The QB the Vikings Must Avoid in the 1st Round

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

In 2011, the Minnesota Vikings opted for Christian Ponder at 12th overall.

Brett Favre had just put together a marvellous season and then a horrendous season for the Vikings. The franchise was looking to reset at the QB position, rallying around a young fella alongside some impressive talent in Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Steve Hutchinson. The issue, of course, is that Ponder ended up being a bust. Even his best season resulted in less than 3,000 yards and 18 TDs to go alongside 12 interceptions.

The QB the Vikings Must Avoid

GM Hindsight has always and will always be the best evaluator of talent. Even the NFL’s most brilliant minds will pale in comparison to the wisdom that comes from being able to evaluate the past rather than needing to project into the future.

NFL: Combine
Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo Mensah speaks to the press at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The criticism about the Ponder pick, then, should be at least somewhat restrained.

Even still, it’s fair to wonder about what could have been. In that draft slot, the Vikings could have opted for Cameron Jordan (117.5 career sacks). Or Ryan Kerrigan (95.5 career sacks). Or Robert Quinn (102 career sacks). Or Cameron Heyward (80.5 career sacks).

Seeing a trend?

Minnesota opted to bring in a young quarterback. Fine, it’s a decision that makes sense. What didn’t make sense was who was selected. Put simply, Ponder would have been better served going much later in the draft. He wouldn’t have had to navigate huge expectations, instead being able to carve out a nice career as a QB2 or maybe even as a pretty good starter.

Nov 5, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson (23) is tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) during the first half at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, the Vikings would have been much further along had they opted for one of the excellent pass rushers who were available. Or they could have picked an offensive lineman, corner, or wide receiver. Any of those positions had excellent players to offer in that draft slot. Instead, the team got set back by opting for a QB who didn’t end up living up to the 12th spot.

The point, folks, isn’t to beat up Minnesota’s decision makers from that era of Vikings football. Instead, it’s to glean important wisdom. The QB the Vikings must avoid is the one who isn’t worthy of the draft slot when Minnesota is picking. In theory, that’s a plain and simple proclamation and yet it’s one that teams sometimes forget.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Las Vegas Raiders
Dec 10, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell (left) and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah react during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Assume, for simplicity, that the Vikings stick around the 11th pick. If there’s a QB who is worth that pick, then pull the trigger. Onboard the young passer and start giving him everything he needs to flourish. If, however, things look iffy, then Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell can’t force things simply because the position is supremely important.

Far better would be to pick a pass rusher, corner, offensive lineman, or even another receiver than to draft a bust of a QB at 11th.

Of course, every team will insist that they have full confidence in whom they’ve chosen and that the player was fully worthy of being picked in that draft slot. Even a basic understanding of recent NFL history, though, can lead to examples of teams shoehorning a QB into a valuable pick only to see the plan fall apart in short order.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) signals his team against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Cousins can and should be brought back. Yes, he’s 36 and his Achilles has seen better days, but his brain is among the NFL’s elite. He thinks the game at a high level and has sneaky arm talent. I, for one, will not be at all surprised if he continues his upward trajectory in 2024.

The presence of Cousins takes the heat off of Minnesota’s decision makers. At the very least, the next year or two of Vikings football is taken care of at quarterback if Cousins keeps calling Minnesota home.

In that scenario, bringing in a young QB with huge upside still makes a ton of sense. Let the young guy sit on the bench for a bit, learning about life in the NFL behind a fantastic pro and then from O’Connell (former NFL QB). Crucially, though, that QB can’t leapfrog more deserving players simply because he throws the football instead of picking up sacks, covering a receiver, or blocking a defender.

In the coming months, the Vikings will spend an insane amount of time and resources to research this year’s batch of quarterbacks. If there’s one who has a 1st-round grade and projects to be a franchise cornerstone, then make the move at 11 or even trade up. There can be no guarantee and yet the upside is worth it if all of the pre-draft studying and scouting points toward someone capable of being an excellent QB1 for a decade.

If it isn’t there, though, then don’t force things. Much better to get a difference maker at another premium position and live to fight another day.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.