Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has a penchant for taking chances on former Day 1 or Day 2 draft picks. First, it was defensive tackle Ross Blacklock, the 2020 second-round pick; Adofo-Mensah moved down from the sixth round to the seventh in the 2023 draft in last August’s trade with the Houston Texans to get him. The next day Adofo-Mensah traded a 2023 seventh-round pick and a conditional 2024 pick to Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman for former 2020 first-round wide receiver Jalen Reagor.
Blacklock and Reagor are playing elsewhere in 2023.
Then the Vikings acquired the eighth-overall pick in the 2019 draft, T.J. Hockenson, at last season’s trade deadline. Hockenson immediately emerged as the clear Robin to Justin Jefferson‘s Batman, and the Vikings rewarded the former Iowa Hawkeye with a four-year, $68.5 million extension during training camp.
At the opening of free agency, the Vikings signed the 14th-overall pick in the 2018 draft, edge rusher Marcus Davenport, to a one-year, $13 million deal. Davenport has played a total of four defensive snaps through two games. After signing Davenport, Minnesota agreed to terms on a two-year, $17.5 million free-agent deal with cornerback Byron Murphy, the first pick in the second round of the 2019 draft. Murphy has been defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ CB1 since the moment he walked into TCO Performance Center. He has held up admirably thus far with only 46 receiving yards allowed on eight targets.
Earlier this week, the Vikings signed 2019 second round pick Dalton Risner, the former four-year starter at guard for the Denver Broncos. It’s only a matter of time until Risner supplants either Ezra Cleveland or Ed Ingram in Minnesota’s starting lineup, providing long overdue reinforcements on the interior of their offensive line. And on Wednesday, Adofo-Mensah made yet another trade for a splashy once-upon-a-time name. The Vikings agreed to move down from the sixth to the seventh round in the 2024 draft to acquire former 2020 second-round running back Cam Akers from the Los Angeles Rams.
While fantasy football players are certainly familiar with the polarizing Akers, he’s left a lot to be desired as it pertains to being a legitimate NFL running back. Although the jury is still out on Davenport and Risner in Minnesota, history has shown us that this week’s Akers trade is much ado about nothing. Having said that, I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to getting swept up in a splashy name suddenly donning purple and gold.
After the Reagor trade last season, I was of the belief that Kevin O’Connell‘s Vikings could potentially be leaning into the original 10-personnel plan that Sean McVay and the 2021 Rams had after signing Odell Beckham Jr. They wanted to pair Beckham with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Van Jefferson, only to have their plan foiled 24 hours later when Woods tore his ACL at practice. As we all know by now, Reagor was a liability as a returner and route-runner in Minnesota.
No, Akers isn’t going to change the fortunes of Minnesota’s non-existent running game. Sure, glass-half-full types will happily point to Akers closing out LA’s 5-12 campaign in 2022 with 408 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns over their final three games when Matthew Stafford and Kupp were out with injuries. But after missing essentially the entire 2021 regular season with a torn Achilles, Akers returned for LA’s Super Bowl run with stinkers in all four of their playoff games. He totaled 248 scrimmage yards on 75 touches for a paltry 3.3 yards per touch.
Make no mistake about it, the Rams won their Super Bowl in spite of Akers’ efforts leading their backfield, not because of it.
Let’s not forget, the Vikings are the worst rushing offense — and by a considerable margin — in the entire NFL through two weeks. They’re dead-last in attempts (26) and yards (69), and third-worst in yards per carry (2.7). While it’s obviously way too early to start throwing dirt on the run game after going against Vita Vea and Philadelphia’s nightmarish front, the days of pretending that Minnesota’s running game is oh, so critical is a thing of the past. Mike Zimmer and his carrousel of offensive coordinators aren’t walking through that door. Gone are the days where the Vikings vehemently run into stacked boxes on first and second down, for no other reason than the well, that’s just what hard-nosed teams do archaic belief system of a defensive-minded head coach.
The Vikings hired O’Connell for two big reasons: to change the culture inside the walls of TCO Performance Center (check), and to win games by implementing McVay’s pass-centric scheme. The idea is to continuously and unapologetically feature their superstar best player, Justin Jefferson (check). The Hockenson trade and the selection of rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round of the 2023 draft was this organization doubling down on why they brought in O’Connell.
Would it help if Minnesota’s running game could settle for just being bad, as opposed to being utterly embarrassing? Absolutely. The same can be said for the Vikings’ defense over the past four years — but that’s another topic for another day. So far this season, O’Connell has dialed up passes on 80.5% of their 118 total offensive plays, according to Pro Football Reference.
That’s an absolutely absurd pass rate even for an offense that features The Best Receiver on the Planet, a Pro Bowl tight end, and a budding star in Addison. But when falling behind three scores early in the second half against Philadelphia, mixed with a complete inability to run the ball with any sort of effectiveness over the first two weeks, the choice is already made for O’Connell. The ball has to stay in the air. As a play caller, you’re never wrong by prioritizing what you do well, as opposed to forcing a glaring weakness upon your offense.
Will the Vikings try to bring a tad bit more balance to their attack? No question. But if and when it becomes clear that they can’t establish the ground game, don’t be surprised if O’Connell continues to ignore it in favor of his high-volume aerial attack. And the presence of Akers, the running back who was seemingly always in McVay’s doghouse, isn’t going to require much (if any) change in that regard.