2020 NFL Offseason: Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings (Last Year: 10-6)

2020 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Tajae Sharpe, DE Anthony Zettel, NT Michael Pierce.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, OT Ezra Cleveland, CB Cameron Dantzler, DE D.J. Wonnum, DT James Lynch, LB Troy Dye. Vikings Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Stefon Diggs, G Josh Kline, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Trae Waynes, S Jayron Kearse.

2020 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
The free agency period was not very kind to the Vikings. They paid Kirk Cousins even more money than he deserves, and they were forced into trading Stefon Diggs because of salary restrictions. It seemed as though Minnesota would lose two starting linemen as well, with Josh Kline leaving and Riley Reiff seemingly on the verge of being traded.

Minnesota’s outlook is far brighter following the 2020 NFL Draft. Somehow, Justin Jefferson dropped to the Vikings at No. 22 overall. Jefferson was excellent for LSU last year, and he should be able to have a solid rookie campaign out of the slot. He’ll be part of an aerial assault that includes the reliable Adam Thielen, as well as a duo of talented tight ends, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. It’s a shame that the quartet doesn’t have a better quarterback throwing to them, but the Vikings have sold their soul to Cousins, who will continue to siphon a large portion of the team’s salary cap.

As for Reiff, he’s still on the Vikings. Probably better served as a right tackle or a guard, Reiff will once again be the team’s blind-side protector for another year. He’s just fine there, but he can be upgraded. The Vikings spent a second-round pick on tackle Ezra Cleveland to eventually take Reiff’s place as the bookend for improving right tackle Brian O’Neill.

The interior of Minnesota’s blocking unit isn’t much more promising. Center Garrett Bradbury has plenty of potential, but the same can’t be said of pedestrian guards Pat Elflein and Dakota Dozier. The latter will take over for Kline after struggling in several starts last year. Perhaps 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia can challenge for a starting job.

With Reiff returning, and the second-year Bradbury bound to improve, Dalvin Cook’s blocking should be strong once again this season. That won’t be the problem, but Cook’s durability certainly will be. Cook was enjoying a great 2019 campaign before yet another injury derailed his season in Week 15. This is not a new phenomenon for Cook, who has yet to play a full NFL season. The Vikings have a solid backup in Alexander Mattison to take over in the wake of another Cook injury or an extended holdout that seems very possible at the moment.

2020 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
While the Vikings did nothing in free agency on offense when it came to countering their departures, they were at least able to make a big move to help their defense. “Big” is the key word, as the Vikings obtained former Raven Michael Pierce, a monstrous 345-pound run plugger. Pierce is the answer to Linval Joseph leaving the team, as Joseph signed with the Chargers this offseason. Joseph was once an excellent player for the Vikings, but he had visibly declined last year because of his age (32 in October.) Pierce is four years younger, so he’ll be an upgrade. Minnesota, however, doesn’t have much next to Pierce, as Shamar Stephen will continue to log more mediocre snaps.

Joseph wasn’t the only Minnesota defensive lineman to exit the team. Long-time defensive end Everson Griffen is also gone, but all the Vikings could do to replace him was use a fourth-round pick on D.J. Wonnum. There is another, less-known player, however, as Ifeadi Odeigbo flashed some major potential last year, albeit in limited playing time. A former seventh-round pick, Odeigbo could be the long-term starter across from Danielle Hunter, who is one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL.

The Vikings will really be hoping for Odeigbo to become a viable replacement for Griffen because their secondary – particularly the cornerbacks – needs all the help it can get. Three corners departed in free agency – Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander – so the Vikings will be counting on some young players to step up. One of those young players is Jeff Gladney, who was chosen No. 31 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. He figures to start across from former first-rounder Mike Hughes, who did not play very well last year. Cornerback was a huge problem for the Vikings last year, and things appear to have gotten worse.

Luckily for the Vikings’ secondary, the team was able to retain stellar safety Anthony Harris, who was a free agent this offseason. The Vikings franchised Harris, so he’ll return for at least one more year to play next to perennial All-Pro Harrison Smith. Harris may leave next spring, but in the meantime, Minnesota will enjoy having arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL.

