Is Kevin O’Connell More Important than Whichever QB the Minnesota Vikings Draft?

kevin o'connell, minnesota vikings
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

There are an endless number of questions surrounding which quarterback prospect the Minnesota Vikings are targeting in the 2024 NFL Draft. Most of the foundational questions, however, are either (a) impossible for anyone to answer or (b) impossible for anyone outside of the Vikings war room to answer.

And there’s one fundamental question that I continue to come back to (mostly because it is impossible to answer). It surrounds, not the available QBs, but the QB genius of Vikings head coach, Kevin O’Connell. Minnesota has been tagged as the best landing spot for any quarterback drafted in the first round, no matter if that that QB is Jayden Daniels (LSU), Drake Maye (UNC), JJ McCarthy (Michigan), Michael Penix Jr (Washington) or Bo Nix (Oregon).

Minnesota Vikings seen as best landing spot for rookie QB

kevin o'connell, minnesota vikings
Photo: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Why? Well, it starts with the depth chart. Minnesota has one of the best WR1/WR2 combos in football, with Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison, not to mention arguably the best young tackle combination in the NFL, in Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw.

Throw in perennial pro bowl tight end TJ Hockenson, when he returns from injury, along with the newly acquired Aaron Jones in the backfield… and good luck finding a quarterback who wouldn’t want to be dropped in the middle of that offense. But it’s not just about the weapons their rookie QB will have at his disposal in Minnesota, the league also sees head coach Kevin O’Connell as possibly the brightest young QB whisperer available, too.

Whoever [the Vikings] get should be happy with the development, given that coach Kevin O’Connell has proven to be a great designer of plays, caller of plays, and tutor of quarterbacks. Whoever plays for O’Connell will get to his ceiling, whatever it might be. Others in this draft class might not be able to say the same, given where they’ll be playing and who will be coaching them.

Mike Florio – ProFootballTalk

What comes first, a great QB or great environment?

The most fundamentally crucial “chicken or egg” question in all of American pro sports revolves around what matters most to the development of a young quarterback. Is it the combination of each QB’s talent, work ethic and smarts OR is it the situation he is drafted into that matters most?

Because, someone who believes in the latter may have a very different opinion on how the Minnesota Vikings should attack the 2024 NFL Draft, vs someone who believes great talent, work ethic and QB smarts will ultimately succeed, no matter the draftee’s situation.

Related: Why the Minnesota Vikings should trade up for quarterback J.J. McCarthy

Sure, if the Minnesota Vikings were sitting at the No. 2 overall pick, and could choose whichever QB they prefer (outside of Caleb Williams) without spending additional draft capital to get him, then the pre-draft evaluation process would be much more focused on each specific QB, and how they compare to one another.

Belief in Kevin O’Connell more important than belief in QB target?

But given the widespread reports that Minnesota is seriously pondering a move-up the draft board that could cost as many as THREE 1st-round picks (plus more), we continually come back to the original “chicken vs egg” or “QB vs environment” question.

If we assume the experts are right, that the Vikings have the best situation available for developing a rookie quarterback, then this staff needs to figure out HOW MUCH better one QB can become, if fostered under Kevin O’Connell’s tutelage, vs another. Because whatever that projected gap is, it has to make up the difference between giving away and keeping multiple 1st round picks.

Sure, it’s widely believed that Daniels, Maye and McCarthy (Tier 1) would end up as better NFL quarterbacks than Nix and Penix Jr (Tier 2), if all five were raised in a vacuum. But will Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah believe that those “Tier 1” quarterbacks, if raised by KOC, will end up one, two, even three 1st round picks better than the “Tier 2” options. Because those guys won’t cost anything more than the slot they are drafted in.

Related: Are Giants Trying to Bait Vikings into Trading Ahead of Them in NFL Draft?

In reality, (even with KOC and a bunch of offensive weapons), the odds are against any of these five QBs becoming NFL superstars. So, the more the Vikings spend to draft one of them, the bigger the risk that pick becomes and the harder it will be to build a winning roster around them.

So if Kevin O’Connell thinks he has just as good of a chance at making Bo Nix or Michael Penix Jr into legitimate NFL starters, as he does in his ability to make Daniels, Maye or McCarthy into (let’s say) top-10 QB talents… how much is he willing to risk for that higher ceiling?

Because, unless one of those “Tier 1” guys falls to them at No. 11, that’s the question that’s the most important question of all.

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