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Monday Morning Mailbag: QB Prospect's Viking Lineage, Navigating Cap Space & Draft Prep

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The days on the calendar are flying by, as we're just 10 days away from opening night of the 2023 NFL Draft.

In case you missed the news last week, Harrison Smith will be pinch-hitting as host for this year's Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game on May 31 in St. Paul. Thielen has obligations with the Panthers in Charlotte, but "The Hitman" will step in, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which Smith has supported over the years, will benefit from funds raised. Tickets range from $5 to $50, and more info is available here.

We have another nice assortment of questions from fans, so here we go.

I think the Vikings should give a good look to Holton Ahlers as a late draft pick. He has great skills and ACTUAL Viking heritage. He is at least worth a good look. He could be the next Brock Purdy.

— Joel Crosby

Attempts at finding the next Patrick Mahomes have been referenced previously by others, but here's a twist with reference to Purdy, whom San Francisco drafted with the final selection of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Purdy stepped in to start for a really great 49ers team and won his first seven starts (five regular season; two playoff games) before leaving the NFC Championship Game because of an elbow injury.

The story of Ahlers, who played college football at East Carolina, has picked up some steam recently. Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr had an interesting profile on Ahlers, whose brother recently traced their family lineage through all the way back to Ragnar Lothbrok.

Orr wrote:

"Ask around about Ahlers, who just finished his final season at East Carolina, and you'll hear about an origin story that is, yes, part Viking and part Paul Bunyan. He may not be just the most underrated quarterback in this class — he may be an actual living folktale."

In the feature, Ahlers describes his progression as a quarterback as one that developed through some self-teaching via online videos.

His stats jumped nicely from his freshman to sophomore years with the Pirates, benefiting when his completion percentage increased from 48.3 in his first season on campus to 59.7 as a sophomore. This past season, as a fifth-year senior, Ahlers turned in his best numbers. He had career highs in completions (315), attempts (469), completion percentage (67.2), yards (3,708), yards per attempt (7.9), passing touchdowns (28) and passer rating (151.1). He also cut his interceptions in half from 10 in 2021 to five last season.

Ahlers was named MVP of the Birmingham Bowl after throwing five touchdowns to complete an 8-5 season for East Carolina. He also was named MVP of the Hula Bowl and NFLPA Bowl but was not among quarterbacks invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

The Vikings likely saw plenty of Ahlers early in his college career while they were taking a look at Blake Proehl, who played for the Pirates for three seasons (2018-20) before joining Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2021.

One thing that might work against Ahlers in some circles is the fact he's a lefty, which can necessitate flipping of an offensive design and/or deployment of personnel. The Dolphins seemed to fare well when Tua Tagovailoa was healthy last season.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manger Kwesi Adofo-Mensah participated in a pre-draft media session last week, and much of the conversation centered on quarterbacks. O'Connell was asked about assessing young quarterbacks who have played in different systems and projecting them to the Vikings offense.

"Playing the position, you have to have things and traits you look for and the things you think can carry over," O'Connell said. "Things like accuracy, things like toughness, things like having the ability to process and see the whole field and read with your feet and eyes. Those things translate. The guys that sometimes naturally do it jump off the tape, whether they're in spread systems or more pro-style systems. But then you can find it.

"You can find those subtle snaps where guys do things they may not even know they were doing in the moment that I think translate," O'Connell added. "That is one of the cool things why I put so much into every single year, since I've been a coach in this league, really going through a draft evaluation process of the quarterbacks. Whether you plan on taking one or not, I think it's important to do. You never know when you're going to get an opportunity to have a need for a player that comes out this year down the line. So I think it's always good to have a starting point of how you viewed the player coming into the NFL, regardless of if that's going to be for you or someone else as they go down the road of their career."


2023 Miller Lite Vikings Draft Party at U.S. Bank Stadium

Experience the NFL Draft at the Vikings home field and bring your crew for a night of entertainment – tailgate style. Party on the field with other Vikings fans, current players and Legends!

I watch all the football talk shows every day (I am retired), and all I hear is what teams are bringing in draft-type players and free agents for visits, but I never hear about one ever coming to a meeting with the Vikings. Are players coming and nobody is reporting it, or what is the story? Thank you.

— Alan Tiseth

Teams are permitted to host up to 30 draft-eligible prospects for formal visits ahead of the draft. Some teams scatter those visits, but the Vikings, at least since I've been here, have tried to have as many of their 30 invitees visit at the same time.

The "Top 30 Visit" to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center occurred last week, and there was some reporting about participants, but the team doesn't announce its list of invitees because the Vikings don't want to publicize that information for the other 31 teams.

While we always want to be upfront with our coverage on, we also have an understanding that we don't compromise any competitive advantage the football operations department is working to establish.

