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It's almost "go time" for the 2023 NFL Draft.
All of the hours of evaluations by NFL teams and preparations by prospects are about to intersect over the course of Thursday, Friday and Saturday when 259 names are called over the course of the three days.
Players have dreams, and organizations have visions.
It's the beginning of a relationship that ideally makes both sides as impactful as possible. It's also a time for optimism and hype, but few truly appreciate all of the behind-the-scenes work that happens each year.
Speaking of behind-the-scenes work, congratulations to Dennis Ryan, who retired last week from his post as the second Equipment Manager in team history. Ryan began part-time work with the Vikings while still in high school in 1975. He was elevated to permanent, full-time status in June 1979 and put together an incredible run that included 705 consecutive games worked, a streak that only ended in November 2021 because of COVID-19 protocols.
Lindsey Young and I were honored to work on this retirement story about Dennis and are glad he plans to come to Vikings Legends events in the future.
We've had questions hit the inbox for a few weeks regarding ways to honor Bud Grant, and last week plans were announced for a free, public celebration of life service scheduled for noon (CT) on May 21 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The event is free, but digital tickets are required for entry. Reserving tickets — and making sure to use them if you claim them! — will help my colleagues on the event-planning side of things.
Don't forget that you can write your own Letter to Bud (details below).
Lastly, I'd like to join in sending condolences to the family of Bob Berry, who was a backup quarterback for two different stints with the Vikings and part of three teams that made a Super Bowl. In between the 1965-67 and 1973-76 seasons, Berry started 50 games for the Falcons.
He started just two games for Minnesota, and both coincidently were against Atlanta. The second one was critical for the Vikings finishing 10-4 with tiebreakers to host the 1974 NFC Playoffs.
How ready is Brian Asamoah to be a major contributor? I watched an interview with him, and I feel he will have a breakout season.
They keep saying we need to draft cornerbacks. We need to draft pressure on the QB. We were terrible at that last year. Picking up [Defensive Coordinator] Brian Flores to lead the defense is a big step forward.
— Gerald Goblirsch
Here's a two-parter from Gerald. If you didn't catch last week's media sessions that included Asamoah and fellow inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, here was a quick recap I wrote to describe what Asamoah learned from Hicks and Eric Kendricks as a rookie and how it might help him fill Kendricks' shoes — no small order, mind you.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pairing of Hicks and Kendricks last season, but I also remember being excited by what I saw from Asamoah, even going back to the preseason games when Asamoah handled much of the communication from the sideline to the rest of the group.
Hicks complimented Asamoah, saying he's "one of the most explosive players I've been around at linebacker," is "naturally gifted" and "wants to be great."
"He's a beast," Hicks added.
Asamoah worked his way into a defensive package in Week 5 and memorably forced and recovered a fumble against the Giants on Christmas Eve.
"Preparation has to meet opportunity, and I was prepared for my opportunity," Asamoah said. "From there, you just try to grow it from there and continue to try to get better every single day."
He has the desired athleticism and already is picking up on nuances within the game that should help him reach his full abilities.
As for the second question, there are essentially two ways to adversely affect opposing quarterbacks: take away comfortability in the pocket through pressures and sacks or take away receiving targets through solid coverage/the threat of an interception.
Flores already has some thoughts on how to do those big goals with the returning players and is more than capable of providing feedback on what the Vikings most need to add to help the defense, given his experience as a scout and coach.
In recent years, the Vikings haven't invested high draft picks on edge rushers, although part of that could be attributed to the success of trading for Jared Allen (which cost high picks) and hitting on the likes of Brian Robison (2007) and Everson Griffen (2010) in fourth rounds and Danielle Hunter in the third round of 2015.
The last time Minnesota used a first-round pick on a 4-3 defensive end was 2005 when the Vikings selected Erasmus James. Some could classify Anthony Barr as an edge defender, but he played outside linebacker in Minnesota's 4-3 under Mike Zimmer.
In the time since 2005, the Vikings have used four first-round picks on cornerbacks, starting with Xavier Rhodes in 2013, followed by Trae Waynes (2015), Mike Hughes (2018) and Jeff Gladney (2020).
The Vikings have Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith under contract, and they signed Marcus Davenport to a one-year deal during free agency, so those factors may steer mock drafters away from edge defenders. We'll post the final Mock Draft Tracker on Tuesday.
How do you grade Caleb Williams and Drake Maye versus the four top QBs in the 2023 draft?
— Andy in Charleston, South Carolina
We rolled out our positional draft previews with quarterbacks last week.
There was a consensus among the cited experts that Bryce Young is atop the position (we'll find out soon if Carolina agrees). C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson were the next three in those rankings.
Williams (at Southern California by way of Oklahoma) and Maye (at North Carolina) are not eligible for the draft yet but could be on the board next year.
I'll humbly say I don't issue public grades on prospects because I personally believe there are many people better qualified as talent evaluators than I am.
What we do know about Williams is he threw for 4,537 yards and 42 touchdowns with just five interceptions on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy in his first season playing for the Trojans. And, we also know that plenty of talent evaluators who were taking a look at USC receiver Jordan Addison got a benefit from seeing Williams up close.
Maye posted impressive numbers in his sophomore year with the Tar Heels, passing for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
So, Andy's question brings up a good point. Teams always evaluate the positional pipeline for how strong each group may be from year to year.
A great example of this was the contrast between the 1983 and 1984 drafts.
The first round of the '83 selection meeting included six quarterbacks out of the 28 spots, famously going from John Elway at No. 1 to Dan Marino at No. 27. Todd Blackledge (No. 7), Jim Kelly (No. 14), Tony Eason (No. 15) and Ken O'Brien (No. 24) also were picked during the first round.
The first six QBs selected the following year? Boomer Esiason at No. 38 overall, followed by Jeff Hostetler at No. 59, Rick McIvor at No. 80, Jay Schroeder at No. 83, Steve Pelluer at No. 113 and Dean May at 138.
I think General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's background on Wall Street can assist when sorting through opportunities of now and future possibilities.
Will the Vikings move up in the first round to get Anthony Richardson or wait it out and get Jaren Hall?
Richardson's showing at the NFL Scouting Combine seemed to loft him up the conversations board, but there seems to be a bit of curiosity as to how far.
Hall was briefly mentioned in the quarterbacks preview we did as a player who was rated 13th by The Athletic's Dane Brugler.
Hall completed a Latter-day Saints mission in California from 2016-17 before joining BYU in 2018. He made his first two starts in 2019 but dealt with concussions. Hall also suffered a hip injury that cost him all of 2020.
He started 10 games in 2021 and 12 more in 2022 and boosted his production numbers year over year. He went from a completion percentage of 63.9 to 66.0, increased his passing yards from 2,583 to 3,171 and his touchdowns from 20 to 31.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared Richardson to Cam Newton and Hall to Gardner Minshew. Richardson received a prospect grade of 6.40, compared to a 5.96 for Hall. While those numbers are very close, the description accompanying each grade ranges from "will become good starter within two years" for Richardson to "average backup" for Hall.
Again, I'll emphasize that I'm not grading either Richardson or Hall, but I do think Tyler's question can be extended to a philosophical approach as to whether the Vikings vault up the board for a player expected to contribute quicker or consider using a pick on one who might require a bit more development time.
My thoughts on the draft are to package [Za'Darius] Smith and [Dalvin] Cook, our first-round pick and possibly another pick to trade up with Houston or Arizona and get our QB of the future. Then when [Kirk] Cousins' contract is up, lock up Justin Jefferson for the foreseeable future. What are your thoughts on this?
If the rumors are true, and our Vikings do trade Dalvin Cook, from which team do you believe we would/ we could get the most value for him?
— Marco Afolayan
Grouping these two questions together.
Well, I love the notion of Jefferson being in Purple for as far as our eyes can see.
The Vikings leadership has repeatedly stated the goal of making that happen.
I'm not sure a three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher coming off 10 sacks and a four-time Pro Bowl running back who ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards just last season are both needed along with a first-round pick and another selection, or one of the players and a first-round pick and other choices are needed, but I guess that would come down to how far of a vault up the board the Vikings would be trying to make.
Smith and Cook are under contract for multiple seasons (so is Jefferson when the team's fifth-year option is a possibility), but the Vikings will have to eventually free up the money that Jefferson is expected to receive on his second NFL contract.
As for Marco's question, that's a bit hard to name teams, but the best suitors would likely be highly interested in a featured running back role that involved handling the bulk of a team's carries and the one with the most to offer in exchange, along with cap space and willingness to take on most of Cook's contract.
This team has one of the most complicated set of signings/FA and cap space issues that is absolutely mind numbing.
I hate to say it but having Cousins' contract is literally [messing] us over for years to come. I will say one of the most "head-scratching" moves at the very beginning of FA is signing [Josh] Oliver??? Really, we need a blocking tight end to address the major holes we have on the [defensive] side of the ball (especially after losing [Patrick Peterson)? That money should have been used to bolster this mediocre [defense] and help fill the shoes of [Kendricks]. What in the world are these guys thinking?? And knowing we are short-handed on CBs, they also cut away [Cam] Dantzler. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot with these [asinine] moves and destroying all cap space by having to have Cousins that won't push us past the first round in the playoffs. SMH.
I'll try to address everything here.
While Cousins is entering the final year of his contract, the Vikings added void years to stretch out the impact of his remaining cap hit.
Quarterback is the most important position in sports, and contracts for QBs around the NFL continue to illustrate that.
If this becomes the final year of Cousins as the Vikings starter, then there will be some dead money, but he has provided a high degree of reliability in an offense that seemed to change every season. I continue to reiterate my intrigue of seeing him with the same play caller (Head Coach Kevin O'Connell) for a second consecutive season.
I think there may have been a substantial surprise reaction to the Oliver signing because I believe it was the first free agency news to break, but adding him increases opportunities for various offensive personnel groupings at a time when Minnesota could consider reducing its frequency of three-receiver sets after the departure of Adam Thielen.
I also won't be surprised if Oliver is considered more than a "blocking tight end" this fall. Improving an offense's ability to stay on the field and sustain drives can help reduce the time on the field for the defense.
That's not like directly adding to the group, but the Vikings have been strategic in their additions, bringing in Davenport and adding veteran DL Dean Lowry, LB Troy Reeder and CB Joejuan Williams in free agency.
Replacing Peterson, a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Kendricks doesn't happen easily. As for Dantzler's release, if a team knows a player isn't in the long-term plan, it's probably best for both sides for the player to have an opportunity elsewhere. That move saved some cap space, too.
With the 2023/24 season potentially being the final for Kirk Cousins as a Viking, is Coach [O'Connell] willing to go all-out with the dynamics of Kirk?
Since Coach has stepped in, Kirk's dynamics are starting to shine. There is one thing I would like to see Coach implement, and that is trick run plays for Kirk.
He isn't the fastest QB, but the guy has wheels, which could make the difference between losing momentum, and gaining/maintaining momentum. He proved it last season.
One more thing. Those "final seconds of the game" lateral pass plays in the NFL are embarrassing. As a training warm-down, have the Vikings considered rugby passing and introducing this as a trick play. It is highly probable, would baffle all defenses, and couldn't be worse than what the NFL standard already is. One day we'll need it!
— Craig in Australia
Confession: when I started this week's Mailbag, I never would have imagined part would be watching some rugby highlights to help me answer a question.
I thoroughly enjoyed the prep work and am all about the use of creativity for end of game miracles — I was in Tennessee (home from college) for the Music City Miracle (living room) and in Minnesota for the Minneapolis Miracle (press box). The latter play somewhat introduced a new generation of Vikings fans to the Miracle at the Met — Ahmad Rashad's famous catch on the deep pass by Tommy Kramer, but the play before that was also spectacular. Minnesota perfectly executed a hook-and-lateral on the way to upending Cleveland.
NFL rules for offensive formations before the snap and the difference in the ball may prevent a direct carryover. We did see Dallas try to get creative with personnel alignment to at San Francisco in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs, but that was ill-fated.
The Vikings also tried a trick pass play involving Cook last season at Detroit, but the lack of execution led to a turnover. Minnesota also tried a pass to Cousins by Jefferson on third-and-1 in the playoff game, and it lost 2 yards.
I'm generally in favor of having players do what they do best, especially when the pool of players is among the best in the world at what they do.
Tight ends usually take two to three years to develop. Any chance the Vikings draft one of the top tight ends in Round 1? It could give them a replacement for [T.J.] Hockenson if he leaves next year. (I doubt this happens but thought it sounded a little like the QB situation, don't you think?).
Why were the Vikings able to have one-score success last year?
It seems that many analysts in the press in bought into just luck considering the poor defensive statistics overall. That is weak analysis in my book to credit just luck.
What are your top three reasons?
— Craig in Boston, Massachusetts
Don't look now, but Hockenson and the fellas endeared themselves to Minnesota on Friday night.
He, Nick Muse, Johnny Mundt and Oliver were at 'The X' for the Wild's win over the Stars and seemed to make several thousand friends.
Tight end is a complex position, so Craig is correct in players sometimes needing time to develop.
Based on everything we've seen so far from Hockenson and Minnesota's flowing of the football to the 2022 in-season acquisition, I'd imagine he'll be in the Jefferson category of wanting him in the team's long-term plans, and he seemed to like it here long before attending the Wild playoff game.
Hockenson's readiness to contribute immediately shows considerable value was obtained by Minnesota despite sending this year's second-round pick to Detroit.
NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah touted this year's group of tight ends last week during a conference call, saying this year's group adds considerable depth for teams picking late.
There's probably way too many things that affect the outcome of any one close game to concisely answer your second question. Rather than trying a deep dive at this point in the calendar, I'll be a little more whimsical.
1. The team was prepared to play in close games and execute cleanly in critical moments.
O'Connell has mentioned one of the things he learned from Bill Belichick is how many NFL games are lost before a team has a chance to win them.
The Vikings kept things close for much of the season (the comeback against the Colts is the biggest outlier) and avoided making fatal flaws in the 11 games they won by one score.
2. Players believed they could win if they continued to do their responsibility. They didn't blink when challenges arose. Coaches had a good flow of communication, particularly with O'Connell working with Game Management Coordinator Ryan Cordell and other assistants.
3. Statistically speaking, I'd probably point toward Cousins' 104.9 passer rating in the fourth quarters of games. That ranked fourth in the NFL behind Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott and Geno Smith. I chose passer rating since it's a function of other stats. It can be skewed by "garbage time" stats, but the Vikings were largely in meaningful games.
The number is directly attributed to Cousins, but the entire offense can have a factor in that number by playing cleanly.
As a bonus answer, Minnesota led the NFL in points scored (169) and point margin (plus-78) in fourth quarters. The Vikings also ranked second in turnover margin (plus-8) in fourth quarters.
Has there been any thought or discussion regarding how the Vikes might attempt to upgrade their defensive line? If they stay with a 3-4 base defense, I really think they should trade down on draft day and consider drafting DL prospect [Mazi] Smith from Michigan who is a big nose tackle (6-foot-3, 323 pounds). Move [Harrison] Phillips to the end position in the 3-4 base, which hopefully will help us to stop the run, which in turn will allow us to pressure/blitz the QB on numerous occasions with our various blitz packages that Flores will install.
Smith will be included in tomorrow's draft preview series on defensive linemen and edge rushers, and that story will have a bit on Minnesota's status at those positions.
Khyiris Tonga (6-foot-4, 338 pounds) is the largest returnee and has the body type of a big nose tackle. He turned in some nice plays last season. Phillips is listed at 6-3 and 307 as Minnesota's next largest defensive lineman. He showed some position versatility, but it does seem like adding a reinforcement to help replace Dalvin Tomlinson, who signed a massive deal with Cleveland, could be a solid idea.
Jonathan Bullard started the most games (seven) for Minnesota behind Phillips (17) and Tomlinson (13) on the defensive line last season.
Based on how many problems Lowry has caused the Vikings over the years, that could be another sneaky good addition by Minnesota.
Reminder: 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).