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2021 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings

Last updated: Tue, Jun 15

Offensive Philosophy

The Vikings made a change at offensive coordinator for the third time since 2018, but once again it shouldn't result in any material change to the offense. Klint Kubiak should be faithful to his dad Gary's system, which the team ran last year. The Vikings will once again build around a zone running game centered around Dalvin 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): Kellen Mond [R], Nate Stanley, Jake Browning

Starting QB: Kirk Cousins has given the Vikings a reliable starter at the quarterback position over the last three seasons. He finished the 2020 season with his most touchdown passes in his career with 35 and finished as the QB11 overall. The Vikings are plenty of star power on the offense with Dalvin Cook capable of reeling in passes from Cousins and the star wide receiver duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen along with emerging tight end Irv Smith. Cousins is surrounded with weapons and should have no shortage of opportunities to continue to put up big offensive numbers.

Backup QB: The other two quarterbacks on the Vikings roster are undrafted Jake Browning who has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad and Nate Stanley who spent last year on the practice squad after being a 2020 seventh-round pick. Their is no NFL experience behind Cousins at the moment so him staying healthy will be something that is a must for the Vikings to succeed in 2021. The Vikings spent an early draft pick on Kellen Mond to help secure the backup QB battle in camp and provide some extra insurance at the position.

Running Backs

Starter: Dalvin Cook
Backup(s): Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu [R]
Fullback(s): C.J. Ham

Starting RB: Despite missing two games, Dalvin Cook put up a monster 2020 season averaging 5.0 yards per carry and finishing with 1,557 and 16 rushing touchdowns and adding 44 catches for 361 yards and another score. The rushing numbers alone stood out as he became only the 17th player in NFL history to finish with at least 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns and only the fourth player to accomplish that feat in 14 or fewer games. Cook now has back to back 14 game seasons as finishing as a top five running back for the Vikings and will look to continue that trend in 2021.

Backup RBs: Alexander Mattison continues to show that he is one of the premium running back handcuffs in the league and also has some stand alone value as well. Mattison ending the season with 559 total yards and three touchdowns. In the two games where Dalvin Cook didn't play he totaled 203 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown, and six catches for 74 yards and a receiving touchdown. He is a very capable backup running back and might even see more of the field with Mike Boone no longer on the depth chart. Behind Cook and Mattison it is Ameer Abdullah that sits alone as the third option in the running game. He is a six year veteran and contributes on special teams along with a small role on the offense. In six games last year he totaled 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the receiving game. The Vikings added Kene Nwangwu in the draft to battle with Mattison and Abdullah in camp. He'll probably mainly contribute in the return game in his first year.

Fullback: Ham will be the team's full-time fullback for the third straight year, which means he'll be on the field for about one-third of the offensive snaps. He's competent enough to get a touch or so a game and probably get a touchdown at some point in the season. Ham's lead blocking is an underrated part of Dalvin Cook's success.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Chad Beebe
Backups: Ihmir Smith-Marsette [R], Bisi Johnson, Dan Chisena, K.J. Osborn

Starting WRs: Justin Jefferson showed instant chemistry with Kirk Cousins and carried that connection throughout the season putting up a massive rookie season with a 88/1400/7 statline that was good enough to finish was the WR6 overall. Jefferson had seven games of a 100 receiving yards or more along with seven games of over 10 targets. Adam Thielen is also a big part of this offense and he had his best year in catching touchdown passes as he finished with 14 scores and finished as the WR8 overall. The Vikings will need both receivers to stay healthy and on the field as the depth behind the two is lacking. Chad Beebe is currently the third wide receiver option on the team and finished 2020 with a 20/201/2 line.

Backup WRs: Some thought that Bisi Johnson was in line to have a breakout last season but that was not the case as he struggled despite having plenty of opportunities and finished up the year with just 14 catches for 189 yards and failed to find the endzone. Dan Chisena and K.J. Osborn are two names on the depth chart that will look to compete this offseason and hope to contribute during the season. The Vikings drafted Ihmir Smith-Marsette to add some much needed depth behind Jefferson and Thielen.

