Weeks before Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was set to make his initial draft pick on Thursday, he heeded advice from previous teams that turned him down for their GM openings.
During past interviews, Adofo-Mensah, the NFL's first general manager from a purely analytical background, said he was told he needed to drop the spreadsheets for a minute and hit the road. Gain traditional scouting experience. Driven by a stated desire to lead this Vikings front office empathetically, he did so this spring. Adofo-Mensah put himself in the scout's shoes by visiting a West Coast university, presumably for a pro day, as part of his preparation for this week's NFL Draft.
"Sat in my little cubicle, not at my desk in my perfect environment," Adofo-Mensah said. "I'm looking at different things, trying to talk to coaches, support staff, trying to get different information, and it just hits you how hard that job is. It's unbelievably difficult."
"Having that experience allows me to help be there with them and lead them in this way now," he added.
Adofo-Mensah, 40, said he hoped dipping his toe in those waters, where most NFL general managers cut their teeth as scouts, has broadened his "empathy and wisdom" to not only bridge gaps and find consensus between the personnel and coaching departments with the Vikings' eight draft picks, but also to strengthen a collaborative culture that embraces his self-described "unique style" of leadership. He began Tuesday's pre-draft news conference by thanking 27 people for contributions thus far, ranging from head coach Kevin O'Connell to scouting associate Taylor Brooks.
While Adofo-Mensah, a former quantitative analyst on Wall Street and for the 49ers and Browns, doesn't want to be known as just a data-head, his background permeates in his description of how the Vikings draft room will operate this week.
"Our draft room is like a real-life algorithm," Adofo-Mensah said. "A lot of different voices that come together and ultimately on the end of that, here's a number or recommendation that says how confident this room is in what we're about to do."
That recommendation has to account for everybody's take on a prospect, from the traditional scouting backgrounds of adviser Ryan Grigson, the ex-Colts GM, and Jamaal Stephenson and Ryan Monnens, co-directors of player personnel, to Adofo-Mensah and his analytics team.
Establishing that alignment between Vikings departments has "been my favorite part," Adofo-Mensah said.
"You daydream [in past jobs]," he said. "When I'm in San Francisco, sitting in the office, long hours, what it would be like when I got here. What would we dress like? How would we start meetings? We play our morning song to get going and all these things we do."
He revealed Monday's song to kick off meetings was "Grindin' " by the former hip-hop duo Clipse, which is a fitting anthem to the marathon hours of draft preparation.
“We can't control what happens this weekend. All we can do is prepare like crazy and move as a unit, move together.”
Following college all-star games, the NFL scouting combine, school visits for pro days and hosting prospects in pre-draft visits at TCO Performance Center, scouts and coaches reconvened recently in Eagan to map out possible scenarios with their selections, which begin at No. 12 overall. How would they handle hypothetical trade-down scenarios if this player or that player were still available? How would they break a tie in similar evaluations of prospects at various points of the draft?
Adofo-Mensah has tried to leave no stone unturned, a nod to his mentor Andrew Berry, the Browns general manager whom he credits with having Cleveland so prepared with roadmaps for the draft that being on the clock could be "pretty boring."
But there will always be some surprises, even during preparation. In the middle a Vikings draft simulation on Monday, they were on the clock at an unspecified pick. Despite some great receivers being available, according to Adofo-Mensah, receivers coach Keenan McCardell raised his hand to have the floor. McCardell then made an "impassioned plea" for a non-receiver prospect.
"There's no words that needed to be said. Everybody felt that moment," Adofo-Mensah said. "When you talk about selflessness and team and all those things, in that moment he showed everybody what it was about."
"I told him at the end of that meeting, 'We can't control what happens this weekend. All we can do is prepare like crazy and move as a unit, move together,'" he added. "I don't know what's going to happen at the draft, but we have a lot of scenarios planned for and we will best respond to whatever comes our way."