Rather than picking a successor for Kirk Cousins in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, the Vikings selected another weapon for their quarterback and a complement to Justin Jefferson.
They drafted USC wide receiver Jordan Addison with the 23rd overall pick, adding him to their group of skill position players. Coach Kevin O’Connell said last month he’s spent much of his offseason trying to find ways to make defenses pay for focusing so much attention on Jefferson. He has said the Vikings routinely see teams abandon their normal coverage tendencies in favor of game plans that are focused solely on the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
The team figures to give K.J. Osborn the first shot at the No. 2 receiver role, but Addison could get plenty of work in an offense that became the ninth in NFL history with four players who caught at least 60 passes in 2022.
“I’m just going to add that explosiveness,” Addison said. “I’m probably built a little bit differently than the previous receivers [in Minnesota], so it’s a little bit different style that I’m going to bring.”
The 5-11 Addison gives the Vikings a receiver who has played multiple spots and has experience as a return man. He averaged 12.2 yards on punt returns in college, and ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
After catching 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2021 at Pittsburgh, he transferred before his junior year to USC, where he caught 59 passes for 875 yards and eight TDs while missing three games with a left ankle injury.
Addison became the fourth consecutive receiver drafted after none went in the first 19 picks. The Vikings picked Addison over cornerbacks like Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. and Maryland’s Deonte Banks. Barring a trade up on the second day of the draft, they will wait until at least pick No. 87 to add a player for new coordinator Brian Flores’ defense.
Addison, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner as college football’s top receiver, came to Minnesota instead of Kentucky quarterback Will Levis or Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who were both still available. The Vikings had done extensive work on quarterbacks, but neither Levis nor Hooker was believed to be a strong candidate for them with the 23rd pick. Once the top three quarterbacks — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Florida’s Anthony Richardson — went in the top four picks, the possibility of the Vikings drafting a quarterback in the first round seemed dead.
Though the Vikings could still draft a passer on the final two days of the draft — they brought Stanford‘s Tanner McKee to Minnesota for a visit — they seem set to head into the 2023 season with no obvious successor for Cousins, who turns 35 in August and will be a free agent after the season. The Vikings added two void years to the quarterback’s deal after talks on a contract extension fizzled, but it’s possible they could still work out a new contract with him before he becomes a free agent, particularly if he has a strong second year in O’Connell’s offense.
He will work with a group that includes two first-round picks (Jefferson and Addison) and a former Pro Bowl tight end (T.J. Hockenson), while spending consecutive seasons with the same play-caller for the first time since he was with Sean McVay in Washington in 2015-16.
On Thursday night, instead of selecting a player who would ostensibly take over for the quarterback, the Vikings bet on the offense they can field around him in 2023.