Former Vikings GM: Addison Pick a Throwback to 1998 Draft
As I was reflecting on this year being the 25th anniversary of the great 1998 season for the Vikings (during my last season as Vikings GM before I left for Tennessee), the similarity and circumstances of the first-round draft choice in 1998 and this year in 2023 struck me.
In the 1997 season, we had finished 9-7 and won a wildcard playoff game at the Giants before the 49ers rolled over our defense in a 38-22 divisional playoff loss at San Francisco. Our defense ranked 19th that season and allowed 359 points (also 19th most in the league).
We had the 11th ranked offense led by QB Brad Johnson with two thousand yard plus receivers in Cris Carter and Jake Reed along with Robert Smith as an excellent running back (1,266 rushing yards that season) behind an outstanding offensive line led by Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel.
Former Vikings GM: Addison Pick a Throwback to 1998 Draft
So we went into the 1998 draft thinking our offense was in good enough shape and needed more defense help. Then future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss fell due to character concerns, and we couldn’t pass up an offensive player we had rated in our top five among all players in that draft.
We picked Randy in our No. 21 overall spot, and he wound up as the Offensive Rookie of the Year in a season with 17 TD receptions as a key catalyst towards our league-best 15-1 regular season that should have led to a Super Bowl appearance (ugh on the NFC title game loss to Atlanta). We did draft defensive players with our next four picks in Rounds 2-5.
Fast forward to 2023 with the Vikings coming off a 13-5 season (including the playoff loss to the Giants), and as in 1998, the team had a fine offense (7th ranked), but the defense was not good (and worse than in 1997), ranking 31st in the league.
As in 1998, it was considered likely that the Vikings would use the 23rd overall pick on a defensive player, most likely a cornerback. Starting receiver Adam Thielen had been released, but it was assumed that K.J. Osborn would step into the No. 2 wide receiver role with others such as Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor competing for the third receiver spot in the team’s three-receiver base offense.
It was a mild surprise when GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah selected wide receiver Jordan Addison with the defense in need of more help. But in retrospect, it’s apparent Adofo-Mensah and Coach Kevin O’Connell had a higher grade on Addison than a corner such as Deonte Banks (who was taken by the Giants one pick after the Vikings took Addison) or edge rusher Nolan Smith (picked No. 30 by the Eagles) who would’ve helped the Vikings pass rush.
If Addison is a consistent producer at wide receiver and takes some pressure off the coverages teams employ against superstar Justin Jefferson, then the pick will be successful, and the offense can continue to flourish.
If the selection comes anywhere close to being as great a pick as Moss was in 1998, then it’s a home run for the Vikings, but with Jefferson getting the larger share of targets, it will be very difficult for Addison to match Moss’ rookie year production (69 catches for 1,313 yards and the 17 TDs). Addison is expected to have lots of big play opportunities downfield as he mostly faces single coverage and with Jefferson, Osborn, and T.J. Hockenson commanding significant defensive attention.
Another similarity between the 2023 and 1998 drafts is that the Vikings followed the Addison/offense pick by taking defensive players with their next three selections —cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, safety/slot corner Jay Ward, and defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy in Rounds 3-5.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. The Vikings schedule will be announced this Thursday, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out and how many national TV dates the team receives. We do know there are plenty of tough matchups, including both Super Bowl teams — Kansas City here and at Philadelphia, along with hosting NFC West champion San Francisco and traveling to AFC North champion Cincinnati.
What a list of quarterbacks the Vikings will face, including Patrick Mahomes (K.C.), Jalen Hurts (Philly), Joe Burrow (Cincinnati), Justin Herbert (Chargers), Russell Wilson (Denver), and No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young (Carolina). And there will be the usual home-and-road matchups with NFC North foes Chicago, Detroit, and Green Bay.
2. Sad to see the news of Joe Kapp passing away this week at 85 years old after he battled dementia late in his life. I loved watching Joe play his unique quarterback style for the Vikings in the late 1960s. He didn’t have the best arm, but he got the ball where it needed to go, and he was a fearless runner and tremendous leader. I was at cold Met Stadium when Kapp ran over Browns linebacker Jim Houston in the 1969 NFL title game on the play that set the tone for the Vikings’ 27-7 dominating win to send the team to its first Super Bowl.
I met Joe several times during my years working for the Vikings (after his retirement as a player), and he was always so friendly and had many great stories to tell. Everyone loved his catch-phrase “40 for 60” (40 men playing for each other for 60 minutes) from those great Vikings teams coached by Bud Grant, quarterbacked by Kapp, and led on defense by the Purple People Eaters.
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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