The linebacking corps didn’t endure any changes either. Eric Kendricks emerged as one of the better linebackers last year, and there’s no reason to think that should change. The Vikings will be hoping for better play out of Anthony Barr, who plays the run and blitzes well, but struggles in coverage.

2020 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
The Vikings have endured kicking issues for years. That has changed, as Dan Bailey was 27-of-29 in 2019, including 3-of-3 from 50-plus.

Punter Britton Colquitt did a good job last year, ranking sixth in net average.

The Vikings were a middling special-teams unit as far as returns were concerned last year.

Minnesota has a balanced schedule in 2020. For every game against the Colts, Seahawks, Cowboys and Saints, it gets to beat up on the Jaguars, Panthers, Falcons and Bears.

2020 Minnesota Vikings Rookies:
Go here for the Vikings Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2020 Minnesota Vikings Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2020 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: Things looked bleak for the Vikings after free agency, but between a very strong draft for them, and a disastrous series of events for the Packers, it seems as though Minnesota is the favorite to win the NFC North. However, the Vikings aren’t nearly as good as some of the other top teams in other divisions, so they likely won’t make a deep run into the postseason.

Projection: 9-7 (1st in NFC North)

2019 Projection: 7-9. 2019 Actual Result: 10-6.
2018 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 8-7-1.
2017 Projection: 8-8. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3.
2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 8-8.

NFL Draft Team Grade: A+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: The Vikings lost several talented players this offseason as a result of Kirk Cousins’ horrendous contract. They now have plenty of needs, ranging from the offensive line to the receiving corps. They must also find a new starting receiver, defensive end and defensive tackle. The silver lining is that the Vikings have a whopping 12 picks to make this happen.

2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I loved what the Vikings did in the first round. Justin Jefferson somehow fell to them even though one team in the teens would’ve considered him if a certain prospect wasn’t available. I’m sure the Vikings weren’t planning on having Jefferson on the board, but he fell into their lap as a replacement for Stefon Diggs. Minnesota then traded out of No. 25 to pick up an extra resource. It parked itself right in front of the Chiefs, who wanted Jeff Gladney, and selected the very same prospect to help repair their poor secondary.

The Vikings’ great drafting continued into Day 2. They snatched future left tackle Ezra Cleveland at No. 58 even though he was drawing some first-round consideration. Cameron Dantzler was also a steal in the third frame. He and Gladney will go a long way in improving a poor pass defense.

Minnesota had some clunkers on Saturday, including Harrison Hand and K.J. Osborn, so things weren’t perfect for them. However, there were also some excellet third-day choices mixed in, such as James Lynch, Troy Dye and Kenny Willekes.

I loved the Vikings’ draft. They obtained some very promising prospects, filled needs and acquired assets by trading. I think they deserve a rare A+.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

22. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU – A Grade
The need here is obvious, as the Vikings traded away Stefon Diggs, so they needed to replace him. Justin Jefferson is not someone who should’ve been available to them. The Eagles should have picked him, and Denver would have considered him at No. 15 had Jerry Jeudy not been available. The Vikings wanted K’Lavon Chaisson and A.J. Terrell, but they were still able to land a talented player who fills a big need at No. 22 overall.

31. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU – A Grade
The Vikings just broke the Chiefs’ heart. They did very well to move down and park themselves ahead of Kansas City to pick the player the Chiefs wanted. The Vikings are getting a talented player who would’ve gone higher if it wasn’t for some off-the-field and injury issues. This pick seems like a steal, as Minnesota is filling a big need and getting a skilled player.

58. Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State – A Grade
There was some speculation that the Vikings would pick Ezra Cleveland at No. 25, so this is a steal as far as that is concerned. Cleveland is a great fit for the Vikings’ blocking scheme, and he could displace Riley Reiff as early as this year. Reiff is very expensive, and the Vikings don’t have much money, so they needed to get cheaper at left tackle. Cleveland has nice upside and could make things much easier financially for the Vikings.

89. Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State – A- Grade
Caeron Dantzler has great size to him (6-2, 195) who played very well at times against elite competition. He was inconsistent as well, but I imagine Mike Zimmer saw the tools and was intrigued by how he could develop Dantzler. It could be argued that Dantzler could’ve been chosen 20 or so picks earlier, so this is good value.

117. D.J. Wonnum, DE, South Carolina – C+ Grade
I had D.J. Wonnum in the sixth round, so this is a bit of a reach. It’s not an egregious one, however, and the Vikings are at least filling a need with Everson Griffen gone. Wonnum has nice athleticism and potential, but he’s raw.

130. James Lynch, DT, Baylor – A+ Grade
I had James Lynch slotted to the Vikings in the third round. In fact, I mocked Lynch into the second round at some point. I think the Vikings liked Lynch enough to take him in the third frame, so this is a steal. Lynch is talented and could end up being a nice starter next to Michael Pierce.

132. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon – A Grade
The Vikings continue to make excellent picks in Round 4. Troy Dye is an athletic linebacker who easily could’ve been chosen in the third frame. Minnesota needed someone like Dye to help in coverage, so he should be a nice contributor.

169. Harrison Hand, CB, Temple – D- Grade
I never placed Harrison Hand into any mock draft I ever published. He’s a physical corner, but is too slow for the NFL. I don’t see him making the 53-man roster.

176. K.J. Osborn, WR, Miami – D Grade
K.J. Osborn isn’t someone I ever had in my mock draft. His athletic ability is a huge question mark, so despite some decent route-running ability, he may have to just stick on special teams.

203. Blake Brandel, G, Oregon State – C- Grade
I didn’t have Blake Brandel as a draftable prospect, but we’re in the middle of Round 6, so this isn’t the worst pick. I’m all for helping Kirk Cousins because he needs all the aid he can get.

205. Josh Metellus, S, Michigan – B Grade
It made sense for the Vikings to add some insurance for Anthony Harris. Josh Metellus will get torched in coverage, but he’s a tough tackler who plays the run well. He projects to be a solid backup.

225. Kenney Willekes, DE, Michigan State – A+ Grade
Kenny Willekes is yet another player I’m looking forward to seeing featured on Why the Slide. I imagine some injuries may have had a factor in it, but Willekes should’ve been chosen in the third round. This pick has tons of upside, so I love it.

244. Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa – C Grade
Nate Stanley is a weak-armed quarterback with poor accuracy. It’s difficult to imagine him sticking around in the NFL. Perhaps he’ll be a coach in the near future.

249. Brian Cole, LB/S, Mississippi State – B Grade
Brian Cole is a tweener who struggles in coverage, but he at least does one thing well, which is play well in run support. He might have a spot on some team’s roster in the NFL.

253. Kyle Hinton, G, Washburn – C+ Grade
Kyle Hinton has nice technique, but he’s a major project because he’s not nearly strong enough to be in the NFL. I don’t think he’ll make the cut, but I don’t blame the Vikings for taking a chance on him.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Vikings were able to reach the playoffs with Kirk Cousins and pull an upset in New Orleans, but they were outclassed in San Francisco. A couple of turnovers made the margin worse than it should’ve been, but the big take-away was that Minnesota’s offensive line must be improved if the team wants to take a deeper trip into the playoffs.

Offseason Moves:
  • Vikings sign DE Anthony Zettel
  • Vikings sign WR Tajae Sharpe
  • Vikings sign NT Michael Pierce
  • Bills acquire WR Stefon Diggs from Vikings

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Guards: We saw the Vikings fail to block the 49ers whatsoever in their playoff loss. The weakest part of the offensive line is in the interior, where both guards really struggled.

    2. Cornerback: Minnesota’s biggest defensive need is in the secondary. The team struggled against the pass last year, so better cornerback play is sorely needed.

    3. Linebacker: Aside from Eric Kendricks, the Vikings don’t have any linebackers who can cover very well in space. Anthony Barr is often abused in this regard, though he happens to be solid in run support.

    4. Two Defensive Tackles: The Vikings need a better defensive tackle to start next to Linval Joseph, who doesn’t have many more dominant years remaining. (Update: Joseph has been cut.) Signed Michael Pierce

    5. Young Quarterback: Kirk Cousins doesn’t appear to be the long-term answer, so the Vikings should find a young quarterback to groom behind him.

    6. Two Wide Receivers: The Vikings have two stellar receivers, but they need a better third option than Olabisi Johnson. (Update: Stefon Diggs was traded.) Signed Tajae Sharpe

    7. Safety: Re-signing the talented Anthony Harris is imperative. Franchised Anthony Harris

    8. Kicker: Dan Bailey’s contract is set to expire. Re-signed Dan Bailey

    9. Fullback: C.J. Ham is also an impending free agent. Re-signed C.J. Ham

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2020 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Michael Pierce, NT, Ravens. Age: 27.
      Signed with Vikings (3 years, $27 million)

      Michael Pierce is a massive run plugger. He’s coming off a bit of a down year because he was dealing with an ankle injury. He should bounce back with a strong 2020 campaign.

    2. Anthony Zettel, DE/DT, 49ers. Age: 28. — Signed with Vikings
    3. Tajae Sharpe, WR, Titans. Age: 26. — Signed with Vikings (1 year)

    Minnesota Vikings Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Anthony Harris, S, Vikings. Age: 28.
      Franchised by Vikings

      Anthony Harris has emerged to be one of the best safeties in the NFL. He’ll turn 29 in October, but he should still perform on a high level for the next four or so years.

    2. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Vikings. Age: 30.
      Signed with Colts (1 year)

      Xavier Rhodes was one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL several years ago, but things changed drastically in 2019. Rhodes was burned to a crisp by receivers on a weekly basis, as he quickly became of the worst starting corners in the league. Rhodes was only 29, so it’s possible that he was dealing with some sort of undisclosed injury. He could be a nice, buy-low option this offseason.

    3. Everson Griffen, DE, Vikings. Age: 32.
      Everson Griffen missed a chunk of the 2018 season with mental health issues. He appears to have put that behind him – he played 15 games in 2019 – but something like that could always resurface. Also, Griffen turns 33 during the 2020 campaign. He had eight sacks last year, but he could regress in the near future.

    4. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Vikings. Age: 26.
      Minnesota’s secondary struggled in 2019, but don’t look at Mackensie Alexander, who did well in the slot once again.

    5. Trae Waynes, CB, Vikings. Age: 28.
      Signed with Bengals

      Trae Waynes has never lived up to his first-round billing, but he’s been a solid, but unspectacular cornerback over the years. Time is running out for him to become a great starter.

    6. Linval Joseph, DT, Vikings. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years, $17 million)

      One of the casualties of the Kirk Cousins contract, Linval Joseph had been a dominant interior presence for the Vikings since 2014. Joseph didn’t play on a Pro Bowl level last year, but he was still a very effective player. Joseph turns 32 in October, so a decline is coming, but he should still be able to perform very well for the next year or two.

    7. Dan Bailey, K, Vikings. Age: 32.
      Re-signed with Vikings

      Dan Bailey drilled 27-of-29 attempts in 2019, including 3-of-3 from 50-plus. However, he missed four extra points.

    8. C.J. Ham, FB, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Vikings (4 years, $12.25 million)

      C.J. Ham can pass protect rather well, and he can also catch passes out of the backfield.

    9. Josh Kline, G, Vikings. Age: 30.
      Josh Kline is a slightly below-par starting guard, but was cut because of financial implications.

    10. Jayron Kearse, S, Vikings. Age: 26. — Signed with Lions (1 year)
    11. Eric Wilson (RFA), OLB, Vikings. Age: 25.
    12. Dakota Dozier, G, Vikings. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Vikings
    13. Kentrell Brothers, LB/ST, Vikings. Age: 27.
    14. Rashod Hill, OT, Vikings. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Vikings
    15. Brett Jones, C, Vikings. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Vikings
    16. Stephen Weatherly, DE, Vikings. Age: 26. — Signed with Panthers (2 years, $12 million)
    17. Marcus Sherels, CB/KR, Vikings. Age: 32.
    18. David Morgan, TE, Vikings. Age: 27.
    19. Sean Mannion, QB, Vikings. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Vikings

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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