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Introducing: Behind the Scenes of Vikings 1st Draft with Adofo-Mensah & O'Connell

EAGAN, Minn. — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took a deep breath as he strolled through the hallway of the Omni Viking Lakes hotel. Much like every other morning since his hire, he enjoyed a short commute through Minnesota's not-yet-spring chill.

But this time he toted a dry-cleaned sport coat — the same one he wore when he was introduced as the Vikings general manager three months earlier — and a freshly pressed blue shirt.

It was Thursday, April 28, significant to all in the football world as the opening day of the 2022 NFL Draft and first as a GM.

The repetition of motoring his Tesla to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to dive into meetings and additional film study was about to yield to three of the most invigorating — and exhausting — offseason days.

"We're so fortunate to be in these jobs, and it is serious business, but at the end of the day, it's about relationships and it's about people," Adofo-Mensah told Vikings Entertainment Network that morning. "I want to make sure when we make decisions that I do it in such a way that honors all the work that was done."

The Vikings stacked their draft board, sorting through multiple sources of information, and ran through multiple simulations to ready themselves for multiple scenarios.

"It's been really exciting for me, watching all of that come together right before our very eyes to make the best evaluation of each player on our board, figuring out our strategy for the draft," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell told VEN before the draft. "It's been next level for us."

Opening Night

Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell allowed behind-the-scenes filming from inside the Thomson Reuters Draft Room. This provided exclusive access through which viewers of the "Introducing: The Draft" episode can observe their interactions.

View college action photos of every Vikings pick from the 2022 NFL Draft.

Exchanges included casual moments like O'Connell offering to help Adofo-Mensah insert a collar stay — "Those are tough to get in." — as Adofo-Mensah was tying his tie and tenser interactions as they deliberated trade offers, opted to move down 20 spots in the first round and breathed a collective sigh of relief when safety Lewis Cine was still on the board at No. 32 to cap the first round.

Minnesota received a "curveball" trade offer for the 32nd pick but opted to stay in place.

"It's a surreal moment. We got a great player, a person with great character," Adofo-Mensah told VEN immediately after the selection of Cine. "He brings so much dynamic ability to the field. He's got incredible range, can play the back end, is great in space, is great against the run. He checks all of the boxes, is smart and tough. He loves ball. He studies, and we're through the moon. It was a little tenuous there. He was our target for a few picks, and you've got to sweat that out, but ultimately that's what we did."

Welcome to the Vikings

View photos of Vikings first round draft pick, S Lewis Cine, and his first time meeting the team at the TCO Performance Center.

Cine arrived in Minnesota Friday morning to make the rounds at TCO Performance Center, meet with Vikings Ownership, Adofo-Mensah, O'Connell and others before participating in his introductory press conference.

"Every pick coming off the board, you were getting a little fist pump out of me," O'Connell told Cine.

"I want to prove them right," Cine said. "Clearly they have a whole lot of faith in me as a player and person. I fit what they're trying to build, so be the person they intended, one they want and I can be for them.

"I think I'll look scary in purple, to be frank, so let's try it," Cine added.

Day 2 includes 2 more trades

The Vikings opened the second round by trading the 34th overall selection they picked up the previous night to Green Bay for the 53rd and 59th overall picks.

O'Connell mentions in the video that the Vikings believed the "most value" in the draft was between the 34th pick that Minnesota obtained from Detroit and the 77th pick the Vikings held as part of their initial picks.

Believing that Andrew Booth, Jr., might be plucked from the board by the 50s, Minnesota vaulted back up the board to select the cornerback from Clemson at the 42nd spot after sending the 53rd, 77th and 192nd picks to Indianapolis.

"He's by far the best guy on our board," Adofo-Mensah said to O'Connell in the Thomson Reuters Draft Room. "The length is just too much. … We've got to hope he lasts that far. His name is sticking out pretty clearly right now."

The "Introducing: The Draft" episode includes footage from Booth's meeting with the Vikings at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.

Booth explained his passion for football, as well as assignments and execution of particular plays during the formal interview.

Minnesota had initially entered the NFL draft with the 46th overall selection, so that may have been in the neighborhood where they envisioned potentially selecting Booth in their scenarios.

"Of course we want to wait until our guy is at that particular spot, and in the meantime, we want to get value for moving back, so Kwesi and [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Rob [Brzezinski] are so good in that area," Senior Football Advisor Ryan Grigson said after the Booth pick. "I feel like when our guy showed, we got aggressive and had the capital to go get him, maneuverability, which is pretty awesome how Kwesi orchestrated that. We went and got our guy. It was a position of need, and we've got a big, physical corner now."

Vikings National Scout Chisom Opara credited Adofo-Mensah and the team's analytics staff.

"Obviously there's still intense moments, but you have a little bit of confidence," Opara said.

