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Why Vikings Value Private Workouts in Pre-Draft Progression

There's been a general progression through the pre-draft process for years.

College all-star games in January/February, the NFL Scouting Combine, pro days at college campuses, Top 30 visits to NFL teams' headquarters.

Private workouts with prospects are obviously less publicized but received a little attention this week when Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell met Monday with Twin Cities media members who trekked to Florida for the NFL's Annual League Meeting (also referred to as Owners Meeting).

For all the personality O'Connell has shown in two-plus years in his first opportunity as a head coach, he's also a process guy interested in doing deep dives on quarterbacks, gleaning details to supplement information gathered by the personnel department.

O'Connell was asked about the value of attending a private workout. A big part of that value is a preview to learn how a prospect learns.

"In real time, we don't know what they're coached," O'Connell said. "So a lot of times, if you just turn on the tape and give them the clicker and have them take you through it, you can ask questions in real time and see how fast they either remember things, how fast they're digesting the information in the question you're asking, how clearly and articulately can they put that information into real tangible things that I can use as a coach for feedback to help them in the future?

"I think the value of them learning, basically a foreign language in a lot of ways, our system, parts of our system, that you can then go on the grass and see if they understand how we want to set our feet and eyes on this drop or when we talk about pocket movement, what that looks like," he continued. "Or if we talk about on-schedule vs. off-schedule, red zone, third down, how that fits the framework not of our system but the system we want to build for them."

O'Connell said the idea is to better understand how the partnership would function in evaluating a quarterback to join the likes of skill players such as Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, T.J. Hockenson, Aaron Jones and Ty Chandler.

"It's a pretty exciting time to start thinking about the evolution of our offense in Year 3," O'Connell said.

It's become popular for folks to track the whereabouts of key NFL personnel during the pro days that are scattered from coast to coast after the combine and overlap with the kick start of the NFL's free agency period, continuing toward April and the draft.

O'Connell shrugged off a question about not attending Michigan's Pro Day last week (the Vikings did have staff attend).

"I wouldn't read anything into that. I was at the combine, so the guys that did throw, I was in the seventh row, watching those guys throw," O'Connell said. "The film, the tape, is obviously going to be the true evaluator of where a guy is at and where you see him getting to, the growth they had at the beginning of their journey to the end of their college journey.

"I think pro days are great for a lot of reasons, having nothing to do with the script and what you actually get to see when you make the effort to go there. I think they're great," O'Connell added. "I think the guys are doing a great job with them, and the people that get a lot out of that, it's valuable, and it's valuable for us as a piece of it — but nothing compares to completing that full process with a visit or maybe them coming to the Twin Cities for one of our 30 visits."

While Top 30 visits are particularly helpful in evaluating a prospect with an NFL team's headquarters, O'Connell explained he sees value in the additional opportunity to try to assess a player in the environment in which he's been for a year or more.

"I think you can get a real quick indication of the level of excitement we all have for our guy, based upon spending a good chunk of time together on their home turf, see how they interact with people around the athletic facility, and maybe allow them to take us to lunch," O'Connell said. "We may pick up the tab, but I want to go to, 'Hey, where's your favorite spot to go to lunch?'

"I want to see how they interact with folks because building-changing quarterbacks, they don't just change the facility," he added. "Any room they walk into, they light it up, change it, impact it, and I think you can see that on display in an authentic way when you do that full process with those trips."

The Vikings currently have the 11th and 23rd overall picks of the 2024 NFL Draft, along with seven other later selections. Minnesota was assigned 11th after finishing 7-10 in an injury-riddled season. The Vikings began overturning their roster at important positions when free agency opened, and quarterback Kirk Cousins was among the departures thanks to a massive offer by the Falcons.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings began their first steps of replacing Cousins on Monday, the new league year began that Wednesday (March 13) and by Friday morning had executed a trade with Houston for the extra first-round pick. O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah discussed the **timing of the trade**.

Much speculation has occurred that the Vikings would try to package one or both of those picks in order to move up the draft board, but the reality is that there are multiple options.

Adodo-Mensah told Vikings Entertainment Network's Tatum Everett he wakes up in the night "thinking about draft scenarios" and stares at his draft board "often."

"When I was first a young Wall Street trader, one of my coworkers who taught me a whole lot would always tell me, 'Look at a chart and dream,' " Adofo-Mensah said. "Look at a stock chart, really, and think, 'What could it look like a year to come?'

"I think I've taken that over to football and kind of look at our draft picks, our roster, and dream. Just try to think about what the team can look like, be like, to fit into the image of how [O'Connell] and [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores] want to play. So we've done that," Adofo-Mensah said. "And there are a lot of scenarios, but I like the flexibility those two picks give us. I don't think they lock us into any one strategy. You know, the mock draft season is here, so I think people are probably thinking they know with more certainty what we're gonna do than the Vikings do. But we're excited about the flexibility we have, and we're going to approach the board with that mindset."

Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf also spoke with media members Monday and was asked what he's learned about O'Connell so far.

"First and foremost, Coach O'Connell is an outstanding leader of men in the building and of the organization as a whole," Wilf said. "I think what he's brought in terms of culture, both him and Kwesi to our organization since day one has been truer than ever, and we've been super pleased as Ownership with the kind of culture that leadership has brought to the building.

"The fact that he's also a top talent as far as evaluating the position, working an offense and knows how to get it done," Wilf added. "I think that's going to come in handy as we move toward our goals, which are Super Bowl championships, so I think for us as Ownership, we've given them this direction generally, 'It's about sustained success.' I think that's what we're driving for and that's part of the evaluation and the decisions, and this has been a good offseason thus far."

Wilf reiterated an appreciation for flexibility in the draft and a support for O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah as they work through the final month of draft preparation.

"We've always tried to model a philosophy and have tried to continue that of being long-term and not being kneejerk," Wilf said. "That will give our coach and GM the maximum confidence to move forward with a plan, which they are doing.

"Clearly, the personnel decisions are critical; no matter what round they are, they're all important," Wilf added. "The first-rounders we get and the seventh-rounders and the undrafted players and the trades we make, they're all important. They all add up, and how they perform on the field adds up. That's part of the process, but we try to be as patient as Owners, the best we can within a competitive environment."

The Wilf family is entering its 20th season of owning the team and has been committed to trying to bring a Super Bowl championship to the Vikings for the first time in franchise history. The run has included two appearances in NFC Championships, the construction of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Vikings nearly played in Super Bowl LII.

After a thrilling 13-4 season in 2022, the Vikings struggled last season in a bid to return to the playoffs.

Wilf was asked if it's hard to be patient.

"This is our philosophy for how we want to build this. Sure, it's hard to not have the success we want to have like last season, and yes, there were injuries, but it's always disappointing," Wilf said. "We want to win, and we want to win championships. That's what we take on ourselves as a responsibility as stewards of the franchise. Our fans want it, and that's how we approach every day, to try to build that.

"It's a tough business, but it's a great game," Wilf added. "The way our fans come out and support us is so incredible, and we are just so grateful for that. I think our players and coaches are, as well, and that gives us a big advantage competitively, and I know we're going to continue to have that. I hope that gets us over the line."