The Skol Debate: Should the Vikings Go All Out for Defense or for a QB in RD1?

NFL: NFL Draft
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For many, the debate is settled: Minnesota only has a single possible path in the 2024 NFL Draft. Going after a QB is the way to go for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell.

Should the Vikings be open to a different strategy, though? After all, the defense is still in need of some repair. Layering in top-tier talent along the defensive line and at corner would go a long way of enabling Brian Flores to turn his side of the ball into an elite crew.

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

To get to the bottom of the issue, PurplePTSD is offering up a pair of debaters, each of whom has been tasked with representing a side of the debate:

  • K. Joudry — It’s Time for Defense
  • Josh Frey — Go Get that QB

Read on to see how the debate unfolds. Each side takes turns venturing into some of the rationale for why their side of the debate should emerge victorious.

The Skol Debate:
Should the Vikings Go All Out for Defense or for a QB in RD1?

KJ: Yet again, it’s time for some purple pugilism, Joshua. 

Free agency has brought ample change in Minnesota. Nowhere is this more evident than at the QB position. For six seasons, Kirk Cousins was the sheriff bursting through the swivel doors at TCO Performance Center, but that’s no longer the reality. He’s now a Falcon, meaning the Vikings have to pivot at the game’s most important position. 

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) smiles with teammates prior to their game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

And yet the reality is that the defense has been undergoing a sizable overhaul. The defensive backfield has remained pretty steady – Harrison Smith was retained after a beefy pay cut – but the front seven can’t say the same thing. Gone are Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, Marcus Davenport, Dean Lowry, and Jordan Hicks. Keep in mind that all of that change is occurring a year after moving on from Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Eric Kendricks. 

So, change is afoot. 

Minnesota now finds itself with a tandem of attractive picks: No. 11 and No. 23. Most assume that pairing those picks to go after a top passer is the way to go, but that’s not a foregone conclusion. After all, pulling off a trade in the NFL is a classic case of needing two to tango. 

As you step back, do you think there’s a better path forward for the Vikings if the decision comes down to going all out for a QB or all out for improving the defense? 

JF: There certainly has been a ton of change to the Minnesota Vikings roster since Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over as the general manager around 26 months ago. We’ve both come to an agreement in recent articles (yours here and my own here) that the top two needs remaining on the roster revolve around the defensive line and quarterback positions.

Admittedly, I’ve flip-flopped on this matter a couple of times throughout the offseason, and that flip-flopping has only increased since the team snatched the 23rd overall pick from the Houston Texans without giving up No. 11.

On one hand, it would be very easy to pick up a top DT with the 11th overall pick (Byron Murphy, Johnny Newton) while also grabbing another contributor at 23, perhaps even a quarterback like Bo Nix or Michael Penix

However, I think I’ve reached this conclusion on the matter: the Vikings simply aren’t going to get a better opportunity to land a top quarterback prospect, so they should go for it while they can.

Oct 28, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) runs the ball against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to lay out the case. Obviously, the best-case scenario would involve one of the “big four” (Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy) tumbling down to No. 11. In all likelihood, though, Minnesota will need to trade up in order to land one of those prospects.

If that ends up being the requirement, Minnesota has the best package to offer simply because they hold two first-round selections this spring. Arizona and Chicago are the only other teams who can boast that claim, and neither need to worry about jockeying for position to land a QB.

Of course, the Vikings shouldn’t simply go through the motions when making a trade. The price needs to be reasonable, and they should do so with a specific plan in place for whichever QB they land. 

With the potential at the quarterback spot in this class along with the package that Minnesota can put together without risking a ton of future draft capital, now seems like the time for the Vikings to make their big move to snatch a quarterback. 

What say you, Mr. Joudry?

KJ: During the offseason, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has pointed toward a pair of broad possibilities for constructing a Super Bowl contender. In fact, he has done so with the help of the most recent Super Bowl. 

There is the Kansas City model, a team led by a tremendously talented QB1 capable of rising to the moment while masking any number of roster flaws along the way. And then there is the San Francisco model, a team that was loaded with talent at all of the critical areas and a few of the non-critical areas (elite FB!). 

Going into 2024 (and potentially beyond), the Vikings’ path toward contention is behind a loaded roster for two reasons. 1) There is no franchise QB to be found (the draft may or not be helpful on this front) and 2) The roster really does have some excellent talent littered throughout. 

