Near the end of June, ESPN nominated the Minnesota Vikings as the league’s 19th-best roster heading into 2022.
While Minnesota has a lot to prove — they finished 7-9 in 2020 and 8-9 in 2021 — the team’s roster isn’t a serious question mark, nor is it unabashedly in the back half of the NFL.
On Wednesday, the same day as the Baker Mayfield to Carolina news surfaced, CBS Sports took a stab at NFL roster rankings, and the Vikings placed higher at #13, six spots higher than ESPN’s adjudication.
And 13th seems like a more fair judgment than #19, which would imply the Vikings are around a 7-10 team or so. The author of the roster rankings, Cody Benjamin, wrote about the Vikings at #13, “Mike Zimmer’s departure, meanwhile, might actually be freeing for the defense, which got a veteran facelift thanks to the additions of Za’Darius Smith and Jordan Hicks at linebacker. Smith should help take pressure off Danielle Hunter off the edge, and Hicks should improve the run “D” next to Eric Kendricks.”
It’s odd to blurt out loud that Minnesota could showcase a better defense without the defensive-minded head coach, Zimmer. But it’s the truth. The Vikings were a force on defense from 2014 to 2019, yet Zimmer’s calling card disappeared over the last two years. Free agents like Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander bolted after the 2019 season, and Zimmer’s precious defenses did not recover.
Zimmer and his general manager Rick Spielman were terminated after the 8-9 campaign of 2021, welcoming Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell to the organization. That twosome immediately addressed the defensive deficiency, signing free agents Za’Darius Smith (EDGE), Jordan Hicks (LB), Harrison Phillips (DT), and Chandon Sullivan (CB) while drafting Lewis Cine (FS), Andrew Booth (CB), and Brian Asamoah (LB) in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Plus, those new faces arrive in Minnesota with an offense mostly untouched by the new leadership. Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Irv Smith Jr., and Kirk Cousins still headline Minnesota’s offense, so Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell effectively said, “This looks fine.”
Soon, the Vikings actually have to play the games and live up to CBS Sports‘ 13th-best roster billing. The majority of Vikings fans are banking on the idea that because O’Connell is not Zimmer, the Vikings will be a better team and hence worthy of the postseason for the first time since 2019. But Zimmer guided the Vikings to the NFL’s 10th-best record from 2014 to 2021, and besting that is the requirement for O’Connell. It’s not a simple ordeal.
Hall of Famer coach Bill Parcells, a friend and mentor to Zimmer, was less enthusiastic in January about the Vikings when he said, “The guy (Zimmer) was well over .500 there. I might take the under on the next guy.”
All O’Connell has to do is prove Parcells wrong.
The Vikings have the 20th-best odds to win the Super Bowl in 2022 — a mark more closely aligned to ESPN’s roster assessment for Minnesota.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).