The NFC North quarterback succession plan took a leap forward on Thursday with the Chicago Bears’ selection of Justin Fields and the unraveling relationship between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. It took another stride forward on Friday night when the Minnesota Vikings selected Kellen Mond out of Texas A&M with the 66th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
A year from now, as we analyze the 2022 NFL Draft, the NFC North starting quarterbacks could quite conceivably be Fields in Chicago, Jordan Love for the Packers, Detroit’s bridge quarterback Jared Goff – or whomever the Lions opt to replace him with – and, yes, Mond in Minnesota.
Life comes at you fast.
Some draftniks thought Mond could sneak into the end of the first round. A few observers had him pegged as a fourth-rounder. Most had him graded as a second-round pick. Getting him in the third round, therefore, feels like solid a draft value for the Vikings. And if he shows early promise next year, Mond’s actual “value” on his rookie contract will significantly outweigh the value of Kirk Cousins and his salary cap-cannibalizing contract that carries a $35 million base salary and $45 million salary-cap hit in 2022.
But here’s the thing: Even if Mond flops, and there’s a long history of quarterbacks drafted with high expectations who never live up to their promise, taking Mond was the right idea. Minnesota had to take a quarterback in this draft because they needed a plan to replace Cousins sooner or later — either after his contract is up following the 2022 season or perhaps next offseason should they conclude his contract is no longer tenable.
And that succession plan ideally had to be centered around a player they drafted.
It’s no secret that the path of least resistance to the Super Bowl is most often paved using a blueprint that includes either an all-time, Hall-of-Fame type quarterback or a talented quarterback on a rookie deal with highly paid weapons supporting him on both sides of the ball. Drafting a quarterback, any quarterback, is the simplest answer. Hall of Fame quarterbacks aren’t readily available, but young quarterbacks with upside and comparatively cheap contracts are available every year. Frankly, in this day and age, it’s fair to suggest NFL teams should be drafting a quarterback at some point every few years. Having a young signal-caller with promise on the roster is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. Having more than one of them is a nice problem to have.
Drafting Mond was the correct process. Whether he works out, in the long run, is another issue entirely. Obviously, nobody really knows how he’ll perform on Sundays, but the popular opinion seems to be he at least has a chance to be a good, or even very good, NFL quarterback.
About the only thing he has in common with Cousins is that opinions vary on each player’s ability. The differences in their skillsets are easy to spot.
Cousins is an accurate passer who generally makes smart reads. Give him time to throw and Kirk can carve up a defense like few others, leaving the impression that he’s one of the 12 best quarterbacks on the planet. However, his pocket awareness is somewhere south of stellar and, when pressured, he’ll make mistakes. Moreover, nobody would ever describe him as a dynamic playmaker or running threat. He escaped the pocket and picked up first downs with his feet more often last year, but it sometimes looked like he had thumbtacks in one shoe and an ingrown toenail on the other foot as he scurried to reach the line to gain. Defenses never have to game plan to defend his running.
Contrast that with Mond, who’s most often described as a tough, athletic quarterback with a big arm. He’s not a terrifying run threat in the mold of a Lamar Jackson (few are) but he can get out and run and look fluid doing so. Mond flashes an ability to extend plays and make off-platform throws. His highlight tapes have been known to leave observers rather frothy.
And while he has his doubters, there are some who have no doubt that Mond can be an NFL star; for example, Chris Simms.
Mond started a whopping 44 games in his collegiate career and set school records with 9,661 passing yards and 71 touchdown passes. He rushed for another 1,609 yards and 22 touchdowns.
However, he’s viewed as more of a project with a vaulted ceiling because of the things he doesn’t do so well. His detractors are quick to point out his accuracy issues. It could be said that his last name autocompletes to “Monday” at a higher rate than he completes his throws. To wit, Mond completed 801 passes on 1,358 attempts as an Aggie for a disconcerting 58.9 completion percentage. On the other hand, his completion percentage improved every year, from 51.5% as a freshman to 57.3% as a sophomore to 61.6% as a junior and then 63.3% as a senior. That’s a good sign. Mond also gets knocked for inconsistency, is often described as looking “robotic” when throwing, and tends to hold the ball too long and/or doesn’t make fast enough decisions, which naturally leads to accuracy issues.
Letting him sit behind Cousins next year is an ideal situation for Mond. And make no mistake, Cousins is the starter this season. Rick Spielman made that abundantly clear Friday night. The rookie will have the opportunity to learn and get coached up on some of his shortcomings. The Vikings reportedly did all kinds of legwork on Mond so one has to infer that they think he can be molded into something special. Then, at the end of the season, it will be decision time. Will Cousins play the final year of his contract with the Vikings or will it be time to part ways and hand the reins to Mond?
One thing is almost certain: given the nature of football fans, Mond will soon become a favorite. The backup quarterback usually is, especially if and when the starter messes up and happens to make a boatload of money, and the backup is a high-profile player on whom a high draft pick was spent. There will be calls early on for Mond to replace Cousins as the starter; you can almost hear them already. Such a clamoring will be premature unless Minnesota’s season goes totally sideways.
Drafting a quarterback this week was never meant to be about this year. The Vikings needed to put themselves in the position to have a quarterback decision to make at the end of the season. Without an in-house potential replacement for Cousins, Minnesota’s options would have been severely limited. They would have been forced to live under the constraints of Kirk’s deal or, alternatively, desperately reach for a replacement in next year’s draft or try to find a veteran replacement in free agency or via trade like the one the Los Angeles Rams made to unload Goff’s contract to the Lions.
Now they have an option. They have a simpler, more realistic plan.