In the NFL Draft, Brian Flores Got His Wish: Versatile Defenders

Nov 21, 2021; East Rutherford, N.J., USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores during a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Flores and the Vikings had many needs going into the 2023 draft.

They made only six selections, and all but two of their picks were on day three of the draft. In fact, the Vikings’ first pick (245 Rich Hill points) – used on Mr. Jordan Addison – was worth significantly more than the total of the rest of their picks combined (77 Rich Hill points).

The team came away with three picks on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s easy to see the Brian Flores influence in their selections.

Flores spent four years in the scouting department of the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick. True to the collaborative process that General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has implemented, the team leaned on his expertise in the draft process.

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Jan 8, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines in the second quarter game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Kevin O’Connell spoke to that at the Vikings press conference introducing Flores back in February: “My confidence in Brian Flores to come in and really, side by side, have a huge role in building our team for 2023, is what I’m most excited about.”

At Zone Coverage, Matt Fries offers a great breakdown of what we can expect from the Flores defense.* Flores runs a 3-4 Tite front (one defensive lineman over the center and one aligned in each B-gap, inside shade of the tackle) as his base front to take away the inside run game.

In his sub-package, he runs a blitz-heavy cover 0 or cover 1. He is a master at manipulating the protection schemes of his opponents and using disguise to create confusion. 

This attempt to disguise is why having players who are versatile is fundamental to the Flores approach. The team looked for players who could play multiple roles in Flores’ defense.
Vikings Assistant Director of Player Personnel Chisom Opara explains:

One of the main messages that B Flo has kind of put on us, is that he’s built on being multiple. The idea of having an aggressive scheme, the idea of having a scheme that can dictate to the offense, part of that is having players that can play multiple roles so you don’t develop tendencies, so you don’t have certain guys who just specialize in doing certain things. So, the more versatile players you can add, the more you can kind of be the one who’s calling the shots a little bit and keeping the offense guessing as the game goes on.

Jay Ward of LSU, the 134th pick, is a good example of the versatility that Flores requires of his players. He’s a nickel/safety hybrid who has cornerback experience, as well. In college, he started 13 games at safety, six in the slot, and four at corner (per The Athletic‘s Dane Brugler).

Jan 2, 2023; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jay Ward (5) breaks up a pass to Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Mershawn Rice (9) during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings General Manager explained, “People write [draft prospects] as a ‘best position’ […] People wrote [Ward] as best position at three different positions and they all thought he had starter potential […] If this guy can be a starter at three different positions, it’s pretty likely that he figures out one of them, as long as we have a plan for him.”

With few picks at their disposal, the Vikings tried to make the most of their UDFA opportunities, too. They signed two of the most highly regarded players in edge rusher Andre Carter and linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr.

The UDFA Vikings fans seem to be the most excited about is Pace, who is another player with a versatile skill set. He’s a tackling machine who flies around the field and excels in timing his blitzes. In 2022, he totaled 136 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.

Plus, 2022 picks Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth, and Brian Asamoah all project favorably in the Flores scheme, as well as new acquisitions like Byron Murphy and Marcus Davenport.

Andrew Booth talks about why he is excited to play in Flores scheme: “Coach is a gamer. His defense, the different schemes, how he can mix it up. He expects all of us to know every position in the back seven, because it can change, and it changes based on the play call, and different variations of what we do.” Clearly, the sophomore CB understands that his role may involve doing different things.

Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have put a lot of faith in Flores’ ability to scout players that will thrive in his scheme. You can bet that Flores has a plan in place for each of them.

Can Flores work his magic again and turn around an underperforming defense in Minnesota? His combination of pressure, camouflage, and tight man coverage proved to be a potent mix while he was in Miami. The Miami defensive rankings improved in the three seasons under Flores’ direction.

Does he have the personnel to recreate the same kind of turnaround in Minnesota?
Time will tell, but it’s going to be a fun defense to watch.

* On top of the Zone Coverage work, Fries also helped put together a breakdown of the Flores scheme for Kindred Skols.