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2020 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings

Last updated: Fri, Jun 12

Offensive Philosophy

When the Vikings first brought in free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, they immediately built a pass-heavy offense and asked him to carry the team on his back. Through the first thirteen games of 2018, the Vikings ranked 3rd in pass attempts and 31st in rushes, while receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs ranked 3rd and 11th in PPR fantasy points. Despite the prolific statistics, head coach Mike Zimmer decided to shift gears, firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and replacing him with Kevan Stefanski for the final three games. The offensive shift was immediate: Minnesota fell to 25th in pass attempts and rose to 13th in rush attempts the rest of the way, while Diggs and Thielen fell to 20th and 41st in fantasy points. In 2019, Zimmer doubled down on the shift, bringing in Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison to help implement the zone blocking scheme they'd previously used to build juggernaut rushing attacks in Denver and Houston. As a result, Minnesota ranked 30th in pass attempts and 4th in rush attempts. Dalvin Cook rose to stardom and the Minnesota running backs as a group accounted for more fantasy points than all but four other teams, but Diggs and Thielen finished 25th and 41st in points per game. This year Stefanski has been hired away to coach the Cleveland Browns, but Kubiak has been promoted to offensive coordinator to maintain continuity. The Vikings will once again build around a zone running game centered around Cook's talents with a low-volume passing game primarily concentrated on its top two receivers with few 3-, 4-, or 5-receiver sets.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backup(s): Sean Mannion, Nate Stanley [R]

Starting QB: After four straight seasons of top 10 fantasy production, Kirk Cousins ended his 2019 season as the QB19. The difference in those five seasons came down to the volume of his passing attempts, as he attempted nearly 100 less passes in 2019 compared to those four previous seasons. With the Vikings finding ways to win with the ball out of Cousins hands and the explosion of Dalvin Cook early on, Cousins was asked to do a lot less in 2019. The one positive for Cousins in 2019 was his lack of turnovers as he threw a career low in only six interceptions. With the Vikings trading away Stefon Diggs this offseason to the Bills, you have to wonder if Cousins takes another hit in production.

Backup QB: Sean Mannion will enter year two with the Vikings as the backup to Kirk Cousins. Mannion started Week 17 against the Bears, completing 12-of-21 passes for 126 yard and two interceptions. The goal is for the Vikings to have a healthy Kirk Cousins on the field but if they needed a spot starter for a game, Mannion does have some game experience to make it happen.

Running Backs

Starter: Dalvin Cook
Backup(s): Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
Fullback(s): C.J. Ham

Starting RB: Dalvin Cook's young career has been plagued by injuries as he played in 15 total games his first two seasons but finally got on track in 2019 with a 14 game season which lead to RB5 overall numbers in 1,135 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, 53 receptions, and 519 receiving yards. Cook provided the Vikings with some power in the running game, helping them to be no longer solely dependant on the Kirk Cousins and the passing game. Now with Stefon Diggs leaving town, the Vikings could continue to rely heavily on the running game and if Cook can stay healthy he will be be at the top of the running back talent in the league and a top five fantasy asset. *Update* Dalvin Cook will reportedly hold out until an acceptable extension contract is reached with the Vikings, bringing the possibility of missed games and Alexander Mattison as the starter in his absence, into focus.

Backup RBs: The Vikings shifted their offense to more of a running attack in 2019 and it paid off big time with Dalvin Cook running the show helping them win games and putting up huge individual numbers. Even behind Cook, the Vikings have some great depth in Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, and Ameer Abdullah. Mattison saw 100 carries in in rookie season and turned it into a 462 rushing yard, one touchdown, and 10 receptions for 82 yards season all while missing the teams final three games. Boone made the most of his opportunities late in the season as he filled in for an injured Cook and Mattison and carried the ball 41 times in the final three games for 232 rushing yards, and three touchdowns. Fourth on the depth chart Abdullah carved his way into 23 rushing attempts and 15 receptions for a total of 203 yards. The Vikings have running back depth behind Cook and look to build on their 2019 running attack.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson [R]
Backups: Olabisi Johnson, Tajae Sharpe, Chad Beebe, KJ Osborn [R], Quartney Davis [R]

Starting WRs: Stefon Diggs is now out of the picture and Tajae Sharpe has been signed to join the starting wide receiver core in Minnesota. Not the ideal swap out that you want to see in the passing offense but this is where the Vikings are. Adam Thielen had a miserable 2019 season missing six games and recording 30 receptions for 418 yards, and six touchdowns. With Diggs out of the equation now, Thielen will need to stay healthy and is low outcome will likely go way up as the Vikings look to replace Diggs 93 targets from a season ago. The Vikings used the first round pick they got for Diggs from Buffalo to draft LSU's Justin Jefferson. Jefferson is at his best in the middle of the field and has some overlap with Thielen's strengths, but a 4.43 40 at the combine gave hope that he could work well outside in the NFL.