Tight Ends

Starters: Irv Smith
Backups: Tyler Conklin, Zach Davidson [R], Brandon Dillon

We were waiting for the Irv Smith breakout in 2020 but didn't quite get the full effect. In 2021 the path is more clear for Smith as Kyle Rudolph is now off the team and Smith not looks to be the third option in the passing game behind Jefferson and Thielen. Behind Smith it is Tyler Conklin that is now the second in line at the tight end position. Conklin also benefits from the departure of Rudolph as more opportunities should be in store for him. Conklin posted a modest 19/194/1 statline in only seven games in 2020. With the loss of Rudolph the Vikings dipped back in during the draft with Zach Davidson.

Place Kicker

Greg Joseph, Riley Patterson [R]: Dan Bailey was a disaster last year, so the Vikings have gone back to the well at kicker once again. Greg Joseph was a solid option for the Browns in 2018, but hasn't been able to stick on a roster since then, filling in for the Titans at times in 2019 and going 9-for-9 on extra points. His competition will be undrafted rookie Riley Patterson, who has a big leg, but struggles with accuracy. The Vikings are a good candidate to sign one of the more established kickers who loses a kicker battle elsewhere.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu [R]

Veteran running back Ameer Abdullah has been one of the better kickoff returners since entering the league in 2015, but the Vikings have plenty of other players at the position and might opt to hand duties to 4th-round rookie back Kene Nwangwu to free up a roster spot.

Punt Returners: K.J. Osborn, Chad Beebe

K.J. Osborn and Chad Beebe handled all of Minnesota's punt returns last year, and while neither player performed that well, both have the veteran experience that coaches tend to crave at the position.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Christian Darrisaw [R], LG Ezra Cleveland, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Wyatt Davis [R], RT Brian O'Neill
Key Backups: OL Dakota Dozier, OT Rashod Hill, OL Mason Cole, OL Oli Udoh

Center Garrett Bradbury and right tackle Brian O'Neill are both above-average. The guards are decent, with Dakota Dozier and Ezra Cleveland forming a solid duo last season. After the team let Riley Reiff go this offseason, the team drafted Christian Darrisaw round one from Virginia Tech to man the left tackle position. Assuming Darrisaw hits the ground running, this unit grades about middle of the rankings.

Team Defense

The Vikings defense should get a boost with the return of Danielle Hunter and they will be a tough team to run on, but the secondary is still a work in progress. When their running game is clicking and they are nursing a lead, the Vikings team defense will have matchup potential in fantasy and DFS, but that might be tough to predict except when they are facing weak quarterbacks and run defenses.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE Danielle Hunter, RDE Stephen Weatherly, NT Michael Pierce, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Sheldon Richardson
Backups: DE DJ Wonnum, DE Hercules Mata'afa, DE Patrick Jones II [R], Janarius Robinson [R], NT Armon Watts, DT Sheldon Richardson, DT James Lynch, DT Jaylen Twyman [R]

Starting DL: Danielle Hunter sat all of 2020 with a neck injury and there have been rumors swirling in the offseason that he is open to being traded. Despite these things, Head Coach Mike Zimmer has maintained publicly that he is excited about getting Hunter back and exploring a contract extension for his top pass rusher. After a year away in Carolina, Stephen Weatherly re-signed with the team. This is a good development for the Vikings because DJ Wonnum did not appear ready to be a primary pass rusher after being forced into a prominent role last year. Michael Pierce will line up next to Dalvin Tomlinson, whom the Vikings put a premium on acquiring in free agency. He will be able to play three technique and expand on what was arguably his best season yet in 2020. The Vikings reunited with Sheldon Richardson in the third wave of free agency. He should give them disruption against the pass. The first time around with the team, he had 16 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks in 16 starts.

