Vikings turn focus to NFL Draft plans — while keeping Justin Jefferson in the loop


ORLANDO, Fla. — Few NFL teams are as interesting right now as the Minnesota Vikings. Fans know it. Coaches are aware. Even the owners understand.

Are they going to trade up in the draft? Which quarterback do they like?

These questions surfaced continuously here Monday at the NFL league meetings, the first time the league has convened since the Vikings acquired the Houston Texans’ first-round pick (No. 23) in next month’s draft.

Owner Mark Wilf, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell were all present. O’Connell answered questions about the team’s plans over the next month. Here are four takeaways:

1. The Vikings are open to taking a big swing at quarterback

Speculation ran rampant once Adofo-Mensah acquired the 23rd pick. Many suggested Minnesota put itself in prime position to use its two first-round selections to leap up the draft board and select its potential quarterback of the future.

O’Connell said nothing Monday to downplay that possibility. He called the 2024 crop of quarterbacks “a good group.” He said he feels “very strongly” about the opportunity the Vikings can offer a rookie quarterback. He even referenced the potential “big swing,” but added, “it’s got to make sense for both us and, unfortunately, another team as well.”

The coaches of the Washington Commanders and New England Patriots shared this week that their teams would listen to offers for the No. 2 and 3 picks, respectively. The Vikings are not likely to pursue this massive move without organizational alignment. Everyone would have to agree on parting with premium assets (and, likely, future picks) for an uncertain bet. That’s a high bar, but it’s feasible in a class featuring numerous high-end prospects.

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2. Minnesota’s staff is maximizing its evaluation opportunities

O’Connell sat in the seventh row of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and observed the quarterbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine. Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon’s Bo Nix all threw that day. But there’s much more to his involvement in the evaluation process.

The third-year coach will take multiple trips over the next few weeks to sit with, watch film with, throw with and teach some of the most sought-after QB prospects. He classified pro days as “great for multiple reasons,” but wondered why a head coach would leave these evaluation opportunities to the whims of others.

“To do the right job, to do the kind of job I hope our fans expect in terms of the evaluation and importance of this selection if we’re able to make one,” O’Connell said, “we’re not going to leave anything to chance.”

O’Connell tries to identify quarterbacks who can play in rhythm and on schedule from the pocket, processing in real time and delivering the ball accurately. Then, he sifts through tape for toughness and traits that allow a quarterback to make plays off schedule. Interviews and time spent on college campuses provide a glimpse into the quarterback’s charisma.

O’Connell also stressed the value of private workouts and top-30 visits. He and other coaches can garner a feel for how a player interacts in a teaching setting. They can then visit the player’s favorite restaurants around town and observe how they interact with people in their preferred environment.

Building-changing quarterbacks don’t just change the facilities,” O’Connell said. “Any room they ever walk into, they light it up, they change it, they impact. You can see that on display authentically when you do the full process with those trips.”

3. The Vikings are keeping Justin Jefferson abreast of their plans

O’Connell said Monday he has talked to superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson several times this offseason. The coach said he views the receiver as a “pillar of leadership for our organization.”

“That’s how I treat him,” O’Connell said.

The two discussed the team’s quarterback situation. O’Connell said Jefferson has an immense appreciation for Kirk Cousins, but O’Connell also added that he thinks Jefferson is “very excited” about what’s possible with a new quarterback.

Jefferson became a first-time team captain last year. He understands the leadership role and embraces it. Any young player entering the NFL needs older, accomplished players to lean on. Why shouldn’t Jefferson — one of the most accomplished young players of all time — be one of those voices?

“That could go a long way for a young quarterback to have a guy like that,” O’Connell said, “in addition to Brian O’Neill, T.J. Hockenson, Jordan Addison and Aaron Jones. You just think about what we have in our offensive framework right now, and I think it’s a pretty special time. I know Justin is looking at it like that as well, and my hope is we’ll get his contract done … and he continues to be that pillar of leadership that I look at him as within our team.”

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4. Trading up isn’t the Vikings’ only option

The Vikings’ recent acquisition of the No. 23 pick is all about flexibility. O’Connell tossed out a ton of scenarios with the team’s two first-rounders. The Vikings could trade up from No. 11, up from No. 23, down from No. 11, down from No. 23 or any combination of the above.

Most pundits and NFL teams expect offensive players to dominate the top 10 picks. Elite defenders should be available at No. 11 if the Vikings cannot trade up for a quarterback. Then, if there’s a run on defensive players between picks 10 and 20, the Vikings could be in position to snag an offensive option at No. 23.

“You can add some really good players even if we’re not able to take that big swing that I know we’re excited about the possibility of doing,” O’Connell said.

Suffice it to say, how Washington, New England, Arizona and the Los Angeles Chargers proceed in the top five picks may ultimately dictate the Vikings’ route in Round 1.

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(Photo of Kevin O’Connell: Kirby Lee / USA Today)





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