Vikings are Underrated at Key Positions Entering 2022-23 Season
The Minnesota Vikings are entering a new era of franchise history this fall. Changes are, and will continue to be, apparent under new general manager, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell. But the roster, itself, is nearly identical to what Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman built. And, ultimately, failed with. That’s made the offseason evaluation process very difficult, especially for national outlets who cannot pay attention on a daily basis.
Previous bias is weighing in too heavily. For example, Kirk Cousins is widely considered the 15-ish best quarterback in the NFL, by just about ever preseason rankings system on the internet today. The positional rankings dropped by ESPN on Friday reflected that same energy, listing the Vikings QB room, as a whole (Kirk, Kellen Mond and Sean Mannion), the 12th-best in the NFL.
Terrible ranking? No, 12th is very fair. If listing QB’s, there are 3 handfuls who could be legitimately argued as superior to Kirk Cousins. And the Vikings do not have great backup options. But that’s not how players are stacked against each other, when the dust settles on a season. And I’d bet my car (with injury insurance) that Kirk emerges out of the 2022-23 regular season with nearly 5,000 yards passing and over 40 touchdowns.
Hell, Justin Jefferson might go for 2,000 yards, by himself. You think these numbers are crazy? Under Mike Zimmer’s ‘pass oppressive’ offense, JJ went for 1,400 yards as a rookie and 1,600 yards as a sophomore. Kirk has thrown for over 4,200 yards in three of his four seasons with the Vikings. And if Cousins were to go off for anything close to 5K and five handfuls of TDs then, by nature, he will land in the league’s top-5 QB’s on the season.
Kirk Cousins isn’t the only underrated player on the Minnesota Vikings roster, though. I’m going to use the positional rankings that dropped today on ESPN, because it’s relevant and up-to-date. But the Vikings are being stacked up in the back-half of the NFL, overall, entering this new season. And it’s because they’re getting underrated at key positions.
O-Line Severely Underrated
Outside of QB, the offensive skill positions are what keeps the Vikings afloat, from a national lense view. ESPN ranks Minnesota’s running back room 3rd-best league-wide, and the wide receivers 5th-best. I’d bump the WR’s up a few spots but now we’re nit-picking.
I’d start the nationally overlooked conversation on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line. ESPN ranks it 24th-best in the NFL. Now I’m not an expert on other teams’ o-lines, but I cannot imagine 23 of them are in better shape than the Vikings.
Yes, it’s been a huge area of concern for the last decade. But that’s part of what’s feeding this low ranking. Brian O’Neill is one of the best right tackles in the league and 2nd year left tackle, Christian Darrisaw, appears to be on that same track.
Interior OL will surprise people this season
Move inside, where Ezra Cleveland has already proven himself as a more-than-competent left guard. On the right side, Ed Ingram is the talk of training camp, currently projecting as the week one starter. That leaves the problematic center position, which there isn’t a current fix for.
But find me an offensive line in the NFL without one weak spot and I’ll find you a line that probably doesn’t exist. Do the Vikings belong in ESPN’s top-10? No, of course not. They’ll be much better than 24th-best, though.
On defense, ESPN sees what the Minnesota Vikings have in Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, ranking the team’s EDGE rushers as 8th best across the league. They may have even overrated the Vikings off-ball linebackers, ranking the new duo of Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks (plus backups), as the 7th-best group in the NFL.
The Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson pairing doesn’t impress the four-letter network quite as much. Minnesota’s interior defensive line ranks 17th in the NFL, says ESPN. Who got the worst snub on defense, though? The secondary.
Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler and the rest of the Vikings’ cornerback group ranks 25th in the league. They shouldn’t sit high on the league’s CB totem pole, but 25 feels exaggerated, especially if Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith can get consistent pressure on quarterbacks.
At safety, ESPN just doesn’t get it. They rank Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum and Lewis Cine as the 15th best safety group in the league. Given what we know Smith is, what we’ve already seen from Bynum and what we expect out of Cine, this feels aggressively low.
The Minnesota Vikings are a far cry from perfect, but they should be much better at specific positions than the image PFF portrays here. Positions that national outlets are underrating for a variety of reasons. Combine all of that with a soft division and this could be one of the better Vikings seasons we’ve experienced in recent years.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan