Less than an hour after his first draft class as Vikings general manager was finalized, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was on a call with reporters Saturday afternoon to reflect on three days' worth of decisions that will be analyzed, critiqued — perhaps even mocked and ripped — for years to come.
It's not a new sensation for him.
"The great part about being on Wall Street is, you make decisions and they keep score, very quickly," the former commodities trader said. "So the assuredness of yourself goes away, immediately. There's like, a humility that I have because you spent half of your week being wrong."
Now, though, he has the opportunity to be wrong when millions of people know his name. It's part of what the 40-year-old signed up for when he became the Vikings' GM, and at least in the public eye, they'll keep score on Adofo-Mensah's first draft because of the two headline-grabbing trades he made on Thursday and Friday night.
The 2022 draft was the first in Vikings history where the team drafted three defensive backs in the first four rounds: Georgia safety Lewis Cine, Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. and Missouri corner Akayleb Evans. It was a reflection, perhaps, on how much the Vikings' secondary depth had suffered despite years of premium draft pick investment under former general manager Rick Spielman, as the team addressed what was unquestionably its biggest need of the offseason in the 10-player class.
But if the Vikings helped themselves slow the passing attacks of their NFC North counterparts, they might also inadvertently have contributed to them.
Their 2022 draft, rightly or wrongly, will be remembered in part for a pair of deals they made in the first two rounds of the draft that allowed the Lions and Packers to move up and select receivers. In the first round Thursday night, the Vikings moved back from No. 12 to 32 in a deal that gave the Lions the chance to select Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, a player the Vikings liked and had thought about drafting.
Then, with the Packers looking to move up and draft North Dakota State's Christian Watson after using two first-round picks on defenders, the Vikings sent the No. 34 pick they'd acquired from the Lions to Green Bay in exchange for two second-rounders. The Packers moved up 19 spots to get Aaron Rodgers a successor for Davante Adams.
There is a potential cost to trading with your division rivals. If Williams returns from his torn ACL to become a Pro Bowl receiver, or Watson replaces Marquez Valdes-Scantling as a Rodgers deep threat that torments the Vikings secondary, it could be a big one. "Believe me, the gravity of that was not lost on me," Adofo-Mensah said Friday night.
NFL decision-makers, especially more traditional ones, are famously risk-averse, to the point where many fans and media members invoked the don't-trade-within-the-division axiom almost as a cardinal rule the Vikings had violated.
But economists place risk on a spectrum, assigning a value to it that can be quantified like any other factor in a decision. Teams have been using points-based charts to evaluate draft trades since Jimmy Johnson popularized them in the late 1980s; Adofo-Mensah said his own version is somewhere between the Johnson version and newer models that employ a sharper regression in value from pick No. 1 on down.
The Johnson version said the Lions fleeced the Vikings on Thursday night; the newer models still called it a win for Detroit. On Friday night, various models said the Vikings picked up extra value in the deal with the Packers.
"The chart is kind of a guideline. I'm not saying you shouldn't follow the chart, but really, you're comparing different alternatives," Adofo-Mensah said. "If your alternative is to stay and pick, that is some value, inherent happiness, whatever it is. If you trade, there is some inherent happiness, so if you're more happy trading back and getting anything than picking the player you would pick, you should do that.
"It doesn't really matter what the trade chart says, so I try and view it as a scenario thing, 'Here are the different scenarios we could be in if we pick this player or not, and just compare them and see how we are. There's mathematical ways to do it, but there's also common sense and intuition ways of doing it as well."
In Lions GM Brad Holmes and Packers GM Brian Gutekunst, Adofo-Mensah found two trade partners willing to risk helping the Vikings in an effort to improve their own teams.
And as he made decisions on the two deals, he saw the two NFC North foes as buyers as much as he saw them as rivals.
"The other thing people should realize is that they can call other teams, so we were pretty sure that the team behind us was going to get the same deal," Adofo-Mensah said. "Having that team get that player and us not get those picks isn't a better outcome. The only better outcome would have been to take that player [the Lions or Packers wanted], but in our situation, we didn't think that was the best decision to do."
The trades will provide plenty of fodder for years to come. If the Vikings' 2022 draft revealed anything, it's that their new GM isn't afraid of the scrutiny that might follow him doing things the way he wants.
"We are OK," Adofo-Mensah said. "This is a great league, those are great organizations and we're going to have to compete with them either way. We'll be ready for the challenge."