Schedule: GB, @IND, TEN, @HOU, @SEA, ATL, BYE, @GB, DET, @CHI, DAL, CAR, JAX, @TB, CHI, @NO, @DET
Additions: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue (Trade),
DL Michael Pierce (FA), WR Justin Jefferson (Draft), CB Jeff Gladney (Draft), CB Cam Dantzler (Draft)
Losses: WR Stefon Diggs (Trade), DL Linval Joseph (FA), CB Trae Waynes (FA), EDGE Everson Griffen (FA), EDGE Stephen Weatherly (FA), CB Mackensie Alexander (FA), S Andrew Sendejo (FA), S Jayron Kearse (FA), CB Xavier Rhodes (Cut), DL Michael Pierce (Opt-out)
As you can see, Minnesota lost a lot more talent than it gained this offseason. Their big addition, nose tackle Michael Pierce, opting out didn’t help matters. Trading for Yannick Ngakoue did, though.
Finally freed from Jacksonville, Ngakoue will have to fight fellow edge rusher Danielle Hunter for sacks. With the former Jaguar replacing Everson Griffen, Minnesota will sacrifice a little run defense for a higher pass rush ceiling.
That drop off against the run could come back to bite them. Linval Joseph left in free agency and his replacement opted out, so nose tackle is a big worry for the team. Veteran Shamar Stephen is expected to take over that role despite primarily serving as a 3-tech in his career. Not only is their new 1-tech playing out of position, but they just pushed the problem down the line. Now, the issue is finding a replacement defensive tackle. Outside of Stephens, this is a really uninspiring group. And considering they were a middling unit against the run last year, opposing backs could feast against the Vikings in 2020.
Minnesota’s stacked linebackers will do their best to keep that from happening. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are a top-of-the-line duo. So are safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith. The Vikings have so much star power on defense, but the drop off from the studs to the others is huge.
Just like the run defense, cornerback play could be a major issue. After losing their top three corners this offseason, Minnesota is banking entirely on potential. The projected starters, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes, have a combined nine career starts. To make matters worse, the primary backups are rookies. Obviously, Mike Zimmer believes in these young guys or they wouldn’t be here, but there’s a strong crash-and-burn chance with this experiment.
Contrary to the gutted defense, the offense only lost one key contributor. He was pretty damn important, though. Stefon Diggs may have passively-aggressively begged to be traded, but the talented wideout will be sorely missed. Minnesota will need a return to form from Adam Thielen, who was hurt for most of 2019. Even if he does, no one on this team will come close to replicating the Diggs-Thielen duo or even the new-Bill’s connection with Kirk Cousins. The best options are 2019 seventh-rounder Bisi Johnson and rookie Justin Jefferson.
Actually, the best candidate may lie at tight end. Second-year man Irv Smith Jr. is the prototypical new-age tight end who’s almost more of a receiver. Minnesota could continue to use Kyle Rudolph as the standard in-line blocker and red-zone target while moving Smith all over the field.
Hopefully Kirk Cousins proved himself to everyone last year. He’s not elite, but, in the right offense, he can be great. Dalvin Cook, on the other hand, is elite. Few, if any, backs can hit a hole as fast and hard as he does. With a solid run-blocking unit in front of him, he’s poised for another go at the rushing crown. While the offensive line is good in space, they were downright awful at times in pass protection. If any defense bottles up Cook, the Vikings aren’t likely to walk away with a win.
Minnesota is one of the most interesting teams in the league. They have a proven coach and stars scattered all over the depth chart, but winning even nine games could prove difficult. That’s what happens when you have so many large contracts—the rest of the roster suffers. The Vikings will dominate some weeks and get dominated others. It’s a matchup league, and this team is as matchup-prone as any. I think they win just enough of those matchups to return to the playoffs.
What’s your record prediction for the Vikings? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.