Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the new Minnesota Vikings regime have their first draft in the books, and it’s left many fans with some combination of dismay, cautious optimism, and outright bewilderment.
Over the weekend, we learned quite a bit about this new regime’s draft approach. Kwesi and Co. certainly have a penchant for trading back and accruing more capital. They also seem to favor the new-age analytical charts that are more concerned with likely outcomes from trade results than getting the best deal.
But I’ll leave the mathematical and statistical analysis of how Kwesi navigated the trade market to those smarter than me.
Among the chaos and suspense of all the trade moves and Ed Marinaro’s attempt at standup, let’s not let a major trend of this draft get overlooked. The new regime is molding the Vikings’ defense with a clear identity in mind.
Fast. Physical. Violent.
The Vikings came into this draft with a mission to fix this defense and with a philosophy on how to do it. Adofo-Mensah selected defensive players with three of their top four picks, and there’s a common theme in each defender’s profile.
Lewis Cine (Georgia) is a smart, rangy safety who flies to the ball like he’s shot out of a cannon. Andrew Booth (Clemson) is a tough, physical corner who loves blowing up screens and helping in run support. And Brian Asamoah (Oklahoma) is a fast, see-ball-get-ball linebacker who is going to deliver a menacing hit.
This was an issue for the Vikings’ defense this past season. As veterans were aging or playing injured, we didn’t see the same burst and pursuit from guys like Anthony Barr. Corners like Cameron Dantzler and Kris Boyd haven’t shown that kind of explosion and ferocity as tacklers on the perimeter.
That led to the Vikings being gashed in the running and screen game last year. Minnesota boasted stout defense up the gut with Davlin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce, but they got beat on the perimeter with outside runs and bubble screens. New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell identified tackling and speed in space as one of the top issues to fix going into 2022.
What was their solution? By drafting three guys in the early rounds who are perfectly suited to fix that problem.
Cine has some stiffness in his hips when backpedaling in coverage but more than makes up for it with an elite 4.37 40 speed. His ability to diagnose the play like a veteran and then explode to the ball made him such an integral part of college football’s best defense last season. His versatility and closing speed will immediately make him a fascinating chess piece next to Harrison Smith.
In the second round, the Vikings selected Andrew Booth out of Clemson. Booth slid due to a few medical concerns, but he showed elite toughness and athleticism on the field. He made a living at Clemson blowing up screens and passes out of the backfield and proved he can be a successful player downfield.
Booth is urgent and competitive, which jumps off the screen on nearly every play. He’s sometimes a bit too aggressive, and savvier route-runners can catch him cheating. If he can stay healthy, his potential is through the roof.
Then we have Brian Asamoah out of Oklahoma, who is an absolute missile. An excellent tackler in space with legit sideline-to-sideline ability, Asamoah plays every down with his foot on the gas and no brakes. For a player of his playing style, he shows a remarkable ability to get in the right position and recognize misdirection in the running game. When he’s not, he can often make up for it with his burst.
The Vikings will have to refine Asamoah in coverage, and his size is far from elite. But who better for him to learn from than Eric Kendricks, one of the best undersized linebackers in football?
With an elite defensive line featuring Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, Danielle Hunter, and Za’Darius Smith to keep him clean, Asamoah should be free to run and chase to his heart’s content. When that happens, good things tend to follow.
For all the criticisms fans may have about how this new regime handled their first offseason, we can at least admire that they clearly have established a philosophy and stuck to it. Donatell wants smart, tough athletes who are willing tacklers in space. With a stout defensive front and tough, fast playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary, there’s reason to be optimistic about the future of the Vikings’ defense.
Fast. Physical. Violent. Those are three things that translate, and that any football fan can get behind.