day event.
On Sunday, the Vikings family mourned the loss of Frank Gilliam, one of the NFL's first Black scouts, who served from his hire by Minnesota in 1970 until his retirement in June 2007. I didn't have the opportunity to meet Gilliam in person, but I know how highly respected and appreciated he was by other members of the personnel department.
Gilliam was 89 years old, but his passing added to a tough couple of weeks for many in the Vikings family. Please check out words from Jerry Reichow, who hired Gilliam, as well as Scott Studwell and others in this tribute to Gilliam.
I don't have a natural transition from that news, so we'll just start with the questions.
Here is a two-part question for you. Do you believe the Vikings will do some trading to acquire more draft picks? With the draft coming near the end of this month it will be interesting to see the Vikings plan going forward. The Vikings already used their draft pick in Round 2 on T. J. Hockenson and traded their [seventh-rounder] so that only leaves five picks. In the past, trader Rick Spielman usually did some juggling to acquire 10 or 11 draft choices.
Also, what is your take on drafting a quarterback this year? There is a lot of trade talk about Lamar Jackson and drafting Will Levis or Hendon Hooker.
My thought is that the Vikings may trade out of their number 23 spot to acquire more picks. The opportunity is there with five teams having two draft picks in the second round. They are Pittsburg, Chicago, Seattle, the New York Jets and Detroit. If the Vikings do not wheel and deal and things stay the same with their five picks, here is my mock draft.
1. Kelee Ringo CB
3. Clayton Tune QB
4. Tavius Robinson DE (Edge)
5. Jalen Wayne WR
6. Shaka Heyward ILB
One final thought … I had the privilege of meeting Bud Grant at one of his garage sales where I had my picture taken with him and he signed my copy of his book, I DID IT MY WAY. I have a collage of him and other coaches with my photo including Jerry Burns, Denny Green, Mike Tice, Mike Zimmer and Grant. Hopefully at some point I can add Kevin O'Connell. Thank you for your insight. You do a great job on the Monday Morning Mailbag.
— David Bond in Byron Minnesota, a fan since the beginning
Appreciated the depth and breadth of questions from David to start us off, but I'd like to point credit for the Mailbag back to the fans who send in the questions and enable this form of dialogue.
One of the things I noticed General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah say during one of his media avails this offseason was that the 10-player draft class was a little bit larger than a team would normally expect. That's of course factual, with every team independent of previous trades would usually have a pick a round.
While he might trade down to get more picks than five, which wouldn't surprise me, we also might be past the days of a dozen-plus picks with many acquisitions on the final day of a draft.
Spielman believed in getting many bites at the apple, and that strategy yielded some players who contributed significantly along the way.
The underlying component of this statement is that some of last year's picks essentially, hopefully, serve as a bonus addition to this year's class, regardless of number of picks this year.
Based on the only year we've seen Adofo-Mensah in this role, he showed he was willing to trade down, even when the dance partner resided in the division. The decisions to swap with Detroit and Green Bay broke a bit of an unwritten convention and drew ire in the eyes of some, but it also means that all five of the teams David mentioned would be in consideration as trade partners this year, instead of limiting it to just three teams with an extra second-round pick.
Given what Hockenson provided to the offense and the potential of the Vikings being able to sign him to an extension, I think most would be OK with that use of a second-round pick for a proven Pro Bowler (the deal also included sending a 2024 third to Detroit and Minnesota receiving a 2024 conditional pick).
Any time a team considers trading down, it must make sure it doesn't go down too far, a valuation that can be impacted by multiple factors (including depth at a position of need/priority, the general strength of the draft in any particular year, immediacy of team needs and perceived gain).
Shifting to the QB question, Jackson's situation has gone around and around and around in the arguments I've seen on social media. Levis (three projections) and Hooker (two) showed up in multiple mock drafts in our most-recent tracker (Version 6.0).
Last week at the Annual League Meeting, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was asked about quarterback contracts.
"I think it's one of those things that, if you are building a roster around one of those quarterbacks — a quarterback that is resetting the market — as we've seen some of these young guys do coming out of their first four years in the league, you're probably in a good position at that quarterback position," O'Connell said. "And if you ask everybody in this room, that's the No. 1 thing organizations are always looking for. If you've got a quarterback, you're excited. If you don't, you're excited to go find one. Because it is the most important position.
"Now, it's clear the benefits of drafting one and having those four years of that player on kind of that [rookie contract pay] scale, that allows you to build a roster around those players, has been an advantage. It's been an advantage since the rules changed there. But at the same time, whether it's whatever QB you want to talk about that resets that market, those guys are franchise-changing players, as well, at the most important position in sports. So, it's not a cliché to say that position defines a lot of buildings in the NFL."
