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5 Pre-Draft Takeaways: Vikings Treating QB Evaluation Like Marriage

EAGAN, Minn. — The "Path to the Draft" is a common and understandable phrase this time of year, effectively encompassing the journeys each team (and hundreds of eligible prospects) makes annually toward the NFL's three-day player selection meeting.

The consensus chatter by external media is the Vikings could draft a quarterback as high or higher than the franchise ever has (Daunte Culpepper at No. 11 in 1999), but there is not just one path for Minnesota.

Just two weeks ahead of the draft, and with Minnesota holding the No. 11 and 23 overall picks, Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah participated in a pre-draft press conference Thursday.

Here are five takeaways from the session.

  1. First comes love, then comes marriage

The pre-draft process is often referred to as a prolonged job interview, and for plenty of good reasons.

There's college all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine, campus visits for pro days and hosting Top 30 visits at team headquarters. The Vikings also have invested time in setting up private workouts, the value of which Head Coach Kevin O'Connell explained last month at the Annual League Meeting.

Adofo-Mensah on Thursday likened the experience of potentially selecting a quarterback to the buildup before a marriage. He credited O'Connell's impact in affecting the courtship process utilized by Minnesota.

"I think a lot of people who were involved in that process would tell you this was something new to all of them, and I would add myself in that regard," Adofo-Mensah said. "Since we got here, Kevin's really been adamant about, when you select a quarterback, it's about — it's a marriage. It's that serious, and that level of commitment and work that should go into it.

"And so, some of my thoughts, the things I've talked about with interviewing and different things like that, and maybe how we measure and process things, those are kind of some of my inputs," Adofo-Mensah said. "But Kevin's been really a big driver of this process, and having completed it, I completely see why, and it's been a great value."

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Adofo-Mensah said the Vikings try to fill the gaps that a traditional interview may fail to reveal how good a prospect will be if hitched.

"We can't simulate a pocket and different things like that, but we can simulate what it is like to be in a classroom environment," Adofo-Mensah said. "We can simulate what it's like to maybe give a coaching point and see how they respond to it and different things like that.

"We're looking for the nuance of that dynamic, knowing that we're going to lean on the film and hundreds and hundreds of snaps that we've watched on the rest of it," he added. "So that's what we try and gain from those interactions. And it's great to see people one after the other after the other to compare, to see what they're like. And I think the great thing about our building is we have an appreciation for players and people that they get to different answers. They don't get to the same answer the same way. One person might be a little bit more advanced maybe because they came from a pro system, but you look at the underlying process underneath and see how they learn how they respond how they get to answers that's a really cool thing to see up close, as well."

That mental flexibility can create a situation where there might be multiple matches the team could be happy with.

Asked if that's the case in a draft year that's been touted for its depth at quarterback, Adofo-Mensah said he believes so before quipping, "I hope my wife doesn't take that to mean anything."

Why is that the case?

"We've kind of felt that way for a long time, just partly because I think there is, again, when you go back to the team element and value, I think there are multiple guys that we are in love with just on our basis," Adofo-Mensah said. "But there's also other guys that we are in love with given what, if we get them at a certain value, they'd also be able to come with, right?

"If you're talking about the ability to overcome context, well, if the guy's got less ability, but we have assets to go get somebody who is not going to put them in that situation, those things add up, too," Adofo-Mensah said. "I love how Kevin and a lot of people involved this decision — a lot of times, evaluators can be a little one-track minded, 'This is the guy and nobody else.' That's not how it's been. We've really come to appreciate how guys get to their answers a different way, and I think that's going to serve us well."

  1. Added insurance policy

Ever since the Vikings traded to acquire the 23rd overall pick from the Texans on March 15, there's been a growing expectation that pick and the 11th could be used to trade further up the draft board.

But Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell have emphasized flexibility at every turn.

"We looked at it as not just, 'Hey, this is a more attractive asset if we went up,' but it's also an insurance product on different outcomes," Adofo-Mensah said. "Now, do you always use insurance? No. You could go your whole life and never get in a car accident. But if you did, you'd be really glad you had insurance.

"We wanted to make sure we set ourselves up for potentially a better look if a team picks up the phone, because they don't have to pick up the phone, but we also want to set ourselves up for being in a really good situation. If they don't, we pick great players," Adofo-Mensah said. "I know we talk about quarterback a lot, and it is the most important position in our sport – but it's the most important position in a team sport. It's not just getting the quarterback right; it's getting the quarterback right and the team around it."