Sam Darnold, Nick Mullens, and/or Jaren Hall could become a strong starter(s). Unlikely, but possible. And then the Flores defense has a shot at rising to elite a year after being above average while the offense can find success behind a group of skill that’s second to none in the NFL. 

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) looks to pass against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the broader goal likely isn’t to compete for it all in 2024. A transitional year, the Vikings are trying to get into the postseason while nevertheless being realistic about their chances. A 10-7 record and a postseason win or two would be a welcomed outcome in Eagan. 

Even with that understanding, though, there is the potential to press my point. The DT spot needs a major talent infusion and the edge rusher spot isn’t finished. Bringing a high-end corner to town would help tremendously and even adding another off-ball linebacker would make a difference. 

One wonders, then, if the Vikings use their 11th and 23rd to plug a pair of those defensive holes. Would Dallas Turner or Byron Murphy at 11 make sense? And then what about the possibility of Quinyon Mitchell or Cooper DeJean at 23? Plugging some of those guys into the defense could bring Flores’ defense up a notch as early as 2024. 

Meanwhile, Minnesota avoids the all-too-common plight of choosing a QB in RD1 who flops. Even better, the Vikings avoid trading away massive draft capital for a QB who flops. They can then come around to the QB spot later on in the draft or look toward 2025 for a solution (assuming Darnold, Mullens, and/or Hall don’t fully nail down the QB1 spot). 

Any merit to this approach, Josh?

JF: It’s certainly a fair thought. Flores did fantastic work with a defense that lost key veteran starters but as you’ve mentioned, there are even more losses heading into 2024. While Adofo-Mensah has done his best to plug some of those holes through free agency, there are still major questions.

If the Vikings can land not one but two strong talents on that side of the ball, they could get back to the fierce defensive play that fans were accustomed to in Minnesota before the 2020s.

Ultimately, in my mind, this decision will come down to two factors. 

Kevin O’Connell has expressed confidence in Darnold as a passer, and if the Vikings don’t select a quarterback, he will have to back up that confidence by putting together a game plan that the former third overall pick can execute efficiently. Considering O’Connell turned Josh Dobbs into the Passtronaut for about three weeks, it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility, but is Darnold sustainable for a full season let alone multiple seasons?

Then, there is the Justin Jefferson matter. The best wide receiver in the NFL is yet to sign a new contract extension with the team. Of course, there is no way to truly know why that is the case, but it seems prominent that the Vikings haven’t had a long-term plan in place at the quarterback position throughout these negotiations. At the risk of diving too far into speculation, could that be the final hang-up keeping Jefferson from signing that deal?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and tight end Tyler Conklin (83) react against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As you’ve noted, there are plenty of occurrences when quarterbacks flop after being selected with high-end picks. However, I would argue that many of these quarterbacks were thrown into “no-win” situations. The Vikings are far from a “no-win” situation. They have the offensive line, the weapons, an improving defense, and most importantly, the coach to bring along a young quarterback. 

O’Connell was able to improve Kirk Cousins’ game at the ages of 34 and 35 and adjusted on the fly to help Dobbs find short-term success. In my opinion, he has earned the opportunity to mold a young QB. 

Perhaps this argument can be attributed to Darnold, but particularly if he were to have success this season, the Vikings would need to fork over a larger contract to the veteran than a QB on a rookie deal would cost. Of course, Minnesota has large lumps of cash to utilize over the next few years, but it could dwindle quickly when taking into account eventual contracts for Christian Darrisaw, Jefferson, and throwing a non-rookie scale QB on top of it all.

Inevitably, there is risk in taking a chance on any draft prospect. While a quarterback flop will draw far more attention than a flop at any other position, the success of a quarterback selection has the potential to set the Vikings up for contention over the next decade-plus. Without a firm franchise QB plan in place, and plenty of draft ammo at their disposal, it’s time for the team to shoot for the moon and hopefully, at the very least, land amongst the stars.

KJ: OK, so here’s where I’m at. 

Are a lot of excellent QBs tossed into no-win scenarios? Yes, of course (looking at you, Darnold), and yet that doesn’t account for all of the draft busts who line up under center. Most prominently, we think of Trey Lance in San Francisco, a QB who demanded three 1sts and a 3rd. The talented passer had every possible advantage and yet it didn’t work out. 

