Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #20 Minnesota Vikingsby Mason Thompson July 25, 2021 1 comment
As we make our way closer to the middle of the league, we unveil the bottom team in tier four of the power rankings. This tier can be named inconsistency, as all seven teams in this tier have some glaring issues on their team. Kicking off tier four and the 20th-ranked team in the power rankings is the Minnesota Vikings.
Be sure to check out all of my in-depth power rankings.
The Vikings attacked their needs this offseason with a force. The offensive line and defensive as a whole were the big focal points during the offseason. Unfortunately, there were also a few losses along the way. The longtime fan favorite, Kyle Rudolph, signed with the Giants to team up with Evan Engram. Riley Reiff wasn’t a good tackle as is, but he went to Cincinnati. Anthony Harris could be the biggest departure from the safety position. Other losses were Eric Wilson, Mike Boone, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Shamar Stephen, and Jaleel Johnson.
Fortunately, there were plenty of additions to make up for it. The defensive line was a massive focus over the free agency period, and the Vikings snagged Dalvin Tomlinson on a two-year contract worth $21 million. Stephen Weatherly signed on a one-year deal. To pair with Tomlinson and Michael Pierce, Minnesota recently signed Sheldon Richardson.
Another big focal point was the secondary. Harris went elsewhere, and to replace him, Minnesota signed Xavier Woods to a one-year deal. Mackensie Alexander also made his way back to the Vikings after spending a season in Cincinnati. Perhaps the biggest signing the Vikings made was adding Patrick Peterson. Another recent signing was Bashaud Breeland. NOTE: Both the Breeland and Richardson signings weren’t factored in before doing the grades.
Spielman Does His Magic
Rick Spielman is known for maneuvering up and down the draft board a ton during the draft. The Vikings attempted to trade up with the Carolina Panthers to the eighth slot to potentially take Justin Fields. Unfortunately, the Bears jumped ahead of them and got their man instead. With that happening, Spielman traded down with the Jets and dropped nine spots by adding two more day two picks.
Many draft experts had Minnesota taking Christian Darrisaw with the 14th pick, but they somehow still got him with the 23rd pick. The offensive line continued to be a focal point on day two of the draft when the Vikings picked Wyatt Davis. Davis was once considered a first-round prospect by the media but suffered a fall down the draft boards. The Vikings desperately needed to upgrade the offensive line, and adding Darrisaw and Davis in the first three rounds was a wise decision.
Another focus in the draft was on the defense. Mike Zimmer is known for having premier defenses, but Minnesota’s defense was far from that last year. Chazz Surratt was a selection in the third round that could fight with Ryan Connelly for starting snaps. With Danielle Hunter making it known that he was unhappy with his contract situation, the Vikings spent two picks on Patrick Jones and Janarius Robinson to fight for snaps this season and potentially the second starting pass-rusher. Camryn Bynum played cornerback in college, but it sounds as if the Vikings will be moving him to safety to compete with Woods for the starting role opposite of Harrison Smith.
More Weapons For Kirk Cousins
Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Kene Nwangwu were two of the other draft picks the Vikings made, and they both have one thing in common. That thing is speed. Both are electrifying prospects that can take plays to the house in an instant. Nwangwu figures to be the leader for return privileges this season, while Smith-Marsette could battle for the number four or five receiver role in Minnesota. The Vikings also drafted a quarterback, which we’ll get to shortly.
- Overall – 80.09 (20th)
- Offense – 81.38 (15th)
- Defense – 78.49 (22nd)
- Coach and Culture – 80.5 (16th)
Quarterbacks – 79, 17th (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)
Cousins is fine. He had a great statistical season last year, but he doesn’t necessarily lift the offense upon his shoulders alone. Cousins posted a career-high in touchdowns but also had a high interception count with 13. The Vikings don’t seem to like where they are at with Cousins at the helm because they were looking to trade up with the Panthers to take Fields and the fact they took Kellen Mond in the third round, which was their second pick in the draft.
Mond was an interesting prospect in this past draft, and some had him as their third-best quarterback in the class, while many others had him as the sixth or seventh. After spending a second-round pick on him, the clock has started to tick on Cousins in Minnesota. While Mond needs time to develop, seeing him in preseason action in the next few weeks will be interesting to see how he stands right now compared to the other two quarterbacks on the roster.
Nate Stanley is the favorite to win the third quarterback role over Jake Browning. All three of the other quarterbacks on the roster other than Cousins are young and inexperienced, so the season will likely go down the drain if Cousins were to get hurt.
Running Backs – 91.5, 6th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)
Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the league. He is a perfect fit for what the Vikings want to do when they are running the ball in their zone-run scheme. Cook is also a big factor out of the backfield to Cousins. Cook averaged five yards per carry on his way to over 1,500 rushing yards on 315 carries and 16 touchdowns. Along with that, he also had 44 catches for over 300 yards and another score. Without Cook, the offense sputters and isn’t the same fine-tuned machine.
