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The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone with more than 300 prospects showcasing their athleticism in on-field timing and testing drills and their football I.Q. and personalities in formal and informal meetings with team officials.
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell each participated in podium sessions, other media appearances and spoke at length with the Twin Cities media members who traveled to Indianapolis. It was an honor to be part of the Vikings Entertainment Network team that traveled to Indianapolis as it again became the quarter-zip capital of America (I was a willing participant). There were plenty of half-hug-half-handshakes to be seen and enjoyed when folks reconnected.
I really appreciated speaking in depth with Vikings Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Ryan Grigson and Vice President of Football Operations Demitrius Washington for this feature on how they're combining their contrasting backgrounds at the intersection of traditional scouting & quantitative analytics.
I'm dropping in links to some other combine content in case you missed any last week.
Experts Consider QB Market | Defensive Expectations Under Flores | Vikings Options at No. 23 | 5 Takeaways from O’Connell | 5 Takeaways from Adofo-Mensah | Flores’ Personnel Background Helping in Combine Meetings
Lastly, the NFLPA report cards for teams and facilities was quite interesting and favorable for the Vikings. It will be interesting to see if Minnesota's top grade helps "recruit" potential free agents or retain players who are entertaining offers from other teams. I asked O'Connell about that possibility last week.
"As a former player, I look at that as a real positive. 'Hey, I'm going to a place that there couldn't be a better place to go to try to become at least feeling the support of an organization and great ownership that we have.' And that is a hundred percent the starting point of that conversation – the Wilfs and the resources they give us to bring in the people, like [Executive Director of Player Health and Performance] Tyler Williams," O'Connell said. "That was somebody that was as important as anybody for me to bring to this organization because I envisioned building something for players that hopefully would be – I didn't know there was going to be a survey, it didn't matter to me, but I knew what that would look like with Tyler, Kwesi and myself and how we build things. But I think it can only help."
It looks like Anthony Richardson helped himself exponentially during the combine. I doubt he falls down to the Vikings, but if he does, by chance, do KAM and KOC [select him]? We need a plan after Kirk.
— Jim in New York
We'll start here with the former Florida Gator's tremendous show of athleticism. He set a modern record for quarterbacks with a vertical jump of 40.5 inches (since 2003) and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds (fourth-fastest among QBs at combines since 2003). NFL.com's Dan Parr put Richardson’s workout in context.
It's safe to say Richardson's demonstration will stick with talent evaluators, but that was just one part of his protracted job interview. He's likely to be listed among top gainers from the combine based on those metrics. My less-trained eyes than scouts told me he looked pretty comfortable during his passing drills as well.
Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell said Cousins reaches the threshold of play needed to be successful in the NFL. It remains to be seen if the parties want to explore an extension of the shorter variety or a longer-term deal (I'd classify that as three-plus seasons), or if they both let this year ride and see where they're at next year.
Any young QB should welcome the chance to learn from Cousins and the professionalism he puts toward trying to play the position the best he can. There's plenty a QB with a different style of play could learn as the potential successor tries to develop his own game within Minnesota's system.
A lot to digest these past few days. Are the Vikes determined to look at CB, or do you believe they might take best available at 23 or trade down for a second and a third. The draft class, especially at corner, seems laden with talent. I'd like to see them move down, take a CB and then draft a QB like Stetson Bennett or Clayton Tune. Your thoughts?
— Nicholas Balkou
It seems like Adofo-Mensah's first draft showed us his commitment to trying to maximize value and ability to exercise patience that was balanced by a willingness to become more aggressive.
After trading down twice early, he traded up to up to select Andrew Booth, Jr., in the second round and again traded up to tab Akayleb Evans in the fourth round, so both corners drafted last year were selected after trading up.
We also don't know what full evaluations of Booth and Evans look like since each of their rookie seasons were shortened by injuries. So, some decisions will depend on what Minnesota believes it has in Booth and Evans, and if veterans who are set to become free agents are re-signed, or if another veteran is brought in during free agency.
NFL.com lists 24 cornerbacks with a grade of 6.00 or higher, led by Brian Branch (6.72), and includes some names you've seen projected to Minnesota in mock drafts.
What's are your thoughts on Max Duggan being a mid-round pick for us to replace Kirk?
— Demarous Davis
I didn't address the suggestion of Bennett or Tune because part of the previous question was so close to this one.
I'm admittedly not a professional evaluator of talent and do not have the hours of QB study that the experts have. I always look forward to reports that surface after the combine up until the draft.
For this discussion, I'll point toward the "Next Gen Stats Draft Model" that analyzes "historical NFL Combine, pro day and college production data to predict a prospect's chances of success in the NFL." The composite scores range from a high of 99 to a low of 50.
Tune was issued a 77, Bennett a 76 and Duggan a 71. Richardson, by the way, is at 82. All four of those scores are in the "good" category.
View photos from Thursday's NFL Scouting Combine on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Lots of articles on the internet about the Vikings $24.5 million hole and how to dig out of it. None of the articles I've read have mentioned signing [T.J.] Hockenson to a long-term extension. I would assume that extending Hockenson would be a priority ranking right up there with [Justin Jefferson] and [Danielle] Hunter. Unlike those two, a Hockenson extension could bring some cap relief in 2023. Your thoughts?
— David Sinclair in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
With a sticky cap situation, free agency and players on rookie deals (i.e. Justin Jefferson) likely to get huge deals, is it possible to maybe guarantee money into the future when cap money will likely be a larger amount? I don't think it would be a great idea to do this too often, but it could maybe be an idea for special or important position players like QB that would reduce current cap situations and spread huge cap hits out over 10-plus years.
— Grant Winckler
Based on Hockenson's immediate contributions to Minnesota and his sustained high volume of targets and production, as well as the position in O'Connell's offense, it seems like the Vikings would have an interest in having Hockenson for the long haul.
He seemed to like it here for a few reasons, including closeness to the Iowa native's hometown.
Hockenson is set to enter the final year of his rookie deal, but the parties would have an option of agreeing to a contract extension that might be able to reduce some of the 2023 cap hit.
Because Jefferson was a first-round pick, Minnesota will have a fifth-year option it can exercise on the receiver as it continues to work out long-term plans with the reigning Offensive Player of the Year.
Hunter, still only 28 years old, is set to enter the final year of his current contract. Another extension with the Vikings could potentially affect this year's cap hit and keep the homegrown talent here for a few more seasons.
Minnesota has a few questions to answer in order to be below the salary cap by March 15.
Numerous factors will be in play between now and then, but I do have confidence that Adofo-Mensah and the personnel department will run through every potential scenario and think creatively to solve problems.
Baseball contracts amaze me for their length and guaranteed money. There's several reasons why contracts that long would not work well in the NFL, including the number of changes that each team goes through every season in a sport hinged more on collective team performance.
Is there a good chance we will see a total rebuild of the defense?
— Harlon (Vik4life)
I'd categorize the past season as a transition year and part of the overall rebuild. There were five new starters in Minnesota's lineup in Week 1 of the 2022 season (not including Cameron Dantzler, Sr.).
The Vikings will have a new person calling defensive plays for the third consecutive season, with the hiring of Brian Flores, and personnel changes are guaranteed every year. Minnesota's defense will look different in 2023, for sure, but I don't know if "total rebuild" will wind up being the most accurate description. We could find out more about that in the next couple of weeks.
Seems like they have a solid core on the O-line. Should they add depth to their line in the draft?
— Scott Hanson
I think teams are always trying to add talent and depth, but the investment of higher draft picks could mean a more immediate contribution is sought by a team, as opposed to going with a later-round selection or undrafted college free agent to develop for a couple of years.
Versatility is always a great thing for a backup lineman, as well.
What do you think of the idea of trading Cousins to the 49ers and signing Jimmy G and then draft a quarterback to groom later on in the draft? Like everyone says, Cousins puts up great numbers but never gets you to the Promised Land, and we paid him enough money and I haven't gotten a Super Bowl win out of it. 50 years a fan and still counting to get to the big game and win it.
— Frankie from Connecticut
So I'm going to try Kirk one last season just because we got so close this time! BUT this is his last year starting.
As Frankie knows, no other QB has been able to get the Vikings over the hump, and no one has gotten Minnesota back there since Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI.
I'm still highly curious to see what Cousins can do with a second consecutive year of working with the same play caller.
View the best photos of Vikings quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Nick Mullens during the 2022-23 season.
They better find a quarterback who is mobile that is not afraid of running, aka Sir Francis Tarkenton. Bring him out of retirement, or draft some offensive linemen who can block some Balsa Wood.
— Gary Bjornberg
The Vikings offensive line has speed to set-up a moving pocket, left or right.
When Kirk can see and throw, from left or right, our center and guards won't be overpowered.
When Kirk is a statue, it's easy for the defense, so set-up the pocket to left or right.
— Marc Bashara
Cousins will not be confused with "The Scrambler," and that's OK. At this point, he should not try to be something he's not but try to maximize his best strengths. He has shown in years past an ability to throw the ball with designed movement to the right or left.
There's also potential for him to continue navigating the pocket with some subtle movements. Screens and a boosted run game with fewer negative runs could also help the entire offense.