Minnesota was active in the initial wave of free agency, maybe even more than some expected, by clearing up some cap space to bring in new players and re-sign several who were part of the 2022 team's success.

Agents and reporters often work with each other on that line of information during free agency.

There have been multiple signings in the past couple of weeks, but most teams have kind of slowed their free agent signings as they prepare for the draft. Outcomes in that event could shape the next wave of free agency.

We've been able to post stories once a player and the team have agreed to terms and look forward to a similar approach with any future free agent signings.

I recently decided to experience more heartache from the past by watching NFL highlight shows of the 1977 NFC Championship between Minnesota and Dallas and then, Super Bowl XII between Dallas and Denver. My question, with a healthy Tommy Kramer (not Sir Francis), could the Vikings have carried the momentum from the Mud Bowl victory over the Rams to win at Dallas? I think it's very possible that would have happened. Minnesota's defense played well, despite four turnovers by the offense. Just imagine if Kramer, and his ability to do much more than Bob Lee, could have been challenging the "Doomsday Defense." A close game, with unbelievable pressure on the Cowboys not to lose … I think you can see the Vikings pulling it out.

As for Super Bowl XII, I think the Broncos defense would have been a huge obstacle. Then again, I think the Vikings certainly could have contained an offense run by Craig Morton and/or [Norris] Weese. It's a shame Kramer and the Vikings missed that opportunity.

— Justin Angeles

That's quite a hypothetical, and I don't know if I'm best to answer that question because I have not reviewed footage from that NFC Championship Game.

Kramer was a rookie in 1977, early in his days of becoming the second most prolific passer in Vikings history behind Tarkenton, who was hurt and unavailable in his next-to-last NFL season.

Bud Grant had a long history of rookie avoidance within his coaching philosophy. Even so, Kramer started a December game against Oakland, but his numbers were less than stellar (16-of-34 passing with 177 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a passer rating of 36.0).

After that, the Vikings rolled with Lee, even though they didn't ask him to do much through the air.

Lee started the following week and completed 11 of 16 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 151.0 in a win at Detroit to close the regular season. Lee also started the Mud Bowl, completing five of the 10 passes he attempted for 57 yards.

The biggest discrepancy in the box scores of the Mud Bowl against the Rams and the NFC Championship game at Dallas was the way the Vikings were able to lean on the running game.

Minnesota rushed a whopping 49 times for 144 yards at Los Angeles, and although the average was just 2.94 yards per carry, the utilization helped the Vikings control the football and paired nicely with a defense that recorded three interceptions.

The following week, however, the Vikings fell behind by 13 and trailed 16-6 at halftime. Minnesota finished with 66 yards on 30 rushes (2.2 per carry) and struggled with the turnovers that included three fumbles lost and an interception by Lee, who went 14-of-31 with 158 yards and a passer rating of 47.5.

Maybe Kramer would have been able to rally the Vikings the way he did against the 49ers in the 1979 season opener; maybe he needed a bit more seasoning.

It's an interesting question and it makes me wonder what individual games Vikings fans would most like to have a mulligan for, to go back and fix what went wrong like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap. (I haven't seen the new version but watched plenty of the episodes with Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell).

As for how the Purple may have fared against the Orange Crush Defense, Dallas was able to lean on its run game and build a 13-0 halftime lead before opening things up with touchdowns of 45 and 29 yards by Roger Staubach, so it probably would have come down to the way Minnesota ran the football.

Defensive end Harvey Martin and defensive tackle Randy White combined for Super Bowl MVP honors in the only game that has featured co-MVPs. Wouldn't it have been cool for a couple of Purple People Eaters to hold that distinction?

Hello, The Vikings are approximately $1.7 million under the cap. Therefore, won't the Vikings need to either trade or release after June 1 [Za'Darius] Smith or Dalvin Cook? This will create more cap space to sign their 2023 draft class!

— Steve in Chino Hills, California

When are we going to make a move to have more money? [Receiver] class doesn't stand out, so we should draft one later in draft. Who should it be?

— Warren has this convenient approximation of every team's cap space and effective cap space.

The site lists Minnesota's cap space at $1.4 million and explains that effective cap space is "the cap space a team will have after signing at least 51 players and its projected rookie class to its roster." lists Minnesota's effective cap space at a negative of almost $1 million, so the Vikings will have to make more moves, but they are far from the only team in that situation.

Adofo-Mensah was asked about Smith and Cook last week and said the Vikings are in "ongoing" conversations with each player.

"We're trying to be solutions-oriented and always trying to put the roster together within our constraints and we'll continue those conversations," Adofo-Mensah added when asked a follow-up about Cook.

Hopefully we will get some pretty good players who can play better with the Vikings.

— Florence Dahl

The Vikings currently have five selections, a number that could increase or decrease at different points of the draft.