Alexander Mattison has a lot of attention as the second running back in the room, but when Cook has been injured, Mattison hasn’t shown he can take the lead role by the horns and run with it. He finished last year with 96 carries for 434 yards and two touchdowns.
Nwangwu and Ameer Abdullah will battle for the third role, with Nwangwu taking the role that Mike Boone had last year as the third-down back. Abdullah might retain return-man duties this year, but Nwangwu could grab that role shortly. The Vikings will also likely have C.J. Ham on the roster as the fullback, as they used a fullback a ton last year, and Ham is one of the best in the league.
Pass Catchers – 86.5, 13th (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense)
With Stefon Diggs gone, his replacement, Justin Jefferson, did more than enough to take the bull by the horns and supplant Adam Thielen as the number one receiver in Minnesota. Things were slow at first, but when Jefferson got accustomed to the system and his role, he took off from there. The rookie finished with 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. He is already one of the best receivers in the league, and it’s only his second season. While Thielen missed a game, he was not a slouch last year and had a nose for the endzone. He finished with 74 catches for 925 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Vikings use the least 11 personnel in the NFL on only about 29 percent of the snaps. On Saturday evening, the Vikings signed Dede Westbrook to the roster, who will likely play as the team’s third receiver (like Richardson and Breeland, adding Westbrook wasn’t factored into the overall grade). The former Jaguar posted over 600 yards in both 2018 and 2019, and should give the Vikings another weapon.
Adding Westbrook pushes Chad Beebe and Olabisi Johnson down the depth chart. The two combined for 34 catches, 390 yards, and three touchdowns last year, but could struggle to see the field this year now. The Vikings added three intriguing players this offseason that are Smith-Marsette, Blake Proehl, and Whop Philyor. Unfortunately, with Minnesota adding Westbrook, there appears to only be room for one on the roster and maybe another on the practice squad. Smith-Marsette appears to be the favorite to land on the roster.
With Rudolph on his way to New York, the starting tight end role is now all on Irv Smith. In his role last year, Smith caught 30 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. He is in for more snaps this season with Rudolph out the door. The Vikings use many two tight-end sets, so look for Tyler Conklin to also have a bigger role this season. Conklin had 19 catches for almost 200 yards and a score last year. Another name to watch is Zach Davidson, who was another draft choice. Davidson played many different roles during his collegiate career at Central Missouri and will be another fun player to watch during the pre-season. Brandon Dillon will likely factor in a few times here and there.
Cook, Mattison, and Ham will be the big ones to watch for here, with Nwangwu sprinkling in. The trio combined for 82 targets last year, and Cook should be third or fourth-leading receiver on the team once again this year out of the backfield.
Offensive Line – 80, 16th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense)
Minnesota’s offensive line has been subject to a lot of disappointment since Tony Sparano’s tragic death a few seasons ago. Replacing Sparano was Rick Dennison, who was just let go due to refusing the Covid vaccine. Even with their coach getting let go, the Vikings’ offensive line could still be in for a struggle, with many moving pieces entering the 2021 season. Reiff is gone, and Darrisaw will step right in as the starting left tackle. Ezra Cleveland moves to left guard after spending some time on the right side of the offensive line last year. Brian O’Neill is a very underrated player as the starter at right tackle.
While those three starters are set in stone, the other two are far from it. At the center spot, Garrett Bradbury is the favorite to win the job. He could face competition from Mason Cole, who the Vikings brought in via a trade with the Cardinals. Both haven’t lived up to their potential as high draft picks, and one will have to win the starting job to be the worst starter of the starting group. At right guard, there appears to be a three-man battle between Dakota Dozier, Davis, and Dru Samia. While Dozier may start the season as the starter, Davis will likely take over before the middle of the season.
Olisaemeka Udoh and Rashod Hill will be the backups at the tackles spots, but don’t be surprised if Cleveland moves over to one of the tackle spots if one of the starters gets injured and Samia or Dozier moves to left guard.
Run Defense – 81.5, 17th (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense)
Once again, the Vikings have a lot of moving pieces along the defensive line. Pierce, Tomlinson, and Richardson are all good players, but how do the three of them get onto the field with one another? Richardson isn’t the same player he once was, and Pierce didn’t play last year. To expect the three of them to get on the field and immediately produce from the first snap is a stretch.
Armon Watts, James Lynch, and Hercules Mata’afa should factor in behind the big three for some snaps as well. Mata’afa has spent time on the 53-man roster and practice squad in recent years, and the additions made could ultimately knock him out of the bubble.
Hunter is a good run defender and now teams up with Weatherly on the edge. Jones is a good run defender and should get some starting snaps over Weatherly by the end of the season and was no slouch during his time at Pittsburgh. Robinson, Jalyn Holmes, D.J. Wonnum, and Kenny Willekes all factor in as well.
