Last season, the Vikings made the playoffs after missing out on the post season during Kirk Cousins‘ first year under center. In year two, the Vikings were solid at home, losing just twice in eight games. Both losses came to NFC North opponents, Chicago and Green Bay. They went just 4-4 on the road, but then upset the 13-3 New Orleans Saints on a Kyle Rudolph touchdown catch, to stun the Superdome crowd.
After falling to the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional round, Vikings fans braced themselves for the inevitable changes, as they head into year three of the Cousins era.
So, what can Vikings fans expect as we head into an unprecedented 2020 season?
Shortly after Cousins signed his new deal, which will keep him in Minnesota for at least three more seasons, the highly controversial and highly productive Stefon Diggs, tweeted out one of his patented cryptic tweets:
it’s time for a new beginning.— DIGGS (@stefondiggs) March 16, 2020
Not much time passed before the Vikings gave the former Maryland Terrapin star the ‘new beginning’ he asked for, by sending him to Buffalo for a first round pick and a few more assets.
Can ya Digg it?
Stefon Diggs & a seventh rounder are headed to Buffalo in exchange for a plethora of picks. 👀 pic.twitter.com/iokkdF412y— theScore (@theScore) March 17, 2020
The Diggs trade was just the tip of the iceberg for a wild offseason in Minnesota. Gone are the likes of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Linval Joseph, and Everson Griffen, all of whom were key contributors on the defense that lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship in 2018.
That’s a lot of talent and production to replace. Enter Rick Spielman. He started with a splash by signing DT Michael Pierce to a three-year, $27 million dollar deal. A few days later, the Vikings went out and signed a former small-college star in Tajae Sharpe, in hopes that he can make an impact.
Building through the draft
Given the cap issues for the purple and gold, they did a good job signing young and promising talent, but they still needed to nail the draft.
Using Buffalo’s first-rounder, the Vikings were the fifth team to take a receiver in the draft. However, many believe Justin Jefferson to be better than that. Coming from the defending National Champions, LSU, Jefferson has the makings of a great Diggs replacement. A former three-star recruit, Jefferson caught 0 balls as a freshman, 54 as a junior and had an unbelievable final year as a Tiger, catching 111 balls for 1540 yards and 18 touchdowns, including four in the first half in the College Football Semi-Finals against Oklahoma.
The Vikings then supplemented some loss of secondary talent by drafting Jeff Gladney out of TCU, who some consider the best pure corner in the draft. Pro Football Focus graded Gladney as the best cover corner in the class.
With an unprecedented 15 picks, the Vikings were bound to get some impact players in the later rounds. Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland , who the Vikings took in the second round and Mississippi State CB Cam Dantzler, whom they got in the third round, should make an immediate impact for the purple and gold.
Rick Spielman got some potential starters on day three of the draft, including two picks that I loved; Baylor DT James Lynch, the reigning Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Michigan State DE Kenny Willekes, who won the Bulsworth Trophy, which is awarded to the best Walk-On in College Football. Both will make an impact on defense in year one.
I think the Vikings did what they needed to do; attack the offensive side early (Jefferson and Cleveland) and snag high ceiling defenders (Gladney, Dantzler, Lynch, Troy Dye and Willekes).
What to expect
This season, there has been a lot of talk as to whether Mike Zimmer and Spielman are headed into a make-or-break season, but I don’t think that’s the case. Offensively, the Vikings should have one of the best in the NFL, even after the loss of Diggs. Jefferson will have an outstanding rookie year, opposite Adam Thielen. Defensively, the team may struggle early, due to having so many young players, but that will improve as the season progresses.
The schedule shapes up decently, too. The Vikings will open up at home for the fourth straight season, this time against hated rival, Green Bay. One of the toughest stretches for the Vikings will be later on in the season, where they travel to Tampa Bay to take on Tom Brady and the Bucs and will host Chicago at home, before heading down to the Bayou for a Christmas Day game against New Orleans on a Friday.
There is a lot of uncertainty with the NFL season, but should the NFL play a typical schedule (I think they will), the Vikings should once again be one of the best teams in the NFC.
Hunter Plante | Minnesota Sports Fan