Vikings take USC WR Jordan Addison at No. 23 in NFL draft
Published 8:34 am Friday, April 28, 2023
EAGAN — Jordan Addison could hardly have found a better place to break into the NFL than Minnesota, with Justin Jefferson in place to learn from.
The Vikings selected the USC wide receiver with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, giving their superstar a viable sidekick after the jettisoning of veteran Adam Thielen — and passing on a top quarterback prospect who tumbled down the board.
Addison was the fourth consecutive wide receiver taken after none went in the first 19 slots, following Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Ngjiba (Seahawks), TCU’s Quentin Johnston (Chargers) and Boston College’s Zay Flowers (Ravens). Addison a pre-draft visits with the Vikings, and by all accounts they hit it off.
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“They told me if I fall to them, they were going to make sure they grabbed me,” Addison said on a video conference call from the draft with reporters in Minnesota.
His confidence stood out, but so did his desire.
“You feel a hungry player that wants to be great,” coach Kevin O’Connell said.
Addison, K.J. Osborn and tight end T.J. Hockenson will be counted on to keep Vikings opponents honest without tilting the coverages so much toward Jefferson, who led the NFL with 128 receptions and 1,809 yards and won the AP Offensive Player of the Year award in 2022.
“We want to make people pay for that,” O’Connell said.
With uncertainty beyond this year at quarterback with Kirk Cousins on an expiring contract, the Vikings passed on Kentucky’s Will Levis, who was widely expected to be gone in the first half of the first round. Three of the first four picks — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson — were quarterbacks, but clearly the Vikings — and other teams — didn’t consider Levis on that level.
The Vikings have predicted a stronger season for Cousins in the second year of O’Connell’s system and consistently praised him — but only to the point of expressing confidence in him for 2023. Beyond this year, all bets are off. Bringing in Addison sure can’t hurt Cousins in his attempt to lead the Vikings to a second straight NFC North title and in his push for a new contract — whether with the Vikings or not.
The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner for the nation’s top wide receiver at Pittsburgh, Addison transferred to USC for his final college season. He had 59 catches for 875 yards and eight touchdowns in 2022 for the Trojans. In two years with the Panthers, Addison had 2,259 receiving yards. He pointed to his successful transition to USC as evidence he can quickly learn O’Connell’s pass-friendly system.
“He gets his playmakers the ball,” Addison said. “They’re never in one spot.”
Addison is only 6 feet and 175 pounds, one of the drawbacks of his profile, but he’s a polished route-runner who consistently gets open despite not having elite speed. He ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, just the 21st-ranked time among wide receivers. But “he’s one of those guys that typically gets the first blade of grass,” general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said.
The Vikings drafted a quarterback in the first round only four times in their first 62 seasons: Tommy Kramer (1977), Daunte Culpepper (1999), Christian Ponder (2011) and Teddy Bridgewater (2014). Fran Tarkenton was the 29th overall pick in their inaugural season in 1961, but that was a third-rounder.
Culpepper (11) and Ponder (12) are the only quarterbacks the Vikings have ever drafted in the top 26 picks. The only team with fewer in that range is New Orleans, which took Archie Manning No. 1 overall in 1971 and has never drafted another quarterback in the top 74. All the other teams who have only drafted two quarterbacks in the top 26 entered the NFL much later than the Vikings: Houston (2002), Baltimore (1996), Carolina (1995), Seattle (1976).
After the departure of several key veteran players — Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks were released for salary cap space and cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson free agents signed elsewhere for bigger contracts — the Vikings need some instant impact from this draft class. That’s a taller task starting with only five picks, and no second-rounder.
Last year, in their first draft under Adofo-Mensah, the Vikings traded the 12th overall pick to Detroit and moved all the way down to No. 32 to net two additional second-day selections. The Lions took wide receiver Jameson Williams, a tantalizing prospect whose ACL rehabilitation limited his rookie season. The Vikings went with safety Lewis Cine, who broke his leg on special teams in Week 4 and played a total of two snaps on defense before his injury.
Addison, assuming he stays healthy, is destined for a far bigger role.
“This guy’s consistently open,” Adofo-Mensah said. “He can make plays with the ball in his hand.”