Backup WRs: The depth is currently lacking at the wide receiver position for the Vikings. This is quite the opposite position for them compared to the depth at both the running back and tight end positions. Olabisi Johnson who looks like he has something to offer the Vikings who drafted him in the 7th round last year. Johnson played in 13 games during his rookie season and saw 45 targets for a 31/294/3 rookie statline. The Vikings will be looking for a healthy Thielen this season, along with a second year breakout from Johnson and some added production from free agent signee Tajae Sharpe. Behind those two names it really just is Chad Beebe who is more of a smaller sized slot receiver who only saw three games worth of action in 2019 for a total of two catches for 70 yards.

Tight Ends

Starters: Kyle Rudolph
Backups: Irv Smith, Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon

The veteran Kyle Rudolph now has Irv Smith battling for receptions as the two saw nearly identical numbers of targets and receptions in 2019. Rudolph finished with 49 targets for a 36/367/6 statline while Smith saw 47 targets for a 36/311/2 line. Rudolph has the redzone looks in his favor but now with Smith seeing some action we might start to see a swing in favor of Smith entering 2020. With the dismiss of Stefon Diggs and the uptick in the running game, both Rudolph and Smith will likely see plenty of time on the field together and both can be productive tight ends for fantasy purposes while co-existing in the same offense.

Place Kicker

Dan Bailey: The Vikings settled their kicker situation with a three-year, $10 million dollar deal with six million dollar guaranteed. Minnesota rewarded him after his return to Cowboys era form, making 27 of 29 field goal attempts, with no misses under 40 yards. He did miss four extra point attempts (out fo 44), but the Vikings are clearly happy with him. He's available well outside of the top 10 kickers drafted and a viable fallback plan for last round kicker drafting.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ameer Abdullah

The Minnesota Vikings entered and ended last season intending for Mike Hughes to return punts and Ameer Abdulla to return kickoffs. In the middle, however, they explored several other options, signalling dissatisfaction with their return units. Hughes and Abdullah are both back for 2020 and are the leading candidates to handle returns, but Minnesota has shown a willingness to look elsewhere if they struggle.

Punt Returners: Mike Hughes

The Minnesota Vikings entered and ended last season intending for Mike Hughes to return punts and Ameer Abdulla to return kickoffs. In the middle, however, they explored several other options, signalling dissatisfaction with their return units. Hughes and Abdullah are both back for 2020 and are the leading candidates to handle returns, but Minnesota has shown a willingness to look elsewhere if they struggle.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Riley Reiff, LG Pat Elflein, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Josh Kline, RT Brian O'Neill
Key Backups: OL Rashod Hill, OT Ezra Cleveland [R], OL Dakota Dozier, OL Brett Jones, OL Dru Samia

This line specializes in outside zone scheme and returns all five starters from a year ago. At left tackle, veteran Riley Reiff remains the starter, but the team invested a second rd pick in left tackle Ezra Cleveland from Boise State. Right tackle Brian O'Neill is a young productive starter with upside, and Rashod Hill is a solid swing tackle. This Vikings line is decent, but lacks high-end talent compared to other teams.