Ringo has also been mocked to the Vikings in some mock drafts that have leaned toward the Vikings adding a cornerback with their first-round pick.
The Vikings bringing back Nick Mullens gives Minnesota some roster flexibility at the position behind Cousins.
Lastly, that's awesome that you were able to visit Coach Grant's garage sale and receive the autograph. I also really like the idea to make a collage with Vikings head coaches and look forward to you adding O'Connell.
I love the idea of trading up for a QB to be our future, but wouldn't it be wiser to trade back in the structure Kwesi is going? If he showed us anything last year, it was his willingness to trade back for value. Wouldn't trading back in the first to obtain a second-round pick and then drafting Hooker late in the first be a value move? Take a QB without reaching too much while adding a much needed second.
There are tons of mock drafts with many different names mentioned. I am intrigued with Zay Flowers and Hendon Hooker. Hooker has been described as a high-character, intelligent QB with great athletic skills and low interception rates. What are the odds we will pick either of these guys?
— Gerald Goblirsch
Flowers (5-foot-9 and 182 pounds) was linked in three of the 20 predictions in the Mock Draft Tracker 6.0. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and is likely to do most of his damage from the slot through suddenness.
According to Next Gen Stats, his projection score of 82 ranks eighth among receivers who participated in the 2023 Scouting Combine.
Flowers finished with 200 receptions, 3,056 yards and 29 touchdowns at Boston College.
In his second season after transferring from Virginia Tech, Hooker was instrumental in Tennessee's 11-2 season — the first with that many wins since 2001. Anytime a quarterback helps elevate a program like that, I personally always add a layer of intrigue.
It's kind of how I thought some teams might be sleeping on Dak Prescott, who was eventually picked in the fourth round in 2016. I had, of course, seen what Prescott meant to the Mississippi State program having watched most of my alma mater's games. He helped the program make it all the way to No. 1 for a bit while showing the intangibles that can help elevate a team.
Hooker finished 435-of-632 passing (68.8 percent) with 6,080 yards and 58 touchdowns to just five interceptions for the Volunteers. Rehabbing a torn ACL suffered Nov. 19, Hooker has not been fully cleared for workouts, but he did attend Tennessee's Pro Day last week and told The Tennessean he'll soon be able to do five-step and seven-step drop-back passes, followed by an all-clear for straight-line running in three weeks.
View the best photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from the 2022 season.
Even with that progress, Hooker's introductory NFL offseason likely will be limited as he continues to recovery. That could be why some are projecting him in the late first or early second.
To Brendan's point, I fully anticipate maximizing value in any trade scenario will be important to Adofo-Mensah.
Running backs, do you think the Vikings are in the market for a young running back like Israel Abanikanda from Pitt — 20 years old, very explosive?
Receivers? Jayden Reed, Michigan State, very explosive.
— Marvin Williams
NFL.com's pre-draft grade on Abanikanda is 6.24, which ranks fourth among prospects at running back. For reference, highly touted Bijan Robinson's grade is 6.84, so Marvin isn't the only one with a high opinion on the Pitt Panther who rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022.
All members of the Vikings running backs group from last season are under contract for 2023, so that's kind of a crowded room.
Reed's grade of 5.98 from NFL.com is solid but ranks 22nd among this year's group. That's not the end-all, be-all, but it could mean that he'd be on the board later on. Every team makes its own opinions, particularly at receiver. It's likely the Vikings already had some work on Reed since they drafted his former Spartans teammate Jalen Nailor last year.
There have been many articles and podcasts discussing the Vikings dire need for a wide receiver to replace the departed (and loved) Adam Thielen this offseason. Many of the pundits seem to be expressing a desperation so urgent that management must either select a first-round prospect for this position or pick up a high-ranking free agent. I wonder why Number 83 (Nailor) hasn't been a part of this conversation. He will be in his second year with the organization, so he's young, and the coaches have had a pretty good look at him (albeit, a tiny sample size in actual game competition). Obviously, spring training will likely clear up how the coaching staff feels about Jalen, but it seems to me that if they see enough in him to keep him on the roster, why wouldn't they be talking about him as a possibility at WR3?
My other question has to do with the team's chemistry. With a lot of veterans leaving, I wonder whether or to what degree the atmosphere in the organization will change. Last year, it seemed like the players had all fully bought in to what Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Coach O'Connell and the rest of the staff were building. Now, with many of those personalities moving on, I'm a little concerned that that camaraderie might be adversely affected. There's been a lot of discussion about team culture and the fact that the Vikings organization ranks highest in the NFLPA player team report card, and this is certainly a positive note with regards to how players will likely react to the culture there. I wonder though, if the staff is actively engaged in maintaining and even improving on the player experience once they've become a Viking because I think it is a vital component of championship organizations.