Anthony Barr returns this season after only playing two games last season. He is by far the best run-stuffer at the second-level of the team, and if he returns to his 2019 form, the Vikings could get their way into the playoffs. Kendricks is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league but doesn’t factor into the run-game as much as many would think. Nick Vigil and Ryan Connelly will likely battle for the third linebacker spot in base packages. Vigil has starting experience from last year, and adding him to the linebacker room was a good idea from Spielman.
Pass Rush – 76, 26th (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)
Hunter and who else? While the Vikings spent a lot of draft capital on pass-rushers in recent years, none have stepped up to the plate to take ahold of the second role opposite of Hunter and run with it. Weatherly figures to get the first crack at things, but look for Jones to get a lot of snaps as well. Robinson and Jones are similar players are speed-rushers that will get by tackles in the blink of an eye and get to the quarterback in an instant. The Vikings have a type as Willekes is similar to those two as well. Wonnum and Holmes are more of the opposite and are more power than speed-rushers.
The Vikings finished with only 23 sacks last year. While that was without Hunter, he is only one man, and the rest of the pass-rush unit is filled with question marks, including who starts opposite of Hunter. While some of the production from the interior will make up for it, the pass-rush unit as a whole will be a cause for concern.
Linebackers – 86, 8th (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)
The linebacker group is by far the best unit on the defense. Kendricks is one of the best all-around linebackers in the league with his coverage skills and above-average run defending. Barr is great against the run and brings an old-school linebacker-type mentality to the fold. The two make up one of the best linebacker tandems in the league.
Behind them, things get a bit complicated. The third linebacker spot looks to be a battle between Connelly, Vigil, and everyone else in the linebacker room. Young players Surratt, Tuf Borland, Cameron Smith, and Troy Dye could also compete for the role and backup snaps.
Secondary – 75.5, 23rd (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
Peterson and second-year pro Cameron Dantzler will likely be the starters entering the 2021 season, with Alexander in the slot. Peterson isn’t the same player he once was, but he is better than what the Vikings had starting last year and is an immediate upgrade to the number one cornerback spot. Dantzler was a pleasant surprise last season and now slides in as the second cornerback in his second season in the league. Alexander returns to the Vikings after spending a season with the Bengals.
Unfortunately, Jeff Gladney got himself into some trouble. Losing Gladney is a big deal as he was the team’s other first-round draft choice in the 2020 draft. That was a big reason why the Vikings added Breeland to the squad, as Gladney may not play this season and potentially ever again. Breeland saw success with the Packers and then the Chiefs in recent years before making his way to Minnesota. He will likely be the fourth cornerback on the depth chart.
Smith is still one of the top ten or so safeties in the league. While the NFL has seen players rise to the top in recent seasons, Smith is still one of the best in the league. Opposite of him is a bit of a question mark. Woods is in Minnesota on a one-year deal and could receive some push from Bynum towards the middle of the season for the starting role. Behind those three, Myles Dorn and Josh Metellus will be competing for snaps.
The secondary is better than last year, but the future is still a big question mark. With questions with both the secondary and pass rush, things could get out of hand defensively for the Vikings this season.
Coach and Culture – 80.5, 16th (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
With Kubiak now as the offensive coordinator, things should mostly remain the same with a few differences sprinkled in. That means running the ball a lot and using a lot of 12 personnel. With most of the offense intact plus a better offensive line, the offense should be firing on all cylinders right from the start. With Cook, Cousins, Jefferson, and Thielen, all of the superstars return offensively and will try getting the Vikings back to the playoffs once again this season. Minnesota ranks 14th in offensive coach and culture.
Even with Zimmer, the defense struggled immensely last year. Hunter has said he is frustrated with the front office, and the Vikings don’t seem to have a plan at pass-rusher without him. The linebacking group and interior of the defensive line are great, but the secondary and pass rush, the two most important aspects of defense, are severely lacking. Even with Peterson, the secondary will struggle, and Peterson isn’t the player he once was. The Vikings rank 17th in defensive coach and culture.
Minnesota opens the season against the Bengals, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Browns, which will immediately test the limits of the secondary. The Vikings then play the Lions and Panthers before their bye week in Week 7. In Week 8, the Vikings return to action on Sunday night against the Cowboys before two difficult games against the Ravens and Chargers. A home game against the Packers awaits Minnesota in Week 11 before consecutive road games against the 49ers and Lions. The Vikings have an easy finish to the season against the Bears twice, the Steelers, Packers, and Rams.
According to Odds Shark, the Vikings have an over/under of 8.5 wins. Minnesota has a very difficult first ten weeks or so of the season that will test the team, specifically the secondary. While the Vikings could far outdo these predictions, the Vikings fall short of the playoffs in these projections and have many questions heading into the future.
Season Prediction: 7-10
*NOTE* Some teams higher in the rankings will have worse records than others. The rankings aren’t based upon the record but the overall talent of the roster.