Adofo-Mensah was asked last week about trying to get more selections and pointed to the effort his team is undertaking to maximize the impact of each selection the Vikings wind up making. He again pointed to the size of last year's class (10 players) and leans toward that group making more of an impact in 2023, kind of like bonus picks this year.

"I think everybody focuses a lot on the number. First, I'd like to point out that we had a pretty big class. We had 10 guys that we drafted play last year and honestly I feel like there's this dynamic where every Christmas is a new Christmas and you forgot what you got last year type of thing," Adofo-Mensah said. "We have been in the building with a bunch of these guys for a year. We talk a lot about ceiling, but we've seen them for a year. We've seen their work; we've seen them move up in person.

"We are really excited about a Lewis Cine, who had his season cut short, or an Akayleb Evans, who played snaps, or Andrew Booth and Brian Asamoah, Jalen Nailor," Adofo-Mensah continued. "There is a lot of people that people don't know about that we're really excited about in this building. So we think about them. They didn't have to play a lot last year. They are almost part of this draft if you think about it in a sense. Esezi [Otomewo], I don't want to leave anybody out. Vederian [Lowe], who is in there grinding every day. Just a lot of guys we are really excited about.

"And then when 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," Adofo-Mensah added. "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. We are going to do it the way we've always done it, try and make decisions to find impactful payers that fit our culture and where we're trying to go about business."

View every Vikings first round draft pick through the years.

Will we be going for the best player available when we draft? There are two defensive players that are versatile and athletic. How important are those traits? What are the odds we get Brian Branch or Trenton Simpson?

— Gerald Goblirsch

I included all of Adofo-Mensah's answer above because I thought it was all interesting and wanted to provide the full context before reinforcing the point about trying to identify the players who will be the most impactful as Vikings in Minnesota's offensive or defensive system.

"The more you know" is a phrase in the NFL to explain the value of knowledge base and versatility. It's also hard to coach athleticism, but coaches can optimize a player's specific strengths and try to mitigate any weaknesses.

I'd imagine that there are numerous players worthy of the "versatile and athletic" descriptions in every draft, but those are clearly important traits that are highly sought.

As to Branch or Simpson specifically, there's quite a bit of interesting information on their player bio pages.

Branch, projected as a nickel cornerback or safety, received a grade of 6.49 with the added description of "will become good starter within two years."

Branch was issued a production score of 96 by Next Gen Stats but his athleticism score was 58, leading to an overall of 85 from NGS.

People also often say "it's a production-based business," and that's also the case at his alma mater, Alabama.

Simpson, the former Clemson Tiger, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, and his NGS athleticism score checked in at 86, to go along with a 76 in his production score and 81 overall. All three of those rank third among linebackers.

Viking Fan since the mid-60s. Many high and low moments. But one real disappointment. Jim Marshall snub by the HOF selection people.

Bud Grant. Great coach, great person. Definitely need to honor the Coach by naming the field no later than the beginning of the regular season. Any issues with U.S. Bank in naming the field in honor and memory of the Coach? I hope not. Otherwise add disappointment No. 2. Also, thank you to Lindsey Young for her time and effort in creating Bud Grant content.


— Noel in Bayfield, Wisconsin

Unfortunately, the absolute brilliance of "Captain Jim" was not fully appreciated as broadly as it should have been, and that includes by the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee.

The Minnesota community is in its seventh decade of being fortunate to have "Mis-ter. Marshall" — I can still hear Bud saying that in his unique delivery — as one of its members. I still feel if just one of those Super Bowls would have gone the Vikings way, that Marshall would already be in Canton. He had both of Minnesota's sacks of Staubach in that 1977 NFC Championship Game, by the way.

The fact that he's not in is the thing I'd most want to change if I could Quantum Leap. We can't go back in time to fix that, but we can keep pointing out his distinguished résumé.

As for honoring Bud, there are some discussions being held between the Vikings and the Grant family. Some of those conversations are well above my pay grade. Please stay tuned for future details.

Lastly, thank you for the kudos toward's Lindsey Young and her work to help our site honor Coach Grant.

Reminder: Send your own Letter to Bud

In tribute to Bud Grant and his legacy, and in continuing the "Letters to Bud" theme, we invite fans to mail in letters sharing the impact Coach Grant had on your Vikings fandom, your personal life, your childhood and so on.

Letters received may be published through Vikings content platforms in a future special edition of "Letters to Bud." We also will pass along the letters to Coach Grant's family.

If you would like to participate, please send letters to the below address.

Lindsey Young, Vikings Entertainment Network

Re: Letters to Bud

2600 Vikings Circle

Eagan, MN 55121

Here are the links to the previous content series in case you'd like some inspiration (chapter explanations are on the left, and the Adobe Spark features are on the right).