Much like previous seasons, the 2020 season for the Minnesota Vikings could have gone several ways. However, a roster with talent at nearly every position and many young and new faces left many wondering just what the 2020 season would become. Unfortunately, it was not the answer Vikings fans wanted. After a 10-6 and Divisional Round loss in 2019, 2020 was a big step in the wrong direction. The Vikings’ team vision fell off a cliff due to a significant injury bug and a lack of experience at several key positions.
Coming into the season, with the departure of former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, the Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak to take the reins of the offense. Kubiak did not disappoint and helped bolster the Vikings into an offensive powerhouse. After their 1-5 start and a bye week, the Vikings started to turn things around after a 28-22 victory over the Green Bay Packers, kicking off a three-game win streak. However, the Minnesota began getting into very close games. Eventually the Chicago Bears dashed the Vikings’ playoff chances. They finished the season 7-9, their worst record since Mike Zimmer took over in 2014.
What Went Right
The best thing that went right this past season for the Vikings was their offensive skill players. Kirk Cousins had a decent season throwing for 4,265 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Running back Dalvin Cook had a monster season totaling 1,918 yards from scrimmage and 17 total touchdowns. Cook found himself second in the league in yards from scrimmage and third in total touchdowns.
At the wideout position, Justin Jefferson had himself quite the rookie season, totaling 1,400 receiving yards. After breaking Randy Moss‘ Vikings franchise rookie receiving yard record, he went on to break the NFL rookie receiving yard record after a 113-yard Week 17 performance. Jefferson eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times in 2020 and also hauled in seven touchdown catches. Despite Jefferson getting a lot of the attention, veteran Adam Thielen also had a great season with 925 yards, and 14 touchdown catches.
While 2020 may have been a tough season, the Vikings can have some hope for the future behind a young group of players. Jefferson, of course, is a bright spot. Still, other first or second-year players in Irv Smith Jr., Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, and potentially D.J. Wonnum, who also showed promise. Tight end Tyler Conklin, a third-year player, shined late in the season. More on him later. However, the Vikings thrust Gladney and Dantzler into starting roles this season due to injury and they had growing pains. Nonetheless, both players improved as the season progressed, Dantzler improved more in coverage. Still, Gladney proved to be a more all-around corner. Wonnum struggled somewhat, putting up just three sacks, but he has the potential to grow this offseason.
What Went Wrong
“This is a bad defense,” head coach Mike Zimmer said, via Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com. “Worst one I’ve ever had.” If there was a quote to sum up the Vikings’ season defensively, their coach is spot on. This Vikings defense was quite awful for Zimmer’s standards, who had not had a team outside 10th in points per game allowed since 2014. In 2020, they allowed the 29th most points per game, ranked 25th in passing yards, 27th in rushing yards, 30th in pass yards per play, and 23rd in rush yards per play. What in the world happened? First of all, they got the injury bug. Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Mike Hughes, and Ben Gedeon all missed significant playing time. Additionally, free agent signee Michael Pierce opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Todd Davis missed time as well.
Up front, the loss of Hunter and Pierce was astronomical. Before the trade deadline, the Vikings also decided to part ways with edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Ngakoue led the Vikings with five sacks, and the Vikings totaled just 23 sacks on the season, good for 28th in the league. Ifeadi Odenigbo totaled 3.5 with Eric Wilson and Wonnum totaling three apiece. Pass rusher is a massive need for this team, even with Hunter returning next season.
While the defense certainly was not great, the special teams this year was even worse. The Vikings signed former Dallas Cowboys ace Dan Bailey to their squad, hoping to bring some veteran leadership. However, about halfway through the season Bailey lost his touch and got inside his head, leading to the second-worst field goal percentage among qualified kickers. Punter Britton Colquitt certainly had his share of struggles, and the punt return unit struggled, averaging just 4.3 yards per return. This compared to opponents averaging 9.3 yards per return.
MVP – Dalvin Cook
Cook was the heart and soul of the Vikings offense this past season and reminded all of us what an elite running back looks like. The Pro Bowl back tore apart opposing defenses totaling 1,557 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on the season, not to mention his 361 yards through the air averaging 8.2 yards per reception. Cook did all this while also rushing for 91 first downs and averaging a career-high five yards per carry. This is all despite missing two games this season. He earned his second Pro Bowl nod as well as a second-team all-pro nod from Pro Football Focus.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Justin Jefferson
The fact that Jefferson was the fifth receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft is a bit of a head-scratcher after this season. The former LSU Tiger isn’t just the Vikings Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he is a front runner for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jefferson broke Anquan Boldin‘s 17-year old rookie receiving yard record totaling 1,400 yards and caught seven touchdown passes. Along with Cook, Jefferson was one of the few bright spots on the 2020 Vikings roster, and it looks like he has quite the career ahead of him in the Twin Cities.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jeff Gladney
Before you quickly place the bust label on Gladney, think about it. Considering the Vikings drafted him in the second round, you can make an argument. However, Gladney was put in a challenging situation on a defense ravaged by injuries to the talent they had. The rookie corner was one of the few defenders that appeared in all 16 regular-season games. He totaled 81 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three passes defended, and one forced fumble. Not staggering coverage numbers, but Gladney showed enough flashes this season and made plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Biggest Surprise – Tyler Conklin
Of all the players who could have had a breakout season, Conklin likely was not on anyone’s radar. Buried behind Kyle Rudolph and Smith Jr., Conklin did not get much attention early in the year. However, with injuries to both Rudolph and Smith late in the year, Conklin had his moment to shine. In the final four weeks of the season, the three-year veteran put up 168 receiving yards, averaged 10.2 yards per reception, and caught his first career touchdown pass. Conklin stepped up in a big way and has caused some to believe that the Vikings could move on from Rudolph this offseason.
Biggest Disappointment – Dan Bailey
One can say all they want about the defense, it’s hard to narrow it down to one player. However, Bailey (who started the season strong) hit a rough patch around midseason. The veteran could not get his head straight and had a complete meltdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bailey missed all four of his field goal attempts in that game. The former Dallas Cowboys kicker had the second-lowest field goal percentage among the 33 qualified kickers at 68.2 percent and was unreliable in the second half of the season.
One Burning Question
Where do the Vikings stand on Kirk Cousins?
The Vikings are not going to have a top-10 pick this year, but you have to wonder if they take a quarterback. Would they consider trading up or finding a later-round guy to develop behind Cousins? Unfortunately, all anyone can do is speculate at this point. Cousins is a “ball control, manipulate the defense” kind of quarterback. His playing style is a direct cause of the Vikings’ moderate success in recent seasons. However, Cousins misses reads more often than one would like and makes a few costly mistakes here and there. The biggest concern is whether he will be worth the $45 million cap hit in 2022.