Christmas Comes Early for Vikings as Coaches, GM Unwrap Rookie Presents This Weekend

Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Lewis Cine. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports.

 Vikings Insider, The GM’s View 

It’s often said that the offseason is a time of optimism for most pro sports teams. Free-agent signings and the draft bring new player talent to fill needs and add depth to the roster, creating excitement within an organization and the fan base. 

With the rookies hitting most NFL practice fields for the first time this weekend, it’s a feeling among coaches and team execs of finally unwrapping the presents that arrived via the draft which have been waiting to be opened (as was the feeling about free-agent signees when the offseason programs opened in mid-April).

While it’s exciting to watch rookie camp, the coaches and GMs really want to see the draftees and undrafted free agents in action with the veteran players at OTAs (beginning next week) and even more so training camp and preseason games when players are in full pads. Then the top rookies start to separate themselves so Vikings Coach Kevin O’Connell and his assistants can truly evaluate which players will be contributors and potential starters when the games count in the regular season.

Sometimes it’s immediately apparent that a rookie will be an impact player in Year 1. That was the case for us in the Vikings front office back in 1998 after we drafted Randy Moss in the first round. It was obvious what a special athlete he was, and even though we had a pair of excellent receivers in Cris Carter and Jake Reed, the coaches knew the three wide receiver offense would be our main approach in order to have three top receivers on the field as much as possible. Moss, of course, caught 17 TD passes that season and was Offensive Rookie of the Year in the start of a Hall of Fame career.

It would be thrilling for GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, O’Connell, and their staff if there is a player among this draft class that has a rookie year like Moss. But they will be happy if early draftees such as first-round safety Lewis Cine, second-round cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., and second-round guard Ed Ingram are in the starting lineup on the opening day of the regular season. They’ll also be excited to get good special teams contributions this season from players such as third-round linebacker Brian Asamoah, fourth-round corner Akayleb Evans, and fifth-round running back Ty Chandler. 

Feb 3, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; West running back Ty Chandler. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Conversely, when we drafted future Hall of Famer Chris Doleman high in the first round in 1985, it was apparent that he was an elite athlete but we thought it would take some time for him to develop. He started as a 3-4 linebacker and had 3.5 sacks over his first two seasons before we switched to a 4-3 defense and he blossomed as a Pro Bowl defensive end and elite pass rusher (with 11 sacks in his third season and a league-high 21 sacks in his fifth season in 1989). 

Then there are the diamonds in the rough such as John Randle who I signed as an undrafted player out of Texas A & I in 1990. He was a 240-pound defensive tackle when I gave him a $5,000 signing bonus. We didn’t have high expectations at the time but he hit the weight room hard and built himself into a 280-pound, double-digit sack man by his third season and a first-team all-pro in his fourth year, on his way to a Hall of Fame career. 

Perhaps undrafted kicker Gabe Brkic will be such an under-the-radar signing for the Vikings as he could provide a significant challenge to returning kicker Greg Joseph.

Dec 19, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners placekicker Gabe Brkic. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.

Brkic caught my attention when I read his resume out of Oklahoma—17-for-17 on field goal attempts and 52-for-52 on extra points as the only kicker in the nation to have a perfect season in 2019. He followed it up with two more reasonably successful seasons, but his field goal percentage dropped to 77% (20-for-26 each year). However, he made five kicks over 50 yards in 2021, tied for the most in college football. 

Will there be a Moss, Doleman, or Randle among Minnesota draft choices and undrafted signees this year? Time will tell and the journey for the rookies and their coaches starts this weekend.

Around the NFL Observations:  

1.Anybody else sick of hearing about and from Tom Brady? He retires, then he unretires, he tweets nonstop, does his “Man in the Arena: Tom Brady” ESPN documentary a la Michael Jordan’s Last Dance, he and fellow egomaniac Aaron Rodgers will take on Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in a golf event on June 1, and this week Fox Sports announces Brady will be their lead NFL analyst for an obscene amount of money (reportedly 10 years, $375 million) when he actually retires. 

I liked Brady a lot better when he was a much more humble New England Patriot. He talked less and tried to stay more low-key back then (which Bill Belichick encourages among his players). Things sure changed with Brady’s public profile—and I’d say for the worse–when he moved to Tampa.  

2. This Thursday night brings the release of the full 2022 NFL schedule and we now know two of the Vikings matchups which will be nationally televised—at Philadelphia in Week 2 on Monday night, September 19 and vs. New Orleans in London (Sunday, October 2 in Week 4). 

It’s always exciting when the full schedule is released and we see who the Rams will face in the Thursday night opener in L.A., along with the exciting national TV matchups for the Vikings and other teams and, of course, when those two big games will take place with the Packers. 

Coming Friday—Jeff’s reaction to the complete 2022 Vikings schedule

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl

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