The Vikings have added and lost some talent in the offseason. Adofo-Mensah tried his best to have a competitive Vikings team in 2022. But which position group is the best and which one is the worst? The level of the starters, depth, availability and some projections played into the rankings.
11. Tight End
The Vikings’ tight end room leaves a lot to be desired. The starter, Irv Smith, missed the entire 2021 season on the injured reserve. Before that season, he was the backup for Kyle Rudolph. A talented player, he’s still unproven as a starter at this point.
The backups are Ben Ellefson, who worked in Minnesota as the blocking specialist, Johnny Mundt, who had the same role in Los Angeles for the Rams, rookie Nick Muse and Zach Davidson, a 2021 rookie. There are still a few potential upgrades available, and the Vikings should consider signing one of them.
10. Interior Offensive Line
The interior offensive line is annually a Vikings’ weakness. Bradbury as the center has been a disaster in pass protection, and the guards have been suspect. Ezra Cleveland enters his third year and looks like an average guard.
The right guard spot, however, is a different story. Oli Udoh didn’t secure a long-term starting spot. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed veterans Chris Reed and Jesse Davis in free agency and drafted LSU guard Ed Ingram in the second round. The goal is for one of the three contenders to run away with the starting spot and be, just like Cleveland, average.
The depth is good with the two losers of the camp competition. Wyatt Davis, a talented second-year third-rounder i,s also still on the team.
Atrocious cornerback play in recent years led to bad overall defensive units. Third-year player Cameron Dantzler, veteran Patrick Peterson, and rookie Andrew Booth compete for the two starting jobs on the outside. Peterson is an average veteran at this point in his career. He struggles in man coverage. Dantzler has shown flashes of excellence but mixed with bad plays. Booth is talented but missed the spring workouts due to an injury.
The slot cornerback duties should be handled by former Packer and free agency signing Chandon Sullivan. It would be highly surprising if the unit is better than average in 2022, and even that’s a stretch.
8. Interior Defensive Line
Michael Pierce was cut and replaced by Harrison Phillips. Dalvin Tomlinson and Armon Watts remain on the team. All three are good at stopping the run, which is something the Vikings needed after struggling at containing the opposing running game in 2021.
Backups like Jaylen Twyman, James Lynch, and Esezi Otomewo have to show their worth, especially the position as the interior pass rush specialist is up for grabs. Ndamukong Suh is rumored to be a possible addition to the roster and could provide that pass rush. The defensive line has solid and proven starters combined with promising young players.
7. Edge Rusher
From a talent perspective, this group should be at or near the top. However, both starters Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter combined for eight games last year. In addition to that, Hunter missed the full 2020 season with a neck injury. If they are healthy, they build an elite duo.
The depth behind them is questionable. D.J. Wonnum struggled, Patrick Jones couldn’t get on the field much in his rookie year, and Janarius Robinson was injured. The Vikings have to make sure that the two stars are healthy.
Kirk Cousins is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. However, even though he’s a good player, he has some flaws. Playing outside of the structure and lacking mobility are just two of them. He is capable of playing at an MVP level, especially in a QB-friendly system, which the new coach hopefully implements.
However, the backups are a big question mark. Sean Mannion has never shown NFL quality, while Kellen Mond looks to be a project. Cousins’ durability puts the unit ahead of the more talented edge-rushing group.
5. Offensive Tackle
In other years in recent history, this position was a huge problem for the Vikings. 2018 second-rounder Brian O’Neill and 2021 first-rounder Christian Darrisaw fixed that problem. While O’Neill is a great pass protector, Darrisaw is a people mover in the running game.
O’Neill went to the Pro Bowl last season, and Darrisaw may reach that level soon. Failed guard Oli Udoh is a better tackle and should be a good swing tackle backup. Vederian Lowe, a rookie, can become the long-term backup.
The Vikings lost Anthony Barr in the offseason. He was a fixture in the defense since his draft day in 2014. However, Adofo-Mensah managed to build a wonderful linebacker group. Eric Kendricks is still one of the best in the business, especially in pass coverage. He’s phenomenal.
Jordan Hicks has to replace Barr. He’s good at the line of scrimmage, as he provides run defense and pass rush. Brian Asamoah is a great compliment to the group with his speed and rangy playing style.
3. Running Back
Dalvin Cook is an elite back. Even in a ‘down-year,’ he was among the most productive runners in the NFL. His question mark is durability, and the Vikings miss him whenever he’s not playing. Alexander Mattison does his best to replace him and is one of the better backups.
Special team ace Kene Nwangwu and rookie Ty Chandler both have enormous speed. Offensive mind Kevin O’Connell has a chance to use it in his new offense. C.J. Ham should not be forgotten, as he’s the engine of the running game and a weapon in the passing game.
The best Vikings player over the last decade was Harrison Smith. He’s still an elite safety. He had to take care of a lot of blown coverages in the last couple of seasons. He might have lost a step but is the smartest person on the football field.
His new running mate is Lewis Cine. He’s a rookie but played in the SEC for the national champion, Georgia. Elite speed and relentless tackling are his biggest strengths. He has the talent to become a great player in his own rights but has to beat out Camryn Bynum first. Bynum played great in 2021 when he suddenly had to replace Smith and has shown to be an amazing backup.
1. Wide Receiver
The Vikings wideouts are among the best in the business. Jefferson led the league in receiving yards over the last couple of seasons. Cousins has a great connection with him but also with Adam Thielen. The veteran is Cousins’ preferred red zone target, which shows their trust in each other. K.J. Osborn surprisingly emerged as the third receiver last season. He recorded 655 yards and seven touchdowns. One of them was the game-winner against the Carolina Panthers in overtime.
The Vikings have a multitude of candidates for the WR4 job — Albert Wilson, a yards-after-catch magician; Jalen Nailor, a rookie with the nickname Speedy; Olabisi Johnson, who was the third receiver on the team in 2019; and the frontrunner, Ihmir Smith-Marsette. He had his breakout game in Week 18 against the Bears with over 100 yards and a touchdown. It’s the best unit of the Vikings roster, and new coach O’Connell has to take advantage of it. A dangerous aerial attack has to be the goal of the 2022 season.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt