After going 8-9 this season, the Minnesota Vikings have finished with a losing record for the second year in a row. After missing the playoffs, the Vikings made drastic changes this week. They fired Mike Zimmer after eight years as the head coach. The Vikings also fired general manager Rick Spielman after 16 years with the franchise. As the Vikings head into the offseason, they have several critical upcoming decisions. They have to find a new head coach and general manager for the first time in almost a decade. Furthermore, there are several questions about the future of the roster.
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What Went Right
Despite several injuries to critical players, the Vikings averaged 25 points per game this season, ranking 14th in the NFL. While Kirk Cousins had some questionable moments, the veteran quarterback threw for over 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns for the season year in a row. Despite missing four games because of injuries, Dalvin Cook had his third straight season with over 1,100 rushing yards. He finished fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,159) despite missing the four games. On defense, the Viking had three players finish with over 100 tackles. Leading the way was Eric Kendricks, whose 143 total tackles ranked ninth in the NFL. While the Vikings failed to make the playoffs, several players had excellent individual seasons in 2021.
What Went Wrong
The Vikings got next to nothing out of their rookie class. First-round pick Christian Darrisaw was the only impactful rookie this season. Third-round pick Kellen Mond was active for one game this season, throwing only three passes in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, Chazz Surratt, another-third round pick, played zero defensive snaps as a rookie. Despite using five picks on defense, the Vikings got 35 total tackles out of their defensive rookies this season. For a unit that gave up 25.1 points per game, the ninth-most in the NFL, it’s inexcusable to get almost zero production from your rookie class. After losing Irv Smith to a preseason knee injury, the Vikings traded for Chris Herndon. However, he provided next to nothing for the Vikings.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Justin Jefferson
Just two years into his NFL career, Jefferson is a top-five wide receiver. Jefferson finished his rookie year with 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He took a step forward in 2021, totaling 1,616 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, both ranking top-six in the NFL. Jefferson and Cooper Kupp were the only players to finish with over 1,600 receiving yards this season. Furthermore, he finished second in the NFL with 169 targets. When Adam Thielen missed time this season because of an ankle injury, Jefferson picked up his play. In those four games, Jefferson averaged 6.5 catches on 10.8 targets for 72.8 receiving yards per game. As he heads into his third year in the NFL, Jefferson is in line to have a historic season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Christian Darrisaw
The Vikings were active during the 2021 NFL Draft. When on the clock with the 14th pick in the draft, the New York Jets and Vikings agreed to a trade. That deal gave the Vikings an extra pair of third-round picks, as they moved back to pick 23 in the first round. With the 23rd pick, the Vikings took Darrisaw, a player they reportedly considered taking with the 14th pick. Unfortunately, Darrisaw suffered a groin injury that required offseason core muscle surgery. After missing the first three games this season, Darrisaw would start 10 of the next 14 games. Darrisaw played well as a rookie despite a limited offseason, drawling only three penalties this season. The Vikings have found their new franchise left tackle.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Camryn Bynum
As mentioned earlier, the Vikings got very little production from their rookie class, especially on defense. However, Bynum showed some promise as a rookie. While he had only 28 total tackles this season, Bynum finished with 12 tackles, including eight solo tackles, in the Week 9 game against the Baltimore Ravens. Bynum played a career-high 98 percent of the snaps and recorded his only interception of the season in that game. While he played under 27 percent of the snaps in all but two games this season, Bynum showed promise as a rookie. With Xavier Woods scheduled to be a free agent this spring, Bynum could end up starting next season.
Biggest Surprise – K.J. Osborn
After failing to see a target as a rookie, Osborn had a productive second season, playing 68 percent of the offensive snaps. He finished third on the Vikings in several categories, including receiving yards (655) and receiving touchdowns (seven). More importantly, Osborn gave the Vikings a reliable third option behind Jefferson and Thielen. Furthermore, he stepped up his play to close out the season. Over the final six games of the year, Osborn scored five of his seven touchdowns. While the Vikings will get Smith back for next season, Osborn has added an added wrinkle to the offense.
Biggest Disappointment – Chris Herndon
When the Vikings lost Smith to a season-ending injury, they traded a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Jets for Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Unfortunately, Herndon was a non-factor this season. Since his impressive rookie, Herndon totaled 36 catches for 334 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns over the past three years. By comparison, he had 39 catches for 502 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns his rookie year. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Herndon caught only four of his seven targets this season. Furthermore, Herndon played only 30 more offensive snaps than Luke Stocker this season despite Stocker missing the first five weeks. With Smith returning next year and the development of Tyler Conklin, the Vikings don’t have any reason to re-sign Herndon this offseason.
One Burning Question
Is Kellen Mond the Future at Quarterback?
When the Vikings made the draft day trade with the Jets, they received two third-round picks. They used the first of those two picks to select Mond with the second pick in the third round. While Cousins is under contract for $45 million next season, he is entering the final year of his deal. Given his inconsistent play at times this season, the Vikings are unlikely to extend Cousins’ contract. Is Mond his replacement? That is still to be determined. Unfortunately, Mond was active for only one game this season. In the Week 16 matchup against the Packers, Mond played three snaps, completing two passes for five yards. If the Vikings believe Mond is the future face of the franchise, he must see the field at some point next season.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images