Drafting 1st-Round QBs a Scary Proposition but Vikings Should Do It

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The 2021 draft is the latest cautionary tale on drafting quarterbacks high in the first round. Of the five first-round QBs selected, only one — Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick by Jacksonville — remains with the team that drafted him.

Drafting 1st-Round QBs a Scary Proposition but Vikings Should Do It

No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson was officially given up on by the Jets this week and traded to Denver along with a seventh-round pick for a sixth-rounder. Previously, No. 3 overall Trey Lance was jettisoned from San Francisco to Dallas, No. 11 Justin Fields from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and No. 15 overall Mac Jones from New England to Jacksonville.

From the 2023 draft, there were three first-round QBs — Bryce Young (No. 1 by Carolina), C.J. Stroud (No. 2 to Houston) and Anthony Richardson (No. 4 to Indianapolis). Only Stroud, last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, looks like a sure-fire franchise QB after one year. The jury is still out on Young, who struggled with a shaky supporting cast, and Richardson, who was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury after Week 4.

Historically, there have been a multitude of first-round quarterback busts, and about half of the first-round quarterbacks are successful, and half flame out.

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All of this can’t be comforting to Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Coach Kevin O’Connell. Yet I don’t see them ready to hitch the team’s 2024 fortunes to Sam Darnold, and the 2025 draft looks to offer a much weaker QB class. Top free-agent quarterbacks rarely hit the open market in free agency, and if they do, the price tag is enormous, as in the case of Kirk Cousins to Atlanta this year and perhaps for Dak Prescott if he hits free agency in 2025.

So, I think the Vikings football leaders clearly are in the market for a first-round QB who brings the important salary cap benefit of playing on a rookie contract. This is most likely to occur by trading their No. 11 and No. 23 overall picks (plus perhaps a mid-round pick in 2025) to move into the top four and likely picking either Drake Maye or J.J. McCarthy after Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels go 1-2 to the Bears and Commanders.

The key, of course, is to pick the right quarterback if a team selects one in the first round, as was the case for the Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 overall in 2017 after the Bears misfired by taking Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick.

In identifying the young quarterback who the Vikings want to lead the franchise, Adofo-Mensah will lean on O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback who got the best work of his career out of Cousins. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have been traveling the country to meet with and work out these top draft-eligible QBs (other than Williams), with Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix also in the mix if the Vikings decide to draft one of them at No. 11 or No. 23 and pick a defensive playmaker at cornerback or edge rusher with the other first-round pick.

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Anything can happen come Thursday night’s first round, but I see the Vikings trying to leap to the top spot, most likely via a trade with Arizona at No. 4 or possibly with the Chargers at No. 5.

With their later picks (no second or third-rounders as of now but two picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds), the Vikings should seek help on the interior offensive line and at corner and edge rusher on defense, along with adding a young wide receiver to compete for the third or fourth spot and a linebacker or two for depth and special teams.

This draft is shaping up as one of the most fascinating in recent Vikings history. The team and the fan base are sure to be excited but nervous as the first round unfolds. I worked in 28 NFL drafts during my front office career, and it always was a time of hope and excitement for the team and for me as we welcomed a new group of talented young players to augment our team.

Changing Thoughts
January 10th, 2024. Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center concluding the 2023 NFL regular season. Minnesota finished 7-10 in 2023 and missed the postseason.

Kwesi and Kevin hope that a new potential franchise quarterback will lead the charge for this year’s Vikings draft class.

Other Draft Observations

I’m always amazed at how coverage of the NFL Draft has gone from a blip on the sports radar in my early years in the league to the extravaganza that exists today, with intense coverage on ESPN and NFL Network and enormous crowds gathering in the city where the draft is based (Detroit this year).

There were only a couple of mock drafts in the media back in the mid-1970s when I began working for the Vikings in PR. Our draft headquarters consisted of a couple of staff members, including myself and the beat writers for the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers, in a basement room at a Holiday Inn in Bloomington. Head Coach Bud Grant would stop by to talk with the media after the draft concluded. When we moved our offices to Winter Park in the early 1980s, the media covered the draft from the team meeting room downstairs, and by then, there were a few more newspaper and broadcast media on hand.

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It’s a massive group of newspaper, TV, radio, and website people covering the draft in the modern-day NFL. Teams’ have fans attend draft parties, usually at their stadiums. For the Vikings this year, the draft party is at U.S. Bank Stadium, with season ticket holders receiving free tickets and non-season ticket holders able to purchase tickets.

It should be a lively night for Vikings fans in attendance, especially if things go as the team hopes on the QB front.

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