  1. Risk versus reward?

There's no denying the NFL Draft comes with its risks.

Film study and measurements and projections tell you a lot about a player, but it's still impossible to tell exactly how a prospect will perform at the NFL level until he's made it there.

Several mock drafts have the Vikings packaging their first-round selections – most often with a 2025 first rounder, as well – in order to jump up the board and nab one of the top quarterbacks.

But what if a team overpays for a prospect who doesn't reach the projected success?

Adofo-Mensah understands the risk is there, and it's all about balancing risk versus reward and other factors to determine just how much risk one wants to take.

"Just because something's risky doesn't mean you have to stay away from it," he said Thursday. "You know what the rewards are, right? And that's something you have to weigh and measure. You can't look at these decisions in a vacuum. You know, you look at the whole portfolio of decisions that go around it, the things you have to do."

He later further emphasized, "Just because something's risky doesn't mean you're scared of it."

"It's uncertain," he said. "And we've got to take our swing. But that doesn't give us any pause, I would say."

  1. Knowing and setting the 'walkaway price'

Adofo-Mensah said it's important to enter the draft knowing what the Vikings "walkaway price" will be when conversing with other teams.

He referenced "the uncomfortable middle" – or the idea that in a negotiation, both sides likely will have to sacrifice a bit. But it's important to know when to walk away from the deal because it's becoming too costly for your party.

"I don't think you're supposed to sit there and say, 'They're gonna give Kwesi some great deal because we like him.' But I do think you're supposed to price in, you know, a little bit of irrationality," Adofo-Mensah said. "But then really, it's always about walkaway prices. And walkaway prices to me are meaningful because it's another action. Your only leverage in the negotiation is your willingness to do something else. So I've gotta say, 'I will not do this because I would rather do these three other things and make our team better.' It's got to mean something."

It's easy enough to talk about walkaway price, but it can be difficult to determine ahead of time, knowing so much rides on whether or not that player ends up being a franchise name for the next decade.

"That's the hardest part, right? It's, man, if you get the guy right and he's your answer for 10 years, then there's no price you probably wouldn't have paid, right, looking back?" Adofo-Mensah said.

For the Vikings, walkaway price considers the price of other roster pieces and support system for the quarterback in question.

"[It's the] most important position – but in a team sport," Adofo-Mensah said. "How do you how you [get] this most important piece but also still give yourself the ability to win? Because you can have this great quarterback and then there's nothing around him, and then you're not really in a great place there, either."

  1. Environment matters

Adofo-Mensah and his staff are thinking extensively about which players will be the best fit for the Vikings.

But they're also thinking about how the Vikings can be the best environment for the player.

In other words, team leadership understands it's vitally important to set up any player, but specifically a quarterback, be it Sam Darnold or a 2024 rookie, for success.

In acknowledging the risk of putting all of one's eggs in a quarterback's basket, Adofo-Mensah also noted that multiple factors affect a player's initial success with an organization.

"I think the last couple of years, obviously it's out there, the results of the quarterbacks that were drafted and different things like that. I think we look at those things and we obviously honor them and respect them, but we also look at the environment," he said. "And are we setting the person up to succeed? So, when we talk about these players, it's not just how good are they? It's how do we get the best version of themselves if they come to the Minnesota Vikings? We set up plans before they walk in the building."

Adofo-Mensah returned later to the environment topic, expanding to include whether or not that player has an opportunity to grow to "have everything on their shoulders right away."

"You can go back historically, a lot of good quarterbacks typically maybe go later in the draft, go to better teams, better defenses, better running games, better things around them so that they're not asked to win the game on third down as a rookie, which is very hard in this league," he said. "But you maybe come in and you play in a run-favored offense and you can throw the ball in favorable situations, different things like that – I think that does matter.

"That's the interesting part. When you go back and look at some of these historical things and everybody talks about the low hit rates, is that because the player wasn't good or because the situation wasn't great?" Adofo-Mensah continued. "And I'm not saying I know the answer to that, but that's something we stress, we argue and go back and forth and we talk about it, and it's true. It really is.

"That's why we talk so much about putting them in the right environment. And, you know, 'What do we have around them? Do you have good pass protection and schemes? Schematically, do you, are you a progression [quarterback]?' All these different things that Kevin has really brought in or set up to give a quarterback a chance to play," he added. "Environment does matter for these guys."