State of the NFC North: The Minnesota Vikings

Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) reaches for extra yards as he goes out of bounds against the Detroit Lions during the third quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency dying down, now is time to take stock of where each team in the division stands. This article will be part two of a four-part series where we will look at where each team in the NFC North stands in terms of roster build and how their outlook for the future looks. The Minnesota Vikings finished third in the NFC North in 2020, with a 7-9 record.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Under Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have had a reputation as a defensive team. This was not the case in 2020, as injuries and inexperienced players led the Vikings to have what Zimmer called the worst defense he has ever coached. This should not be the case in 2021, however. The Vikings have splurged on defense in free agency, and along with players such as Danielle Hunter returning from injury, this should be a much better defense on paper.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Vikings have loads of talent at the skill positions. Rookie phenom Justin Jefferson, along with Adam Thielen, make a formidable duo at receiver. Running back Dalvin Cook is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons that firmly have him in the conversations for the best running back in the league. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is in a prime position to break out as well. Along with quarterback Kirk Cousins, this is an offense that has weapons all over the place. 

This leads us to the Vikings’ biggest weakness. Year after year, the offensive line is the Achilles heel for this team, and despite the draft capital invested on the line, there has been no improvement. So far this offseason, the line has gotten worse. If nothing gets done to address this over the final weeks of free agency or through the draft, nothing else on the roster will matter. Another issue the Vikings have is their wide receiver depth behind their stars. Currently, their third-best WR is Chad Beebe. This depth won’t cut it if Jefferson or Thielen get injured. It’s not the most pressing need on the team, but they should try to address it through the draft. 

The Vikings are also missing one piece on defense. An edge rusher to play opposite of Hunter is the final key for Zimmer to bring this defense back to peak form. Stephen Weatherly is currently the projected starter, and while he isn’t an awful player, he works better in a rotational role and not as a starter.

Draft Outlook

The roster right now makes the draft situation for the Vikings not ideal. With many holes on the offensive line, they may reach for players and miss out on premier talent at other positions. However, if they can sign a free agent or two that can start, the Vikings would have options. Luckily for the Vikings, this is draft class is loaded at the offensive line. While Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater might get drafted too early for the Vikings, players such as Christian Darrisaw, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Teven Jenkins, and many others would be available.

If the offensive line gets addressed in free agency, the Vikings could also look at drafting an edge rusher. Jaelen Philipps and Kwity Paye would be ideal picks for the Vikings if available. At the end of the day, if the offensive line gets addressed in free agency, the Vikings set themselves up to draft the best player available in round one, which is a much better situation than drafting for need. Currently, the roster is not in good shape for that, but there is a month before the draft, which is enough time to get that rectified. 

2021 Season Expectations

This season is pivotal for the Vikings. Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman should very much be on the hot seat. As a result, the expectation for this team should be to make a deep playoff run. This roster is not ready to do so, but the Vikings can make moves over the next month to put themselves in the best possible situation. Being competitive within the division is also a must. Over the last few years, both Matt Nagy’s Bears and Matt LeFleur’s Packers have had success against the Vikings, and this cannot continue if Zimmer expects to have a job next year.

On the bright side, the Vikings have shown some semblance of understanding the situation. Signing players such as Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods, and Mackensie Alexander to one-year deals show that the Vikings are in a win-now mode. With young studs such as Jefferson and Cook on offense, the Vikings can be an exciting team to watch as well. This season comes in with high expectations, and fans hope that the Vikings don’t disappoint once again.