Team Defense

The Vikings defense was the strength of the team in 2019, with 48 sacks and 31 takeaways, both good for top five ranks. They gave up the 13th most yards, but only 6th most points, making them a solid weekly play no matter the scoring system. 2020 will bring change with the top three corners all gone along with two of their top three defensive ends. Jeff Gladney (TCU) was added at the #31 pick to start right away at corner, but the team didn't take a defensive lineman until the third day and it's possible that they will have a problem between a reduced pass rush and breaking in new cornerbacks. They are available in the 7-10 range of drafts, but the possibility of a dropoff makes them a risky pick there.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE Danielle Hunter, RDE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Shamar Stephen, NT Micheal Pierce
Backups: DE Anthony Zettel, DE Eddie Yarborough, DE DJ Wonnum [R], DT Jalyn Holmes, DT/ NT Armon Watts, DT James Lynch [R], NT Jaleel Johnson

Starting DL: After a storied career with the Vikings, Everson Griffen departed in free agency, leaving Danielle Hunter as the team's number one pass rusher both in production and leadership terms. Ifeadi Odenigbo showed potential last year by putting up a seven sack season and is the likely choice to get the start opposite of Hunter. Shamar Stephen will continue to eat up blocks and be the interior run stuffer of the unit. With long-time option Linval Joseph leaving to join the Chargers, Micheal Pierce will take over as the nose tackle. Pierce comes from Baltimore and has designs on becoming a premier player at his position. "...[A]t this point in my career, it's time to blossom and try to make some strides," he told reporters in a recent interview.

Backup DL: The Vikings will count on primarily homegrown developmental guys to fill the backup roles. Stephen Weatherly was not re-signed and journeymen Anthony Zettel will likely play a handful of snaps each game, as Weatherly did. Eddie Yarborough is a younger player that has spent some time with Denver and then Buffalo before being signed away from their practice squad by the Vikings. Yarborough has not started any games with a team since the 2017 season. Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson, and Arman Watts were all day three picks over the last three years and do not look like they will get a significant opportunity to contribute without an injury to the starter. Both DJ Wonnum and James Lynch were taken in the fourth round of this year's Draft and were added to be situational exterior and interior pass rushers, respectively.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Ben Gedeon
Backups: SLB DeMarquis Gates, MLB Cameron Smith, WLB Eric Wilson, WLB Troy Dye [R]

Starting LBs: The starting unit has not changed. Ben Gedeon heads into his third season as the starter, while Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks head into their sixth and fifth years respectively. Gedeon does not offer much in coverage and may cede snaps to newly drafted Troy Dye in pass rush situations. This would allow Dom Capers to deploy Anthony Barr as an edge rusher more often. Eric Kedricks and Barr remain a strong tandem on and off the field. They were friends before Minnesota drafted Kendricks, and Barr famously turned down a better monetary offer with the Jets in last year's free agency to return to the Vikings and play with his friend.

Backup LBs: Houston Roughneck standout DeMarquis Gates joins last year's fifth-rounder Cameron Smith and Eric Wilson in what promises to be a competitive and wide-open battle for backup spots. Troy Dye was also added to this mix when he was selected in the fourth round of this year's Draft. Many Draft analysts love Dye because he already displays the capacity to drop into coverage with running backs and tight ends. With a strong camp showing, he could lock up the primary backup spot to Gedeon.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Trae Waynes, CB Jeff Gladney [R], SS Anthony Harris, FS Harrison Smith
Backups: CB Mike Hughes, CB Cameron Dantzler [R], SS Brian Cole [R], FS Josh Metellus [R]

Starting DBs: With the departure of Xavier Rhodes, the team placed a major emphasis on adding cornerback help. The Vikings took Jeff Gladney at pick number 30 in the first round of this year's Draft. Gladney dealt with an ongoing knee issue in college, but when he is healthy, he is very speedy and can hang with even the fastest wide receivers. He will slot in next to the established Trae Waynes. Anthony Harris played well last year and received the franchise tag this offseason. He and long-time fixture Harrison Smith return to the safety lineup. Smith will turn 32 in the course of this year and has only one year after this one remaining on his deal.

Backup DBs: With Mackensie Alexander no longer on the team, Mike Hughes will take on slot corner duties for Minnesota. The team continued to hammer the corner position in the Draft by taking Cameron Dantzler in the third round. Dantzler did not test well at the NFL Scouting Combine, which contributed to his slide into day two. Dantzler's size and length is similar to that of Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings hope they can develop him into that caliber of a player. Minnesota was somewhat depleted in terms of safety depth, so they took Brian Cole and Josh Metellus. Cole is the prototypical free safety in physical terms, but is a work in progress as far as coverage ability is concerned. Metellus is a player brimming with confidence and is a hard-hitter. The Vikings have had success with developing later-round secondary players before, so they will hope to work that same magic with these two.