Which Off-season Addition will Propel the Vikings to the Playoffs?
By: Noey Melendez (Twitter: @noeymelendez)
The 2020 season is a wrap for the Minnesota Vikings. A roller coaster year led by Mike Zimmer, the purple people eaters finished an underwhelming 7-9.
Minnesota got off to a horrid 1-5 start, fueled by the horrible defense which allowed 32 points per game in that stretch. They were able to storm back to a .500 team through the emergence of star rookie Justin Jefferson, and the continued success and improvement of Dalvin Cook.
It is no question that the Vikings have an elite offense that is capable of competing at the highest level, but the team’s defensive side was riddled with injuries and inexperience. Their best pass rushers Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce missed the entire season, leaving them without any explosion on the line all year. Yannick Ngakoue led the Vikings in sacks with 5.0, and only played 5 games with the team before being traded to the Baltimore Ravens…….that says a lot.
On the outside, rookie cornerbacks Cameron Danztler and Jeff Gladney showed a lot of good stuff throughout the teams campaign, but clearly lacked the experience and field knowledge to be a threat to the top receivers they matched up against.
Anthony Barr who is an absolute force and unique linebacker to Zimmer’s defense was unavailable due to a torn pectoral muscle, we did see Eric Wilson step up and he did an incredible job on the outside of the line backing core. Racking up 122 tackles and three sacks.
Harrison Smith performed well as expected and we saw a different Anthony Harris in 2020 than we did in 2019. In 2019 he was a ball hawk free safety who led the league with six interceptions. He took on a different role this year and had to be more responsible due to the cornerback issue and registered 104 tackles, and not one single pick.
So of course it is not fair to place the entire blame on the coaching staff, they were clearly limited.
We saw a lot of upside to this team, which is now both youthful and promising, and still has veteran leaders in Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith.
2021 can be a big turnaround year if they make good choices on both sides of the ball and draft smart.
Let’s talk about some of those offseason moves they should pursue.
Let’s start with an immediate need. Experience and leadership at the cornerback position. I would love to say the Vikings should go after Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson, but I just cannot foresee that with Sherman most likely costing a little too much than the team can give, and Peterson stating he would like to re-sign with Arizona.
So the team should take a look at Dre Kirkpatrick, the 31 year old Alabama product is an above average defensive back, with plenty of high level experience. The Vikings may already have their two starting corners of the future, but Dantzler and Gladney can learn a lot from a player of his caliber. Dre did indeed struggle in coverage situations but he would not be coming to Minnesota to be a pro bowl corner and the team would understand that. Kirkpatrick could be a great veteran sprinkled into a young core or corner backs.
It is widely regarded right now that Anthony Harris will not be returning, and will test free agency. If that is the case, let’s take a peek at Justin Simmons. The Denver Broncos safety is just 27 years old and is coming off of three straight seasons with 90 plus tackles. An excellent field general with solid coverage attributes and toughness, Simmons also has 16 interceptions, and is only improving in that space every single year, he stole a career high five balls from quarterbacks this year. He can also form into an excellent tackling duo with Harry the hitman, and eventually take over as the lead safety once Smith decides to hang it up. If the Vikings are not pulling the trigger and let Harris go, they’ll have to search the draft for a free safety, and the last thing this team needs right now is development projects. These guys can and are ready to compete. They need this piece and Simmons brings it.
Bud Dupree & Trey Hendrickson
We may be swinging for the fences here in signing both Bud Dupree and Trey Hendrickson, but the vikings must be aggressive at this point. Danielle Hunter is a fierce pass rusher coming off an injury and there are a lot of questions up in the air right now at what type of level he will compete at next year. Rushing the passer was another clear weakness for Minnesota this year as they combined for only 23 sacks as an entire unit. Hendrickson and Dupree combined for 21.5 themselves…both are going to be testing the free agent market this offseason so it is realistic, but getting either one of these bulldozers to line up alongside Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce….could be a scary sight for the opposing offenses in 2021.
The Vikings could always use an upgrade on the offensive line, this acquisition may come with a hefty price tag, but Taylor Moton could bring some power to protect Kirk Cousins and get Cook cruising down the field. The 26 year old Moton is becoming one of the top tackles in the league, and has nothing set in stone or made a statement on resigning with Carolina. Minnesota could also move Brian O’neill to left tackle, (where he played at Pitt) and place Moton at right tackle beefing up protection for a needy Kirk Cousins.
The Jaguars recently released McLaughlin in December. This could be a cheap easy sign for Minnesota. He showed glimpses of excellence at only age 24 and can develop into the long time kicker for the Vikings. In his career he’s hit 22-of-28 career attempts and only missed one PAT. Could be a slight upgrade from Dan Bailey.
If the Minnesota Vikings play this offseason smart and gutsy. We can most likely see them back at the top of the NFC north next year. Fix the defense, get healthy, bring in some veteran help on both sides of the ball and Zimmer and his squad should be back to winning 27-10 type games. The offense is in great shape, led by Dalvin Cook. Kirk Cousins should perform above average again with elite targets in Adam Theilen and Justin Jefferson, and now the emerging super athletic tight end. Irv Smith JR. We may see the team part ways with Kyle Rudolph but should feel comfortable putting the ball in Smith’s hands from here on out.
My advice to the Minnesota front office…… be active, take calculated risks, draft well, and beef up your defensive backs with some experience. I expect to see this team back in the playoffs come 2022.