Close to the start of the 2022 season, it’s time for some bold predictions. ESPN offered one about every team in the league, and the Vikings received an exciting one.
After a long offseason, real and completive football is just around the corner. The Vikings made a lot of changes in the offseason. At first, head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman were both released from their duties.
The organization replaced them with two young up-and-coming football minds. The general manager is former Wall Street trader Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. He worked in the NFL for almost a decade before he got his first GM position. His last stint was in Cleveland, working under GM Andrew Berry. Before that, he was in San Francisco in various positions in the organization.
Adofo-Mensah was part of the committee that decided on the future of the head coaching position. After many interviews, including star coach Jim Harbaugh, the committee hired former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell. He’s coming fresh from a Super Bowl victory and helped the Rams to field one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
With a new head coach usually come new assistant coaches and coordinators as well. Because O’Connell is an offensive mind, the position of the defensive coordinator was an important one to fill. The franchise hired Ed Donatell for that role. He was a disciple of Vic Fangio, a defensive genius. The offensive coordinator is Wes Phillips, who worked with O’Connell for years in Washington and Los Angeles.
There are a lot of new faces in the coaching room and the locker room — especially on the defensive side, the team has a handful of new starters. Harrison Phillips, Za’Darius Smith, and Jordan Hicks were the top free agent signings. In addition to that, the defensive end spot will be obtained by a mix of Jonathan Bullard, James Lynch, and Ross Blacklock. Camryn Bynum will play safety next to Harrison Smith. Cameron Dantzler is starting as a cornerback.
The offense is almost the same as last year, but ESPN could imagine big things coming.
The Vikings will finish with the top scoring offense.
Matt Bowen, ESPN
In 2021, the Vikings ranked 14th in points scored with 425. The Dallas Cowboys led the league with 530. The difference per game was 6.2 points.
1998 was the last time the Vikings led the league in scoring. A rookie Randy Moss came into the league as the most dominant rookie maybe ever. The purple team scored 556 points in one fewer game than the 2021 Cowboys. That number is still 6th all-time. The only other time in franchise history was in 1969, when the Vikings scored 379 points in 14 games.
“In a new offense under O’Connell, plus an explosive group at the skill spots, Minnesota is going to score points this season. A lot of them,” Matt Bowen wrote. “With Jefferson bolstering the passing game and running back Dalvin Cook’s three-down ability, the table is set for Cousins to have his most productive year as a pro.”
Bowen started with the essential addition, Kevin O’Connell. The new head coach has the task of unlocking some things in the offense. While the Kubiak scheme was built around heavy usage of two tight ends, O’Connell is expected to use many more sets with 11-personnel. That means one running back, one tight end, and three wideouts. The usage of more 11-personnel allows the Vikings to have their top five playmakers on the field at the same time.
Not just the scheme is a little different, but also the play calling. Granted, it’s unclear if O’Connell is actually good at calling plays, as Sean McVay has done that part of the job in Los Angeles. However, Klint Kubiak was not good at it, and if O’Connell can be a slight upgrade, the offense will be improved.
He’s definitely right about the receivers. Jefferson, Thielen, and Osborn form an elite trio of wide receivers. In addition, Dalvin Cook will get some attention in the backfield, and Irv Smith is back as a vertical threat from the tight end position. The offense certainly has the potential to be one of the best in the league.
One concern in recent years was the offensive line. The Vikings have two good tackles, especially if Darrisaw takes the expected leap. The interior line, however, is still a big unknown. Center Garrett Bradbury struggles in camp. Left guard Ezra Cleveland was an average guard last season but struggled in pass protection. GM Adofo-Mensah drafted Ed Ingram in the second round to play right guard. He has shown a lot of promise but is still a rookie, and therefore, mental errors are bound to happen occasionally.
The Vikings’ offense could, in theory, be the top-scoring offense, but it’s unlikely. More likely is a top 10 position. However, ESPN called it a ‘bold prediction’ for a reason, and it’s not impossible.
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