NFL scouts, after spending thousands of hours on their craft and hundreds of hours on a particular set of prospects, are frequently proven wrong.
What chance do you, me or Mel Kiper Jr. have of being right?
I've been writing about NFL drafts since 1990. I once had a Super Bowl-winning general manager give me his personal mock draft. He got every selection wrong, including his own team's, because trades and unexpected picks altered every other team's approach.
We don't know what we don't know, and often those who know far more than us don't know what they don't know.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't analyze and cover the draft, but that our preconceived notions about what the local NFL team should do are mostly uneducated guesses based on educated guesses from draft analysts that are nowhere near as educated as the guesses upon which the teams base their picks.
I needled the Vikings over their first-round maneuvers because this front office will have to prove itself before I give it the benefit of the doubt, and regretted the column as soon as the first racist e-mails arrived, attacking Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
There were two major things wrong with those e-mails, other than the spelling:
- The stupid, Jim Crow-level bigotry, which presumed that all of the white GMs who preceded Adofo-Mensah should be assumed to be better, even though most of them got themselves fired by making bad decisions.
- The sheer certainty that Random Racist Fan knew immediately after a selection or a trade that the Vikings should have done better.
This is why Adofo-Mensah's first draft was, if nothing else, brave. He embraced risk when he could have avoided immediate and perhaps future criticism by making safe decisions.
If he had taken Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton or Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, most fans and analysts would have nodded, recognizing Hamilton as a highly regarded and highly visible player and Williams as a supreme talent made even more valuable by the skyrocketing receiver market.
Instead, Adofo-Mensah traded with a division rival, Detroit, and traded back 20 picks, where he was bound to take a player of lesser renown (and he did, Lewis Cine). Adofo-Mensah will be reminded constantly of this move if Williams beats the Vikings or elevates the Lions into contention.
Adofo-Mensah traded the 34th pick to division rival and division dominator Green Bay, which chose North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson.
Why would Adofo-Mensah take such risks?
I'll offer one guess and one observation.
The guess: Adofo-Mensah does not think the Vikings are one or two players away from contending for a Super Bowl title, so getting one good player with the 12th pick isn't as compelling to him as it might be for fans and analysts.
The observation: Those who rely heavily on analytics care far less about public perception than what evidence tells them. Analytics don't guarantee success, but they can eliminate the kind of gut-level reactions that can lead to making the wrong picks for the wrong reasons.
For Adofo-Mensah's first draft to be considered an eventual success:
- Cine, the safety from Georgia, will have to perform about as well as Hamilton.
- Second-round pick Andrew Booth, the cornerback from Clemson, will have to become a quality starter.
- The other second-round pick, Ed Ingram, the guard from LSU, will have to become a reliable starter and prove that the Vikings properly vetted his past. In 2018, Ingram was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault and was suspended by LSU. The charges were later dropped.
- Williams and Watson will have to be less than stars for the Lions and Packers.
- Liberty quarterback Malik Willis also will have to prove to be less than a star, since the Vikings have no quarterback of the future and Willis lasted until Tennessee took him with the 86th pick.
Maybe Adofo-Mensah aced this test. There also is the possibility that he overthought his first draft and will learn from it.
If you're sure you know the answer now, you're fooling yourself.