Life-long Vikings fan (since 1969)
— Guy Seela
When we were walking into Allegiant Stadium before the Vikings-Raiders 2022 preseason opener, I asked a few people which rookie they were most excited to see make their debut. When they turned the question on me, my answer was Nailor.
In retrospect based on the box score, it should have been Ty Chandler (five rushes for 50 yards and a 56-yard kickoff return).
Anyway, Nailor caught two passes for 22 yards in the city where he rose his game as a prep player before heading to Michigan State. By season's end, even if it was in a blowout at Green Bay and the finale at Chicago, Nailor was showing more in games of what had prompted my initial intrigue.
As for chemistry, I think the hope is that the Vikings built a foundational culture that can withstand some changes, even involving the losses of leaders like Thielen and Eric Kendricks (I encourage you to check out Kendricks’ post for The Players Tribune if you haven't seen it yet).
Winning always provides a chemistry boost, but the Vikings also were able to retain several key players who helped make last season so special.
Do you think the Vikings will trade [Dalvin] Cook or Z (Za'Darius Smith)? Also, do you think they will trade for Jerry Jeudy or [Courtland] Sutton, and have you heard anything about what the draft strategy is as far as using picks to trade for a QB or maybe a trade package for a WR 2 or some more defense?
— Adam S.
Cook and Smith are both under contract for 2023 and beyond (Cook through 2025; Smith through 2024), but they both have substantial cap hits, which has created a bit of speculation in the media. Both players were held in high esteem by O'Connell and others in the head coach's first season with Minnesota.
Jeudy, who was picked ahead of Vikings receivers Justin Jefferson and Jalen Reagor in 2020, and Sutton, a second-rounder in 2018, are under contract with Denver, so sorry, but I can't comment on them, per NFL rules.
View the best photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook from the 2022 season.
There are multiple approaches the Vikings could take when considering quarterbacks this season, trade up, stay put, trade down, then back up (as proposed above by Brendan) to address the position early in the draft. The Vikings also could wait and see if there's more of a developmental player in later rounds.
As for WR 2, K.J. Osborn is coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 50 receptions and 650 yards as WR 3. He seemed to come on strong as the season progressed and will have the benefit of a second year in the offensive system. Osborn played 873 offensive snaps (75 percent of Minnesota's plays) last season.
Kirk in my opinion has been a solid quarterback the time he has been here. Any possibilities of trading him for Lamar Jackson, which clearly gives us a more mobile quarterback that I believe is a must to win championships and not just games?
— Jerrod from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
The idea has been floated by emailers, as well as plenty of folks on Twitter.
I think the way people love to debate Cousins and the uniqueness of Jackson's contract situation with Baltimore have helped add oxygen to the debate.
There is, however, an even broader conversation to be had on the play style of Cousins (he doesn't get enough credit for playing on the move because the improvisational skills are not as high as other QBs, in my humble opinion) vs. more mobile quarterbacks.
Cousins played well in his first year of O'Connell's system, particularly in fourth quarters, and I'm interested in seeing what a second year in the offense looks like.
Wide Receiver: Could there be a wide receiver that could step in with the first-round pick to help take heat off Jefferson? If not, go defense or trade down for more picks? I was at the first Viking game played in South Dakota.
— Steven Dorn in Floodwood, Minnesota
Many of the mock drafters are projecting the Vikings to take a receiver with the first-round pick. While I'm sure they are well-informed, I also wonder how much they consider what the coaching staff may think about players set to return in potentially expanded roles.
There are so many things that the Vikings could do at No. 23. I know that position potentially makes for a long opening night of the draft, but there are so many things that could affect the draft board between Carolina going on the clock with the pick it acquired from Chicago.
View photos of the Vikings 2023 coaching staff.
The NFL and the Vikings have come a long way from that 1961 preseason game in Sioux Falls that Steven attended as one of 4,954.
Always appreciative of the fans who helped get the franchise off the ground, even though wins were hard to come by for most of the first decade.
Thanks to everyone as always for sending in your questions and comments, and here's the reminder for Letters to Bud.
Send your own Letter to Bud
In tribute to Bud Grant and his legacy, and in continuing the "Letters to Bud" theme, we invite fans to mail in letters sharing the impact Coach Grant had on your Vikings fandom, your personal life, your childhood and so on.
Letters received may be published through Vikings content platforms in a future special edition of "Letters to Bud." We also will pass along the letters to Coach Grant's family.
If you would like to participate, please send letters to the below address.
Lindsey Young, Vikings Entertainment Network
Re: Letters to Bud
2600 Vikings Circle
Eagan, MN 55121
Here are the links to the previous content series in case you'd like some inspiration (chapter explanations are on the left, and the Adobe Spark features are on the right).