On the other end of the extreme is Patrick Mahomes, whom we mentioned before. He, too, arrived in the NFL via some draft trading. What’s notable, though, is that KC got him at 10th overall. Originally, the Chiefs owned the 27th selection. Kansas City used that late 1st to partner with a future 1st and then a 3rd to go get Mr. Mahomes, who is now the undisputed best player in the sport and the heir to Brady’s throne. 

Admittedly, we’re talking about extremes. Lance is a bad flop; Mahomes is an incredible success. The point is twofold. 

First, hopping up high from Minnesota’s position – No. 11 is the starting point – isn’t bound to succeed even if it feels like possibly the best-case scenario for a little while. After all, San Francisco was sitting at 12th when they made their move for Lance. 

Second, a franchise-altering QB can be chosen after the initial cluster of picks. Kansas City began with the 27th selection and then found a way of prying a historically-great passer out of the draft. Not bad. 

Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass against then Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

True, guys like Joe Burrow (1st in 2020) and Trevor Lawrence (1st in 2021) are hits, but then there’s Dak Prescott (135th in 2016), Mahomes (10th in 2017), Josh Allen (7th in 2018), Lamar Jackson (32nd in 2018), Justin Herbert (6th in 2020), and Jalen Hurts (53rd in 2020). 

Bouncing around the NFL to look at some of the most promising passers reminds us that NFL franchises find their QB1 in all kinds of ways. Yes, some are taken very high, but plenty are the byproduct of a team moving up quite high (e.g. outside of the top 5) or even relatively late, all things considered (Jackson, Hurts, Prescott). 

Did Green Bay just catch lightning in a bottle, finding a third-straight franchise QB with Jordan Love, the 26th pick from the 2020 NFL Draft? Oh, and then there’s Kirk Cousins, who is somewhere around a top 10 QB in the NFL. He was added at 102 back in 2012. 

The point is that Minnesota shouldn’t feel the heat to completely drain their resources. If that QB is there, the one who will one day develop into their franchise cornerstone, then so be it. Shoot your shot, Kwesi and Kevin. 

If, however, there’s even a tiny bit of doubt, then sticking and picking is not a bad approach. Flores seems quite happy in Minnesota and Minnesota seems quite happy with Flores. Equipping the brilliant DC with better players seems destined to push that Vikings defense into the top 10 but possibly even higher. Is that the kind of football that has led to some success in Minnesota?

Any follow-up thoughts on that front, Josh? 

JF: You can consider players like Allen, Herbert, or Mahomes as players that were selected “later” in the first round, but the fact of the matter is that they were still selected higher than the 11th overall pick where the Vikings currently stand. And, if the Vikings continue to try and toe the line with this “competitive rebuild,” there is a very real chance that they won’t see another pick this close to the top 10 for multiple years.

Since 2018, 15 quarterbacks have been selected with top-10 picks. Eight of them have been selected to Pro Bowls at least once. In that same timeframe, six quarterbacks have been selected from 11-32. The only Pro Bowl names amongst that group are Lamar Jackson, which was a terrific pick, and Mac Jones (of course, Jordan Love very well could join that group soon). Then, amongst the litany of quarterbacks selected from Rounds 2-7, Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew, and Brock Purdy are the three names to make the Pro Bowl. 

Recent history would suggest that it is far easier to land QB talent in the top 10 than anywhere else in the draft.

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Oct 9, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve also already seen firsthand that a “safe” approach doesn’t always work. Rather than taking a top-end prospect like Kyle Hamilton when he was available in 2022, Adofo-Mensah traded down and missed his opportunity. 

At the end of the day, the pick number that a team selects at matters far less than the name of the prospect. If the Vikings feel confident about a quarterback or another prospect at Nos. 11 and 23, then that’s great. However, if the Vikings feel strongly about a quarterback prospect and the only way to land him is by trading to get above another team, then in my opinion, they absolutely should do whatever they need to in order to land that player.

KJ: Fair enough, Josh. That seems like a good spot to end things. Only additions are some housekeeping items for readers to tuck away in the back of their mind. 

Currently, the Vikings own nine draft picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. After No. 23, the next selection is … at No. 108. So, Friday night’s RD2 and RD3 could lead to some antsy Vikings fans (and executives). 

The event gets going on Thursday, April 25th and runs until Saturday, April 27th.

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.