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Empathy, Gratitude Central to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as 1st Draft with Vikings Nears

EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL Draft marks the intersection of dreams and realities every year.

Players — 262 total this year — are able to launch their professional football careers, enjoying moments they've envisioned for years in times of celebration and gratitude.

First-year General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has assisted draft operations for the 49ers (2013-19) and Browns (2020-21) for nearly a decade.

Adofo-Mensah made sure to emphasize it will be "our" — including Vikings first-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and their staffs — "signature" at the end of the three-day event.

"This is about 'we.' I'm not going to do anything for the sake of me or any type of perception I want out there in the public," Adofo-Mensah said Tuesday during a pre-draft press conference. "We're going to do what's best for this organization. We have a time horizon that we're planning for, and we have our needs in front. We're just going to try to address them the best we can."

While keeping a keen focus on the organization's goals at the horizon, Adofo-Mensah did allow himself a bit of personal reflection as he opened his presser.

"When I was younger, I never saw myself as a leader," Adofo-Mensah said. "The examples that I always had in my life, they weren't like me. The coaches, things like that, were kind of – they didn't have the same vibe or energy that I had.

"I consider myself to be a positive, joyful, humble person, and I never really saw that," he added. "So in a sense, as I rose in my career, until I saw examples that were a little more like me, I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to lead. I wanted to first start off by thanking this organization for allowing me to lead in the way that I can lead, in a genuine way. That's not easy. It's not the same as everybody else, it's a unique style, but I'm appreciative that everybody here has accepted me in that way."

He'll be who he is by encouraging others to be who they are: "There might be a younger person in this organization who sees me – and maybe won't be like me – and sees, 'Hey, I can be myself. I can lead in a different way. There's many different ways to lead.' "

Absorbing the learning opportunities that have occurred along the way, processing lessons and applying them in pragmatic ways has helped Adofo-Mensah climb the ranks despite his nontraditional path that included years working in finance on Wall Street and applying his economics degrees from Princeton and Stanford.

That doesn't mean he can't empathize with those who have traveled the more traditional path. Adofo-Mensah relayed an anecdote from a scouting trip he took while still with the Browns but already interested in earning an opportunity to be a GM. He admitted when he was advised to make the trip he "didn't really understand why."

"Having gone on the road … I understood why in that moment. Because I think at the end of the day, to be able to lead, you have to have empathy," Adofo-Mensah said. "And I went on a school visit, I sat in my little cubicle – I'm not at my desk in my perfect environment – looking at different things, I'm trying to talk to coaches and support staff and get this information, and it just hits you how hard that job is. It is unbelievably difficult. That's an empathy and a wisdom that I wish I would have had, honestly, in my older career. I remember texting my old buddies at the 49ers and being like, 'God, I don't even know how you guys do this.' "

Collaboration has been emphasized repeatedly this offseason by Adofo-Mensah, O'Connell and the Vikings leadership that selected the two men from a pool of highly qualified candidates.

The draft will be one of the best opportunities to show it's not lip service.

Adofo-Mensah said a draft room "is like a real-life algorithm."

"Essentially, algorithms combine different information sources into some final output, so I wanted our draft room to essentially be that — a lot of different voices coming together," Adofo-Mensah said. "A lot of times my job is to center us on, 'OK, that information is great, but how does this impact these core questions that we're interested in answering?' "

View photos from inside the Thomson Reuters Vikings Draft Room ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft.

The varying voices are influenced by unique lenses through which different people in the room view prospects.

"Coaches, they're viewing lens is going to be shaded by technique, responsibility, because those are things they are really great at [recognizing]," Adofo-Mensah said. "Scouts are going to be shaded by your natural ability. 'What's in your body?'

"Analytics people, myself, are going to be shaded by the outcome," he continued. " 'Hey, how many times is this happening? What percentage of times?' Ultimately, there is value to all of those things, and I wouldn't want anyone to become the other. I want them to be great in their own sense."

Rather than placing different weights on the inputs, Adofo-Mensah said he wants to use them equally and close "the loop when they don't all agree."

"If one person says the outcome is different than their ability, well, 'let's figure that out.' Ultimately, that's what we try to do," he added. "Close the loop, and ultimately figure out a good answer to decide where we want to be."

View photos of the 2022 NFL Draft stage in Las Vegas, Nev.

If the Vikings go on the clock at No. 12 Thursday, as they are scheduled to do, they'll have 10 minutes before the outside world learns who will be the next Minnesota Viking — and the 700th player selected by the franchise in an NFL Draft.

It also will be an opportunity for Adofo-Mensah to continue an impressive streak that began in San Francisco and continued in Cleveland. Since 2016, he's been involved with the selections of a first-rounder each year who has gone on to earn PFWA All-Rookie honors:

DeForest Buckner (seventh overall in 2016), Mike McGlinchey (ninth in 2018) and Nick Bosa (second in 2019) all zoomed off the board in the top third of their respective drafts, but Reuben Foster (31st in 2017) and Greg Newsome II (26th in 2021) were selected in the latter thirds. Javon Kinlaw (14th in 2020) was picked closest to the Vikings current position.

Buckner (seventh overall), McGlinchey (ninth), Bosa (second) and Wills (10th) all zoomed off the board in the top third of their respective drafts, but Foster was tabbed at No. 31, and Newsome was selected with the 26th pick.

"I'm not worried so much specifically about what's going to be done in front of us, but what situation will be presented to us and what's our way to best respond from there," he said.

Adofo-Mensah's former boss, Browns GM and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Andrew Berry, and his parents have helped him prepare to meet the moment with a calm demeanor founded on the extensive prep work the Vikings have done over the past three months since Adofo-Mensah was introduced as GM and the work the personnel department did before his hire.

"Andrew Berry is one of the most thorough people you'll ever be around. So, the draft itself was pretty boring," Adofo-Mensah said. "We planned for a lot of scenarios and so, we had a plan. Ultimately, we executed it.

"My job last year was to be on the phone, communicate with different teams, and letting them know what we're thinking," he added. "Just kind of get information from them on what they're thinking and see if there's any mutual deals that can come to play. We ended up trading for JOK [Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah], so that was something that I was involved in."

Adofo-Mensah said he doesn't anticipate a "draft room full of people running around and being super frenetic."

"I learned, honestly – and I've always known this – but seeing it up close with Andrew, if you prepare, the game doesn't have to be stressful or fast-moving," he said. "Just take care of your scenarios in advance and be prepared.

"There's always going to be surprises. I'm not going to sit here and say that you can plan this perfect thing, but you can be as detailed and prepared as you can," he continued. "Ultimately, at the end of the day, you want to make sure that you don't regret anything that you do. You want to minimize regret. That is one of the things we're trying to do, the chief thing we're trying to do, and we'll make sure we do that."

Adofo-Mensah was asked to estimate the number of hours he's spent in preparation, but said that's not how he measures it. He remains mindfully appreciative of the sacrifices of his mother and late father.

"When they came to this country, my dad was in dental school and driving a cab. My mom worked multiple jobs," Adofo-Mensah said. "One of my closest childhood friends is a transplant surgeon who, I want to say, doesn't sleep for two days and then goes and operates on somebody. So I'm not going to be the one up here telling you how many hours I've worked on something like this. It's a privilege."


2022 Miller Lite Vikings Draft Party

Vikings Draft Party is making its return to in-person festivities at U.S. Bank Stadium! The party will kick off at 6 p.m. (CT) Thursday, April 28.