Grigson, the GM of the Colts from 2012-16, overlapped with Adofo-Mensah in Cleveland from 2020-21 and was one of the first people hired here by Adofo-Mensah. He explained how the Vikings reevaluated the draft board after the opening night and spent significant time Friday looking at the landscape and narrowing focus.

The 59th pick, which was obtained by Minnesota after Green Bay traded up to select receiver Christian Watson, was used to draft Ed Ingram.

The Vikings evaluations led them to conclude there could be a "significant drop" from the former LSU guard to the next grouping of players.

"We literally said, 'Corner, guard.' Now the receiver, the linebacker, the rusher, that's all luxury at this point," O'Connell commented in the draft room. "We can let best available decide from here on out."

The Vikings didn't have too long to wait before adding linebacker Brian Asamoah with the 66th overall selection that was obtained from the Lions the previous night.

Director of College Scouting Mike Sholiton and Co-Director of Player Personnel Jamaal Stephenson helped recap a busy second night.

"We've been watching the different scenarios that we talked about possibly happening: staying at our pick, moving around, possibly moving up, possibly going back, and we've seen some of those come to fruition," Sholiton said. "It never plays out exactly how you have it, but I think by going through the process, we've come to find out we were ready for any and all scenarios that came our way."

Asked about Minnesota's first two trades occurring with division foes Detroit and Green Bay, Sholiton said: "You'd like to have an idea of what they might be going to get when they come up into your draft slot, knowing that they're potentially going to be on your schedule. The biggest thing is you want to get value for your pick and feel comfortable with the players that are going to be available when you come around again."

The selection of one player by a team can cause a positional run, depending on how many players are in a particular cluster of prospects. The Vikings try to anticipate when those might happen, "but as soon as the run starts at another position, you just need to be ready to adjust," Sholiton said.

"We're never going to stray from our board, even if there is a run and we're running out of options at another position," he continued. "We're just going to stay true to our board and pick the best player for us."

Stephenson added: "The end product is, we've got three really good players. We did do some moving around, picked up some extra picks, and I think it only helps to grab a bunch of picks in this process and adding depth and quality players as we go forward. I think Kwesi's leadership has been great on that front."

View photos of G Ed Ingram who was selected No. 59 overall in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Day 3 opens with trade trifecta

The Vikings opened the first hour of the draft's third day by trading thrice.

Minnesota sent the 156th overall pick and a 2023 fourth-round selection to Cleveland to obtain the 118th pick from the Browns and followed by adding Missouri cornerback Akayleb Evans.

The 122nd overall selection that had been obtained from the Colts was then dealt to the Raiders along with the 250th pick in exchange for the 126th and 227th overall selections.

But Adofo-Mensah then sent the 126th right back to the Raiders for the 165th (used on Minnesota DL Esezi Otomewo) and 169th (used on North Carolina RB Ty Chandler) picks in the fifth round.

"I feel like we've got a lot of guys we like in the fifth," O'Connell observed. "That's why I like that deal we just did."

Opara said a flurry of trades like the Vikings executed in the fourth round "keeps it interesting for sure."

"Kwesi talks about living in today and tomorrow, so trying to set us up for having wins on the draft board today but also getting guys and picks for tomorrow that can help build our roster going forward has been huge," Opara said. "It keeps us on our toes, but at the same time, we've been able to get a lot of the players we've been looking at, so getting picks and value for that has been the best of both worlds."

Familiarity in the fifth round

The Vikings had been able to host Otomewo during their Top 30.

"It's great, as far as the process goes, because you get to know them and how much football they know," Roberts said. "I think you get a better feel for where their ceiling is, and we feel like he's got a high ceiling and has just kind of scratched the surface with his flashes that he's shown on tape."

Adofo-Mensah said he asked every player who visited during the Top 30, "If you could pick one song to tell me about yourself, what would it be and why?"

"He picked 'Humble' by Lil Baby, and we listened to it. I always like listening to people talk as the song is playing and hearing what it means to them," Adofo-Mensah said. "I think music tells a lot about people, what's in their soul, what's in their heart. You can tell that's a person who is hungry [for success], didn't come from a lot but wants to be a lot. You see that mindset, and that's what you want to align with."

Attitude toward transfers

Evans transferred from Tulsa to Missouri, and Chandler headed for North Carolina after beginning his career at Tennessee.

Opara discussed the selection of Evans and said his switch allowed the Vikings to observe how he handled an elevation in competition to the SEC.

"He kind of checked that box, going from mid-level comp to high-level comp, and we saw him again at the Senior Bowl, so seeing the competition ramp up and him respond to that is a good indicator for how he's going to do when moving up to our level," Opara said.

Roberts spoke after the selection of Chandler and explained how complimentary folks at North Carolina had been when speaking about his adjustment to the Tar Heels.

"They said he made the transition better than any transfer they've had there," Roberts said, "so anybody who can come into a new system for one year and make that kind of impact, it says a lot about the kid's character and intelligence because he had to learn a new system."

The number of transfers has increased over the years, and so have the myriad of reasons for why players change locales.