Backup DL: Ifeadi Odenigbo moved on in free agency to the Giants, but the rest of the backup unit remains the same. The group saw a great deal of action last year due to injuries and while it was not ideal for the team's record, it certainly may have been a blessing in disguise for the development of its younger options. In particular, DJ Wonnum and Armon Watts saw starter snaps for weeks at a time when their colleagues succumbed to injury. Jaylen Twyman was selected with the hope that his size and superior hand-fighting technique can help him develop into a formidable interior rusher. The Vikings chose two players that have developmental potential in Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson. Jones did not test well at his Pro Day, but a hamstring issue may have accounted for that. On the field, he has above-average athleticism, but needs to develop more advanced pass rush techniques. Robinson is much the same story-- he is very athletic, but his pass-rush moves need work. Knowing Mike Zimmer's history with coaching up players with athletic traits, there are better than normal odds that these players could become eventual contributors for Minnesota. After time away in Cleveland, Sheldon Richardson returns to the Vikings on a one-year deal, likely to provide rotational depth.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Cameron Smith/Nick Vigil
Backups: SLB Ryan Connelly, WLB Troy Dye, MLB Chazz Surratt [R]

Starting LBs: Up against the cap, the Vikings used the offseason to restructure Anthony Barr's deal. Eric Kendricks missed the last five games of 2020 with a calf muscle injury, but told the media that he should be recovered and ready to go for training camp. The best-friend tandem of Barr and Kendricks will do the majority of the work in the linebacker core with the third spot up for grabs, with 2019 fifth-round pick Cameron Smith having a shot to win it after missing 2020 with a heart ailment that required surgery. The default choice for the spot is probably free agent pickup Nick Vigil, who has experience with senior defensive assistant Paul Guenther, who replaced Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati when he left to coach Minnesota. Guenther coached Vigil for two years with the Bengals.

Backup LBs: Eric Wilson played significant minutes for the club last year, but after leaving for the Eagles in free agency, it will be up to Ryan Connelly and Troy Dye to fill the gaps when injuries once again strike. Claimed off waivers last season, Ryan Connelly remains on the roster. The Minnesota native was a fifth-round pick for the Giants in 2019 and started four games before an ACL tear ended his rookie season. He was a roster cut casualty in 2020 after missing five camp practices in a row coming back from his injury. The Vikings took Chazz Surratt in the third round of the Draft. While undersized, his athleticism, speed, and movement skills might be able to make up for that lack of brawn and make him an ideal off-ball linebacker. Second-year linebacker Troy Dye may push Nick Vigil for the starting job. It will at the very least be an entertaining camp competition to monitor.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Patrick Peterson, CB Jeff Gladney, CB Mackenzie Alexander, SS Xavier Woods, FS Harrison Smith
Backups: CB Mackenzie Alexander, CB Cameron Dantzler, CB Kris Boyd, CB Harrison Hand, SS Dorn Myles, FS Josh Metellus, FS Camryn Bynum [R]

Starting DBs: Patrick Peterson was the splashiest signing for the defense, agreeing to a one-year deal with the club. His presence stabilizes a secondary that struggled last year as it tried to deploy younger, more inexperienced options. Mike Hughes' fifth-year option was not picked up, probably because he has been unable to stay healthy for a sustained period. He was traded away to the Chiefs, opening the door for recently re-signed Mackenzie Alexander to start in the slot. Another lesser-heralded but important signing was that of former Cowboy Xavier Woods. Woods has the ability to cover in the slot if needed, which will give this secondary increased versatility. Harrison Smith continues to get older, but has not had a dramatic drop in productivity. The 32-year-old safety had a great 2020, despite the defense's struggles. His 89 combined tackles was fourth on the team and his five interceptions led the team.

Backup DBs: Cameron Dantzler was a starter last year, but the Vikings hope that he will see the field only in nickel and dime situations in 2020. Dorn Myles' season was cut short by a toe injury last year and he will have to battle to stay on the roster. Josh Mettelus played a total of 16 snaps last year. He will need a greater workload going forward if he is to develop into a starting option at any point. Camryn Bynum demonstrates excellent recognition of coverage and is a willing participant in run-support. His shorter-than-normal arms and average athleticism cap his potential ceiling, but don't preclude Bynum from being a contributor at some point in his NFL journey. His status as a fourth-round pick probably ensures that he makes the team.