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2023 Minnesota Vikings Offseason Preview

Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The first year of the Kevin O’Connell era was, on its surface, a smashing success. Minnesota went 13-4, won the NFC North for the first time since 2017, and finished as a top-10 offense by points and yards. They easily made the playoffs, but their flaws were quickly exposed by the middling New York Giants. Daniel Jones threw for over 301 yards and rushed for another 78. The G-Men put up 31 points and won by seven. Though it could be spun as a shocking upset, an almost perfectly average team was hidden under the Vikings’ pristine record. They had a -3 point differential but boosted their record with 12 wins and no losses in one-score games. Though the Vikings showed promise in 2022, they weren’t the juggernaut their regular season record suggested.

Key Offensive Stats

  • Points per game: 24.9 (8th)
  • EPA per play: 0 (17th)
  • Dropback EPA per play: 0.07 (10th)
  • Passing yards per game: 263.8 (6th)
  • Rush EPA per play: -0.13 (29th)
  • Rush yards per game: 97.7 (27th)

Under O’Connell, Cousins managed to throw for more yards than he did in 2021, but he wasn’t a changed man. His EPA per play, touchdown rate, yards per attempt, and completion percent over expected all fell to varying degrees. The biggest difference for the offense was O’Connell’s pass-first nature. The team posted a positive pass rate over expected for the first time since 2018. It was also their highest PROE with Cousins in purple and gold. The extra volume combined with another step toward greatness pushed Justin Jefferson to 128 catches for 1,809 yards. Both marks led the league. With Adam Thielen‘s production falling off a cliff and Irv Smith hurt, the Vikings acquired T.J. Hockenson for a second-round pick during the season. Hockenson immediately slotted into a high-volume role, averaging 52 yards per game in Minnesota. Dalvin Cook had a quiet year for his standards, rushing for 1,173 yards and eight scores.

Key Defensive Stats

  • Points per game: 25.1 (28th)
  • EPA per play: 0.01 (16th)
  • Dropback EPA per play: 0.05 (21st)
  • Passing yards per game: 265.6 (31st)
  • Rush EPA per play: -0.08 (14th)
  • Rush yards per game: 123.1 (20th)

After adding Za’Darius Smith in the offseason, the Vikings were set to turn things around on defense. Instead, they simply had a few high-end players surrounded by holes. Smith and Danielle Hunter both reached double-digit sacks, but no other Vikings even reached five. When the pass-rush didn’t get home, Minnesota was in trouble. Patrick Peterson was still elite, totaling five interceptions and 15 pass defenses. Cameron Dantzler ranked slightly above average in coverage grade, per Pro Football Focus. Then, both starting inside linebackers, slot corner Chandon Sullivan, and free safety Camryn Bynum were all graded somewhere between well below average and near the bottom of the league in coverage grade at their respective positions.

2023 Offseason

Notes

Cap Space

$-15.8 million

Draft Picks (Top-150)

23rd, 87th, and 119th

Notable Free Agents

CB Patrick Peterson, C Garrett Bradbury, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Chandon Sullivan, and K Greg Joseph

Cut Candidates

Adam Thielen ($6.4 million in savings), EDGE Za’Darius Smith ($17 million), Dalvin Cook ($7.9 million), and S Harrison Smith ($7.4 million)

The Vikings already got a head start on making cap space by cutting linebacker Eric Kendricks. They are still many millions over the cap for 2023, so Kendricks won’t be the only player cut to save money.

Team Needs

Cornerback

Peterson and Sullivan are both free agents. Peterson started all 17 games and Sullivan was listed as a starter 10 times. The Vikings will make an effort to bring Peterson back, but they need an upgrade over Sullivan.

Wide Receiver

Thielen is a strong bet to be cut and K.J. Osborn is best suited as a third receiver. Jefferson has otherworldly talent and the Vikings can make the most of that by drafting someone else defenses have to pay attention to.

Linebacker

The move to cut Kendricks made sense. He had taken a step back in recent years and the Vikings were pressed for cap space. However, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah now has the tall task of replacing a cornerstone of the defense.

Coaching Changes

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was likely fated to be fired after the regular season, but Danny Dimes picking them apart on the national stage put the final nail in his coffin. He was fired shortly after the season ended and replaced by Brian Flores. The former Miami Dolphins head coach spent 2022 with the Steelers as their linebackers coach. He also interviewed for head coaching jobs in the offseason but was unable to land any of them. Flores’s defenses in Miami were never the issue and his teams posted winning records in two of three seasons.

Outlook

Minnesota is facing an uphill battle against regression. They scored fewer points than their opponents but posted an elite record. Their defense isn’t going to become elite over the course of one offseason, but they could easily approach league-average play through better coaching and an improved secondary. On offense, they have a solid quarterback and possibly the best receiver in the league. Adding more firepower could put them in the upper echelon of scoring units. In a greatly weakened NFC North, the Vikings will likely be looking to address their most obvious holes through the draft in an effort to hang onto their crown for another year.