Former Vikings GM Reveals Team’s Draft Grade
It was a fascinating NFL Draft with lots of trades and the usual amount of surprises and slides (most notably QB Will Levis from a projected top-10 pick to an early second-round choice by Tennessee).
In my draft grading, I gave the Vikings a B+ for a solid overall draft, especially with their limited number of picks (six). I thought it was wise for GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah not to get tempted to trade away a first or second-round pick in 2024 to move up in the first round or get into the second round.
Former Vikings GM Reveals Team’s Draft Grade
Even though I thought a starting caliber corner was the Vikings’ biggest need, the team’s selection of wide receiver Jordan Addison is a very good pick at a need spot in Kevin O’Connell’s three-wide-receiver base offense. Addison is a top receiver who was the Biletnikoff Award winner at Pittsburgh in 2021 when he had 100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 TDs before transferring to USC, where his numbers fell to 59 receptions for 875 yards and 8 TDs.
He is an elite route runner with great hands who can play in the slot or outside. He will take some pressure off Justin Jefferson as another option, along with K.J. Osborn, after the departure of Adam Thielen. Addison is not a burner, but neither were Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Cris Carter, among others.
The Vikings corner situation remains concerning for last year’s 31st-ranked pass defense. Certainly, it’s critical that corners Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans come through as effective players this season after their injury-marred rookie seasons, along with Byron Murphy as a major free-agent signee. Last year’s first-rounder Lewis Cine must also emerge as a valuable safety after his leg fracture derailed his rookie year.
Addison’s USC teammate Mekhi Blackmon is a good third-round value at corner with his movement and ball skills, plus instinctive play. He had 66 tackles, three interceptions, and 12 passes defended last season. Blackmon joins the team as a player who needs to develop quickly as a potential starter or depth player at cornerback.
Former LSU star Justin Jefferson will be happy to welcome two LSU players in fourth-round safety/nickel Jay Ward and fifth-round defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy. Ward had 158 tackles and six interceptions over his last three seasons, and he’s a tough hitter who also has kick-blocking ability. Roy had 49 tackles but only a half-sack last season. He is an ascending player who fills a need on the interior D-line, and I liked the trade-up to grab him at another need position.
Fifth-rounder Jaren Hall of BYU will be developed as a potential dual-threat quarterback. He led winning teams in his two years as the starter, improved year-to-year, and had an excellent senior season with 3,171 passing yards, 31 TDs, only six interceptions, and a 66% completion rate with 350 rushing yards and 3 TDs. He’s an interesting QB prospect but is not likely to replace Kirk Cousins as early as 2024 when Cousins’ contract is up (I still expect the Vikings to extend Cousins for another year or two).
Minnesota’s final pick–in the seventh round–was DeWayne McBride from UAB, and he has talent as the 2022 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,713 yards and 19 TDs, but he’ll need to show he can be an effective receiving back too (only five receptions in his college career).
McBride will have a better chance to make the team as the third or fourth back if Dalvin Cook is eventually traded or released (which is still the expectation in order to free up needed salary cap room to sign the draft class and fill out the final roster when all players count after the final cut in September as opposed to just the Top 51 players at this juncture). The Za’Darius Smith watch (for a release or, less likely, a trade) also continues regarding the team’s salary cap issues.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. As for the rest of the NFC North, I gave the Bears a B+ (like the Vikings) for picking a fine OT prospect in Darnell Wright at No. 10 overall to help protect Justin Fields (sacked a league-high 55 times last season). DT Gervon Dexter in the second round is very athletic but needs to become more consistent. Their other second-rounder Tyrique Stevenson is an aggressive corner who could start as a rookie.
The Packers received a B from me with edge rusher Lukas Van Ness in the first round (at No. 13), who never started at Iowa and had only 6.5 sacks last season but has upside at a need position. Tight end Luke Musgrave and wide receiver Jayden Reed are talented players picked in the second round as new weapons for QB Jordan Love, but Musgrave missed 11 games last season with a knee injury, and Reed had only 636 receiving yards in 2022 (but he made 15 TD catches over his last two seasons).
The Lions received a C+ from me. As I said last week, I was not impressed with the Lions first-round choices of running back Jahmyr Gibbs (No. 12 overall) and linebacker Jack Campbell (No. 18) when they were projected to go in the late first or early second round, and the Lions passed on more impactful players to help their defense that ranked last in the league in 2022. The Gibbs pick looked better after the Lions traded D’Andre Swift to Philly (but the Lions only got a fourth-round pick for the former second-rounder).
If the dual-purpose Gibbs turns into the next Alvin Kamara (who he’s been compared to) and if Campbell becomes a Pro Bowl linebacker, I’ll change my tune on the Lions’ first-round picks. Sam LaPorta (second round) fills a need at tight end, but he’s no T.J. Hockenson, and it was surprising to see him taken instead of higher-rated tight end Michael Mayer who went to the Raiders on the next pick. Detroit’s other second-rounder — safety Brian Branch — is not fast but still covers well and is a hitter.
2. I gave my top draft grades (all A’s) to the Steelers, Giants, and Seahawks. I thought the Steelers made a great trade to No. 13 overall to jump ahead of the Jets and take offensive tackle Broderick Jones (who the Jets likely would’ve taken to protect Aaron Rodgers). Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. was a great pick for Pittsburgh at the top of the second round.
The Giants made a good move to trade up to No. 24 and take an excellent cover corner in Deonte Banks, who I thought the Vikings might grab one spot before the Giants. Then they picked former Gopher center John Michael Schmitz in the second round, and he should be an early starter.
Seattle took a top corner at No. 5 overall in Devon Witherspoon and then grabbed the first receiver off the board at No. 20 in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who also is an excellent prospect. Edge Derick Hall and running back Zach Charbonnet were good second-round picks. In this draft, Seattle narrowed the gap on San Francisco in the NFC West, as the 49ers had no picks until the third round.
I like the Eagles draft (especially speedy edge rusher Nolan Smith at No. 30), but I couldn’t give them an A until I see No. 9 overall pick Jalen Carter stay out of off-field trouble for the long term, control his weight and become a top player that he has the talent to do. But he did go to the perfect team in Philly with veteran D-linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to mentor him and a good support system in the organization, including an excellent coaching staff and former NFL player Connor Barwin as the team’s director of player development.
1 Viking Quietly Left the Team during Draft
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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