EAGAN, Minn. – Things have slowed down quite a bit – in all of the right ways – for Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
With the 2023 NFL Draft just two weeks away, Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell are reflecting on the ways this year feels different than last, when the two were just getting their feet wet in their respective positions.
The pair of Vikings leaders spoke to media members Thursday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
"The fire hose isn't going as much as it was last year," Adofo-Mensah said with a smile. "That was a tough transition, just so many things coming at you – learning people's names and learning a building and where to park – all those things. Take away those things, and you get to focus a lot more on football and really putting in the groundwork for your systems and processes.
"These are things I put in my 'GM Book.' They were just words on a page at that point, but now they've come to life with input from Kevin, and we've built something great," he added. "We'll always continue to get better, and we'll keep improving, but we really like where we're at from a process."
O'Connell shared similar sentiments, noting that he had less energy to dedicate to the draft last spring as he got to know current players and established an offseason training regimen.
"Looking back a year ago at this time and really trying to teach systems and – from the football side – be ready to educate our players on that from day one of the offseason program, it took away from your ability to truly dial in on the draft," O'Connell said.
While Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores and his staff are new to the building, O'Connell said he's noticed the way coaches on the offensive side of the ball – specifically naming Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and Tight Ends/Passing Game Coordinator Brian Angelichio – have "really dived in" to personnel discussions.
"Also, the two of us, we're able to spend a lot more time together," O'Connell said, gesturing to Adofo-Mensah. "In discussions, watching tape, continuing to learn how each of us views the certain positions – and then obviously the most important thing is the role of individual players who arrive here."
One such role discussed throughout the press conference was quarterback. Because much was said on the topic, including approach to quarterbacks in the draft, we will have a deeper-dive story Friday morning on Vikings.com. But O'Connell did accentuate Kirk Cousins' position with the Vikings in 2023.
"I'm very excited about Kirk in year two in this system," O'Connell said. "It's been a while since Kirk's been able to say that he gets to come back in the same system he ran previously with the same play-caller. I've had a lot of great dialogue with him in ways we're going to look to fine-tune what we did [last year] and grow and improve. That will be a big part of 2023 for me, not only as the head coach but as play-caller in our offensive staff."
Here are four other takeaways from Thursday's media session:
1. Number of picks versus impact
As of Thursday, the Vikings are slated to have just five total selections in this year's draft:
Round 1, 23rd overall selection
Round 3, 87th overall selection
Round 4, 119th overall selection
Round 5, 158th overall selection
Round 6, 211th overall selection (compensatory)
Adofo-Mensah was asked if it's important to him to gain additional picks. He offered a couple of different perspectives, first reminding reporters not to forget about last year's draft class and its continued potential.
"We had 10 guys that we drafted [last year who played]," he said. "Honestly, I feel like there's this dynamic now with the draft where every Christmas is a new Christmas and you forgot what you got last year.
"We've been in the building with a bunch of these guys for a year, so we talk a lot about ceiling, but we've seen them for a year. We've seen their work ethics, we've seen them move up … in person," Adofo-Mensah added.
He mentioned several of the Vikings 2022 draft picks, including Lewis Cine, Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth, Jr., who all saw their rookie seasons cut short due to injury.
"There's a lot of people that you don't really know about that we're really excited about in this building," Adofo-Mensah said. "So we think about them. They didn't have to play a lot last year, right? So they're almost part of this draft class, if you think about it, in a sense.
"And then you talk about this draft, the numbers. To me, it's not necessarily about the number of picks; it's about the impact of those picks that you have," he continued. "So if you can find an impact player with your first pick or whatever, you don't have to trade back to get two players who might not add up to that same impact. So we're gonna do it the way we've always done it – trying to make decisions to find impactful players who fit our culture and where we're trying to go about business."
2. Inter-division trades? Yay or nay
Last year during the draft, the Vikings made two trades with fellow NFC North teams:
Minnesota sent the 12th (used on Jameson Williams) and 46th overall picks (used on DE Josh Paschal) to the Lions in exchange for the 32nd, 34th and 66th overall picks. The Vikings later dealt the 34th pick (used on WR Christian Watson) to Green Bay in exchange for the 53rd (later traded by the Vikings to the Colts) and 59th overall picks.
It's fair to say inter-division transactions happen pretty rarely in the NFL, so Adofo-Mensah was asked if those were unique situations or if it's generally something he's open to.
"I try never to box us in to what we could potentially do," he responded. "But ultimately, you always have to consider the factors at play. One, 'Does this help me improve our team?' First and foremost. But you're correct – the best path to playoffs is winning your division, so you want to help yourself and not help them. I fully understand that go-between.
"The answer's not always simple and clean," Adofo-Mensah continued, "but I think if you looked at the portfolio of what we did, it executed our plan, and we feel good about it. But ultimately, I have to live with the repercussions of everything I do and will try to work to overcome that."
View every Vikings first round draft pick through the years.
3. Vikings CB situation entering draft
The Vikings have five cornerbacks on their roster entering the 2023 NFL Draft: Kalon Barnes, Booth, Jr., Evans, Tay Gowan and recent free-agent addition Byron Murphy, Jr.
Adofo-Mensah said he plans to "add some people there" to bolster depth at the position but also reassured confidence in Minnesota's current group.
"We're really excited about Akayleb and Andrew. They played in spurts last season, and I think you saw all the potential that we saw in them on draft day," he said. "But again, this sport isn't about flashes or one play; it's about showing consistency over a lot of plays. That's a challenge that every young player has, and we want to help them get to the best ability they can. But we're really excited about what they have and what they're coming back with."
4. Updates Cook & Za'Darius Smith
Adofo-Mensah was asked if he expects outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and running back Dalvin Cook to be in the building next week for the start of Minnesota's voluntary offseason workouts – and on the roster for 2023.
He said the Vikings have "had ongoing communication" with Smith and his representation.
"Like Kevin said, it's voluntary, so those aren't things that we're necessarily concerned with," Adofo-Mensah said. "But we try to be solutions-oriented here. That's what we'll always talk about, and sometimes those solutions come from different places. But he was a great member of our team last year, and we'll keep the conversation ongoing."
Adofo-Mensah confirmed that conversations also are being had with Cook, and he said the re-signing of Alexander Mattison doesn't necessarily impact Cook's status with the team.
"Again, conversations are always ongoing with him. We're trying to be solutions-oriented and always trying to put a roster together within our constraints, and we'll continue with those conversations," Adofo-Mensah said.
"I think in theory [Cook and Mattison] can exist [together], of course. Different style backs," he added. "We try and, again, we talk about the systems we're trying to play together – they're a different style of backs, and they could fit complementary together."