So often in the NFL, quarterbacks selected early in the first round of the draft never get a genuine opportunity to become the face of a franchise.
There are many reasons for this. In some cases, the player just wasn’t mentally or physically capable of adjusting to the speed and strength of the NFL. But many times, it’s entirely out of the player’s control.
It’s almost a Catch-22. If a team is in a position to select a future franchise quarterback early in the first round of the draft, it’s probably because that team couldn’t muster more than a few wins the year before. It could have been a poor coaching job, a poor roster, poor ownership, or a combination of all three. But there’s dysfunction, and the dysfunctional franchise is entrusting a young rookie quarterback to turn everything around.
The Minnesota Vikings are in a unique position this offseason. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell have built a solid foundation in their first two years leading the organization. Minnesota has compiled a 20-14 record over the last two seasons while gradually overhauling the roster.
However, it’s increasingly looking like they will make the most important move of the roster overhaul this season. Kirk Cousins has led Minnesota’s offense for all but 11 games since the beginning of the 2018 season, and he has been fantastic overall, completing nearly 68% of his passes for over 23,000 yards and 171 touchdowns to 55 interceptions.
But last offseason, Adofo-Mensah sent a clear message when he decided not to extend Cousins. He wants to get his franchise quarterback in the draft, and he’s built a nearly ideal situation for a young quarterback to thrive. If the Vikings hit on this pick, they’ll be contenders sooner than later.
The Vikings are not a dysfunctional franchise that could waste a quarterback’s career like many others have. Minnesota’s roster is filled with talent and cornerstone pieces where a quarterback needs it most. And let’s not forget, this team is only 13 months removed from hosting a home playoff game after a 13-win season.
Meanwhile, each of the franchises in the top three of the NFL Draft order have significant deficiencies that could hinder a quarterback’s development. The Chicago Bears own the top pick and made strides during the 2023 season. But they just fired their offensive coordinator after an inconsistent season, and their offensive line leaves a lot to be desired.
The Washington Commanders own the No. 2 pick and are currently acclimating to a new head coach and ownership group. Dan Snyder didn’t exactly leave the place on good terms, and the team is fully rebuilding heading into the 2024 season with a new head coach, a new play-caller, and plenty of holes to fill on the roster.
The third pick belongs to the New England Patriots, who may be responsible for the failure of their last franchise QB selection in Mac Jones. A complete lack of playmakers and incompetent playcalling put Jones in one of the league’s most difficult situations. Now, a new head coach and play-caller will step in, but New England will still field a poor roster when the 2024 season kicks off.
A few other teams picking ahead of Minnesota could select a quarterback – the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons, for example. Several more teams, like the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Seattle Seahawks, are behind the Vikings in the draft order but could trade up to get a quarterback.
But none of these teams is ready for a new QB like Minnesota. Think about it – what would the checklist look like of items that enable a quarterback to play at his best? How about an excellent receiving corps? Maybe a solid offensive line? Or perhaps a creative offensive play-caller as head coach? The Vikings have all three.
Suppose the Vikings enter the 2024 season with a new rookie quarterback under center. He will immediately be throwing to one of the best receiving groups in the NFL, headlined by Justin Jefferson, the league’s best receiver, and Jordan Addison, one of the best second-year wideouts. And while his recovery from ACL surgery will likely cost him games in 2024, T.J. Hockenson has also proven he is one of the best receiving tight ends in football.
Minnesota’s rookie quarterback would also start his career with one of the league’s most reliable offensive tackle duos. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill are as solid as it gets in protection. Plus, Minnesota’s interior offensive line play took a step forward in 2023.
Kevin O’Connell brings all of these pieces together and has shown he has what it takes to put his quarterback in positions to succeed. For example, he maximized Joshua Dobbs’ talents in the first couple of weeks after the Vikings made the trade to acquire the journeyman space engineer. Minnesota’s offense flourished even though the quarterback was only on the roster for a few days.
It also shows up in the stat sheet. When Cousins played all 17 games in O’Connell’s first season, the Vikings ranked 10th in pass yards per attempt. In 2023, the Vikings improved to seventh in pass yards per attempt despite starting four different quarterbacks throughout the season.
It’s rare to see an NFL team in such a good position to welcome a new franchise quarterback. There are some similarities to the Houston Texans when they selected C.J. Stroud last offseason. Houston’s head coach is DeMeco Ryans, a young, energetic former player, and they have a cornerstone left tackle and dynamic playmakers.
That isn’t to say the Vikings will replicate Houston’s success in 2023. But they can roll out a similar blueprint and be a winning team sooner rather than later if they get the right guy.
Adofo-Mensah has taken the right steps to set up a new franchise quarterback to flourish in Minnesota. Now, all he has to do is pick his guy. Whether that selection is made early in the first round or he waits until later, the rookie will have what he needs to thrive.