Armed with the 12th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah located the conveniently placed Post-It note that former GM Rick Spielman left behind before vacating TCO Performance Center in early January.
“When in doubt, trade back. The folks will love it!”
Unfortunately, the Minnesota Vikings’ new leadership committee found themselves in a draft day dilemma after both coveted cornerbacks Derek Stingley and Ahmad Gardner flew off the board within the first four picks. With an aging roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball, Adofo-Mensah was tasked with a nearly impossible responsibility.
I can imagine Adofo-Mensah was tempted to pull the trigger on the any of the trifecta of “dudes” that were still on the board at 12. Jameson Williams, the electrifying former Alabama wide receiver that publicly admits to modeling his game after Randy Moss, would’ve ignited a fanbase yearning for the 21st Century’s rendition of Three Deep. Former Georgia Bulldog defensive tackle and 2021 Chuck Bednarik Award winner Jordan Davis would’ve likely turned Minnesota’s 26th-ranked run defense into a strength overnight. And former Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton would’ve given Holier Than Thou Golden Domer Skoldiers plenty to cheer for alongside fellow Fighting Irishman Harrison Smith.
But instead of shooting for the stars and accommodating a fanbase that waited patiently for the reward of drafting a marquee talent after sitting through yet another mediocre season out of their beloved Vikings, Adofo-Mensah chose quantity over quality. In an ironic turn of events, the new Vikings’ GM came to an agreement with a front office in Detroit that’s led by Brad Holmes and Rick Spielman’s brother, Chris.
The Detroit Lions moved up 20 spots, selected Williams at No. 12, and received Minnesota’s second-round pick (46th overall). Don’t look now, but the Lions suddenly appear to have an offense full of tantalizing skill players along with D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and T.J. Hockenson. The Vikings received picks No. 32, 34, and 66 in the interdivision swap.
Without factoring in who both teams spent these picks on, it’s difficult to argue that the Vikings won the trade. As we all know by now, all first-round picks are not created equal. And the gap between 12th- and 32nd-overall is far too substantial to make up for what the Vikings received from Detroit.
To make matters even more interesting, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to pounce once both the Vikings and Lions decided to pass on Davis. Eagles GM Howie Roseman leapfrogged the Baltimore Ravens by moving up two picks to 13th overall in a trade involving the Houston Texans. Roseman selected Davis and instantly improved Philadelphia’s front four.
The cherry on top of Minnesota’s decision to move to the very back of the line in the first round came when the Ravens selected Hamilton to pair with free-agent acquisition Marcus Williams.
These three consecutive selections made by Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore played a critical role in the talking heads showering these organizations with praise following the draft. By way of combining 18 different draft evaluators, these three ball clubs found themselves in the top five of the consensus draft grades. Granted, these teams benefited immensely from having multiple first round picks. But it’s who they got with these picks when others — like the Vikings — decided to pass on these premium talents near the top of the draft.
And don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to be excited about with the selection of former Georgia Bulldog safety Lewis Cine. He’s a cerebral player who flashes unique closing capabilities when he decides to get downhill. With 4.37 speed, Lewis doesn’t apologize for laying the wood on helpless ball carriers. He should make for an extremely intriguing tandem alongside Smith in the back end of Minnesota’s secondary.
But whether it’s right or wrong, Cine and the Vikings will forever be linked to Williams, Davis, and Hamilton. If any of those picks become instant successes, it could go down as a whoopsie on a similar level as taking Anthony Barr over Aaron Donald in 2014 with first-year head coach Mike Zimmer.
And the invitation to second-guess didn’t stop on Day 1. Instead of standing pat with No. 34 overall, Adofo-Mensah made a more appealing trade with another receiver-thirsty divisional rival, this time with the dreaded Packers. Minnesota flipped No. 34 for 53 and 59 in the second round. And, similar to Detroit, the Packers selected a wide receiver — North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, another dynamic field-stretcher with 4.36 40 speed.
While there’s plenty to get on board with Adofo-Mensah’s logic of “if we don’t get this deal, the next team will,” the fact remains that the Vikings are attempting to rebuild a pass defense that ranked 28th last season on the fly. The decision to trade up in the second round for former Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth should provide much-needed depth for Minnesota’s cornerback room. However, accommodating both division rivals to help exploit the Vikings’ single greatest weakness from last season could serve as an act of self-sabotage if both Williams and Watson emerge as top targets for the Lions and Packers.
We obviously won’t be able to properly evaluate the merit of this draft class until a few years down the road. But is it a coincidence that the teams that elected to draft Williams, Davis, Hamilton, along with the Packers and their trade up with Vikings, were seen as better overall with their ability to obtain high-end talent instead of settling for back-end talent on Day 1?
Adofo-Mensah had an opportunity to put the finishing touches on a rather momentous offseason by landing a top-end talent with the 12th-overall pick. Only time will tell, but the Vikings certainly opened the door for criticism after adhering to Spielman’s blueprint of trading down and accumulating extra Day 2 picks in the draft.