Vikings go for versatility on defense and add QB Jaren Hall

Throughout the draft process, Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah heard from people in the organization that saw LSU’s Jay Ward as a potential NFL starter at three spots in the secondary.

Ward’s selection by Minnesota is no accident, with versatility emphasized to retool the defense under new coordinator Brian Flores.

The Vikings started the third day of the NFL draft by selecting Ward, who played cornerback, safety and nickel for the Tigers, in the fourth round. Minnesota followed with LSU defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy in the fifth round.

“It’s a big part of, obviously, what I’ve looked for in the past,” Adofo-Mensah said of seeking versatility, “But especially in (Flores’) defense, he is so good at optimizing people’s skill sets, and he will match personnel. He will match different schemes. And giving him weapons to do so is ultimately my job, and I’m happy to do so for him.”

Despite winning the NFC North in the first year under Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL in total defense, allowing 388.7 yards per game. The 25.1 points per game they surrendered were 28th in the league.

Through the air, Minnesota gave up the second-most yards (265.5 passing yards per game).

Enter Flores, Pittsburgh’s senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach in 2022, who was hired to replace Ed Donatell as coordinator.

“He is built on being multiple and the idea of having an aggressive scheme, the idea of having a scheme that can dictate to the offense,” assistant director of player personnel Chisom Opara said of Flores. “Part of that is having players that can play multiple roles, so you don’t develop tendencies.”

Ward was the second straight defensive back selected by the Vikings, who had taken USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon in the third round Friday. Adofo-Mensah said Blackmon, too, can play inside and out.

Ward, at 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, played in 46 career games for LSU, totaling 164 tackles and six interceptions. He also produced two blocked field goals on special teams.

“His versatility and experience in multiple positions, even some going from nickel to second in the same game, was very attractive to us,” vice president of football operations Demitrius Washington said of Ward. “We actually plan on using him in a similar role as far as playing in the secondary.”

Roy, 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, is listed as a defensive tackle but said he could play anywhere on the line. He had 99 tackles, 13 1/2 for loss, and four sacks in 35 college games for the Tigers.


After taking two USC Trojans in first-round receiver Jordan Addison and Blackmon, the Vikings doubled up on LSU Tigers with their first two selections Saturday.

“It’s certainly nothing that you plan on before the draft,” Opara said. “The human dynamic of being a 20-something-year-old going in a new city, dealing with the pressures and the ups-and-downs of trying to make your way in the NFL. I really do think there’s something cool about having somebody to go through it with.”

Ward also played for Minnesota defensive backs coach Daronte Jones, who was the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at LSU in 2021.

“I love coach Jones,” Ward said. “It was always bigger than on the field with him and we had a close relationship at LSU. We were tight and I’m glad I can reunite with him and he can keep molding me to be a better player.”


Quarterback Kirk Cousins will turn 35 before the regular season begins and his contract expires after the season. Behind Cousins, Minnesota has just journeyman Nick Mullens. The Vikings looked to the future by drafting BYU quarterback Jaren Hall in the fifth round.

“You talk about the things we look for at the quarterback position — ability to make good decisions, throw the football accurately, deal with conflict when it comes his way, and then sometimes try to make a play outside the framework of the play call — and he does all those things at a really good level,” Adofo-Mensah said.

A two-year starter, Hall had 52 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and had a career passer efficiency rating of 65.2%, which is tied with Hall of Famer Steve Young for fourth in school history. He added 657 rushing yards over the past two seasons.


Minnesota finished the draft by taking Alabama-Birmingham running back DeWayne McBride in the seventh round. McBride, 5-foot-10 and 209 pounds, led the nation in rushing last season with 1,713 yards and was second with 19 rushing touchdowns, while being named a third-team All-American.

“My dad always told me, ‘Never let one man take you down,’” McBride said. “I just hate getting tackled.”

The Vikings still have Dalvin Cook on the roster, but he takes up a $14.1 million cap hit in 2023 with two more years remaining after this season.