The Minnesota Vikings regular season is set to start on Sunday when the Green Bay Packers come to town for a noon kickoff. The offseason has been nothing short of out of the ordinary, but the NFL season is finally here.
After ending their season in the Divisional Round last year, the Vikings will look to build off their short playoff run with a lot of new faces in purple. Nine of the 15 team draft picks made the team and it’s likely a lot of these rookies will have to make some sort of an impact from the start. Dan Chisena was the only rookie undrafted free agent to make the 53-man roster and he will likely be utilized on special teams from the start.
Although the team had the biggest draft class in NFL history, they were still able to avoid a complete rebuild ahead of the 2020 season. Here are three reasons to be optimistic about the Vikings ahead of kickoff on Sunday.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins
For some reason one of the hardest concepts to realize for Vikings fans is how good they have it at the quarterback position. The debate still lingers around Twitter on whether the Vikings should have resigned Case Keenum to a long-term deal, but Cousins has been nothing short of great during his two seasons in Minnesota.
There has been some change with the transition from Kevin Stefanski to Gary Kubiak’s offense, Cousins has said that there is still a lot of continuity.
“Continuity always helps, especially at my position,” Cousins said in an early August press conference. “It helps to have a similar offense. It’s going to be the fifth voice in my headset in five seasons.”
Although Kubiak will be yet again another voice in Cousins headset, the offense saw a lot of similarities to a Kubiak led offense in 2019. His outside zone scheme sets up the play-action perfectly for Cousins, an area where the team found a lot of success last season.
The 2019 season was arguably the best season of Cousins career. He threw for 3,603 yards, 26 touchdowns, six interceptions and a rating of 107.4. This was capped off by Cousins getting his first ever playoff win in dramatic fashion.
On top of being one of the most productive quarterbacks in recent history for the Vikings, Cousins has only missed one game in two seasons due to the Vikings already being penciled into their playoff seed.
The loss of Stefon Diggs could be evident towards the beginning of the season, but the Vikings have seven receivers on their roster. Pair a first-round pick at the position with a great running back and tight end grouping and this offense is set up for success.
Cousins is the first true franchise quarterback the team has had in at least a decade. He is a piece that the Vikings can build around and continue to get better on other areas of the team. The quarterback position finally has stability and this is a huge reason to be optimistic heading into Week 1.
A new and improved pass rushing duo
The Vikings went out and made a splash trade just over a week ago. The trade will have immediate implications for making this defensive unit better as a whole.
The pairing of Yannick Ngakoue and Danielle Hunter is not only something to be optimistic about in 2020, but also for years to come. Both elite pass rushers are only 25 years old, meaning they could be a legitimate scare for opposing quarterbacks for years to come.
Although Hunter and Ngakoue are just the age of 25, they have 92 career sacks between the two of them. This should help ease the transition for some of the younger cornerbacks as opposing teams’ quarterbacks will have to get rid of the ball faster.
Vikings fans know the luxury of having elite pass rushers up front because it is something that is built into the team's history. The Purple People Eaters are the most well-known group of pass rushers in franchise history, but Hunter and Ngakoue may have something to say about that whenever their careers come to an end.
Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris
Similar to the pass rushing situation, the Vikings safety duo is one of the best in the league. This is going to be critical as some of the younger cornerbacks get their first chance to play at the NFL level.
Both Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris have been elite playmakers for the Vikings and PFF has them ranked as the top tandem of the 2019 season.
Smith will likely play all over the field as he has in years past whereas Harris was traditionally the deep safety last year. Although he was an undrafted guy himself, Harris led the league with six interceptions last season and picked off Drew Brees in the Vikings playoff win.
The combination of an elite pass rushing duo with an elite safety tandem will drastically decrease the pressure off the young cornerbacks group. It might take some time to develop the corners, but the Vikings have one of the best defensive back minds in all of football as their head coach.
It’s no question that the Vikings still have some areas that need improvement, but they have plenty of players that make others around them better. It’s going to be an interesting season with all the COVID-19 protocols the NFL has put into place. However, the Vikings have several reasons to be excited for ahead of the start of the regular season just a few days away.