"When someone transferred before, you always said, 'Why? What did he do? What did he get in trouble for?' Now, it's not that way," Roberts said. "It's guys making good decisions. Maybe they know they fit in better and they're going to have a better chance at the NFL if they get into a system where they're going to get more playing time or where they just fit. I think that's the way he's gone through the process."

View photos of UNC RB Ty Chandler who was selected No. 169 overall in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

A unique background

Lowe has two sons and is now the legal custodian of his teenage brother.

While assessment of players will always start with on-field abilities, Opara said players' backstories are "a very important part of bringing the story together on who the player is."

"His background speaks of somebody who has been through adversity, who has a lot of stability in his life," Opara said. "With a lot of these guys, you have to project a little bit. When in college, you don't have free time as often and you don't have as much money, so you're projecting about the player, but you're also projecting the kind of person they're going to be once they get to this level.

"With Vederian having gone through what he's gone through and having to mature from an early age, you don't get the sense that coming to this level is ever going to be too big for him," Opara continued. "He's had to handle a lot at a young age, so we're very impressed and kind of looking forward to what he's going to add to our position room."

Adofo-Mensah added: "It's great in life to get perspective. I think a lot of times, I was in college, maybe you had a hard test and think that's hard, and then you read about somebody else, and you're just so impressed with other people."

"When I used to interview for my undergrad, I would meet kids, and every one of those kids was far better than me," Adofo-Mensah. "I was like, 'l don't know why I'm in this school because you all are far better than me.' It's always great to meet young people who overcome so many different things, but also, that's what makes him great and why he'll be able to overcome things in this league."

Mining receivers late

The Vikings, who have been successful at finding receivers late in the process, went back to the well with Jalen Nailor in the sixth round.

Justin Jefferson has obviously shown why he was a first-round pick in 2020, but every other receiver on Minnesota's roster was added in the fifth (K.J. Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette), sixth (Nailor), seventh round (Bisi Johnson) or as an undrafted player like Adam Thielen. Former receiver Stefon Diggs was a fifth-round find in 2015, by the way.

"We've had a lot of success historically. Adam went undrafted, and Diggs was in the fifth round," Sholiton said. "You can go on down the line — Bisi has started and won games with us, K.J., so Day 3 can be a really fruitful day. It's really getting the right player. It's not when you get them. It's getting the right person, so we're excited he was still there in the sixth round."

View photos of Michigan State WR Jalen Nailor who was selected No. 191 overall in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Closing with collaboration

The 10th and final selection by Minnesota was used to pick tight end Nick Muse, a decision that Adofo-Mensah said resulted from "good process and everyone having a voice."

"Those last picks at the end there, everybody is kind of looking at our roster and trying to figure out what the best fit is," Adofo-Mensah said. "We had some coaches come in and lobby for him and some scouts come in and give us some great information. I saw what they saw in him, and we're really excited to add him.

"He's got some really good separation ability, has got size, the ability to develop into a really good run blocker. I think 'Ang,' our tight ends coach (Brian Angelichio), is one of the best in the game, and we want to give him mounds of clay and see what kind of sculptures we can make, so we're excited to add him."

Roberts has been in numerous draft rooms over the years and said the level of collaboration implemented by Adofo-Mensah, O'Connell and their staffs stood out.

"He's preached that since he got here, and that's the way it's taken form. The coaches are all involved, the scouts are all involved," Roberts said. "Everyone has their say, and then he huddles up with Coach O'Connell and they come to the best decision. It's a great process. It's been an informative process. I've learned a lot, and I think everyone has. That's kind of been the theme since Kwesi has gotten here."

There was a hint of fatigue in Adofo-Mensah's voice after an exhausting first three months on the job that led to Minnesota's 10-player haul over the course of three days, but his wheels were already turning on what things the Vikings could do to improve their process.

View photos from Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft from inside the Thomson Reuters Vikings Draft Room, of first round draft pick Lewis Cine and in Las Vegas.

"I'm a very big improvement person, so I'm going to be analyzing what we did, ways to get better," Adofo-Mensah said. "Kevin was telling me how great it was, and I'm already thinking about what needs to get better. That's just kind of how I'm wired.

"It was great, though. I don't want to sit and say I'm not excited. You just caught me after it, where you're in this 'locked in' place," he continued. "When we get to our post-draft party with karaoke and laugh and dance and sing, I'll probably think more about it.

"Again, I want to thank everybody who is in that room because so much goes into this. I get to sit in front of the camera, but I told them in one of our meetings that I have the best personal shoppers in the NFL. They bring us things, but then I can use my time efficiently, set a vision and do those things. That's a credit to everyone in that room," Adofo-Mensah added. "We did our goal. You always have to wait and see what happens when you make decisions. Coming from a finance background doesn't make you confident. It makes you aware that things can go right and things can go wrong, so you've got to be clear-headed and kind of thoughtful about what's happening, but we're excited about what we did. Ultimately, we'll see what happens."