The Minnesota Vikings are entering the 2020 season after a 2019 campaign that ended in the divisional round in San Francisco. After an upset win in New Orleans the previous week, the Vikings fell apart against the team that represented the NFC in Super Bowl LIV.
Usually the offseason, after making any sort of playoff run, revolves around adding a few key players to make the team better for the upcoming season. However, this offseason has been quite the opposite for the Vikings, losing several of their key contributors from the 2019 season.
Stefon Diggs, Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Linval Joseph and Josh Kline are the biggest names that were either traded, released or signed by another team this offseason. Everson Griffen is still a free agent and has gone back and forth this offseason in terms of where he wants to play. He has said his goodbye to Minnesota on social media but also said to never rule out a return.
On top of those departures, the Vikings are now in contract battles with Dalvin Cook, the team's leader in all-purpose yards and touchdowns in 2019. This could open the door for Alexander Mattison, but without Cook the Vikings were a different team last year. If Cook weren’t to be signed before the season, the running back position is another one the Vikings would have to rely heavily on a younger, unproven player.
Heading into the 2020 season, it would seem as if the Vikings are in for a rebuild with all these players playing elsewhere. There are certainly going to be positions where the Vikings rookie class is going to have to step up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team is rebuilding in 2020.
The Vikings still have a strong veteran presence in their locker room, but they are going to need younger players to heavily contribute at wide receiver, cornerback, and the offensive and defensive lines. The good news for the team is that for every position there is an established veteran that can help ease the transition.
Justin Jefferson has some big shoes to fill, after being selected with the draft pick the Vikings got in exchange for Diggs. He is predicted by many analysts to be the Vikings second wide receiver and he’s already begun training with the leader of the group in Adam Thielen.
Pairing Jefferson with Thielen will help pair his talent up with the preparation that goes into becoming a good receiver at the NFL level. He will also have Kirk Cousins throwing him the ball, one of the league’s most accurate quarterbacks.
The addition of Tajae Sharpe will also help round out the Vikings receiving corps along with the tight end group. Play action passes and tight ends have played a big role in the success throughout Cousin’s career and they will likely both be utilized in Gary Kubiak’s system. Kyle Rudolph has been one of the most consistent veterans in the Vikings locker room year in and year out, but there is another exciting player to watch at the position.
Irv Smith Jr. didn’t put up monstrous numbers in his rookie season, but he showed flashes of being a special player. He totaled 36 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns last season, but he is poised for a breakout year in 2020 as a 22-year-old.
The cornerback position is going to look the most different in 2020, with the average age of the group now under 22.5 years old. The Vikings used two of their first four picks on the position and there’s a good chance both Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler see meaningful playing time this season.
Mike Huges, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd are the three cornerbacks that have the most playing time in Mike Zimmer’s system, although it’s been limited. Hughes has battled through injuries whereas Boyd and Hill were both used more on special teams and as backups behind Rhodes and Waynes.
Zimmer has been labeled as a cornerback whisperer throughout his time in the NFL and he now has the chance to reshape his secondary completely. Having the best safety duo in terms of coverage in Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris will also benefit the young cornerback group, giving the Vikings a chance to make their secondary great for years to come.
The defense is going to look a lot different, not just in the secondary. Ifeadi Odenigbo and Michael Pierce are both set to be the replacements for Griffen and Joseph but there are depth questions at every position along the defensive line. The Vikings added D.J. Wonnum, James Lynch and Kenny Willekes on day three of the draft, and all three have been labeled as good fits for Andre Patterson and the Vikings defense.
It’s unlikely the Vikings completely change their system to a 3-4 defense with the addition of Dom Capers this offseason. However, with all of the younger players along the defensive line it could be beneficial to have Danielle Hunter rushing from one side and have Anthony Barr coming from the other.
Having Barr and Eric Kendricks behind a young and unestablished line will be critical for the team’s success this season. Kendricks has quietly been one of the Vikings best defenders year-over-year and is coming off his first All-Pro season.
The offensive line is going to look slightly different as well but there is still a chance the Vikings bring in a free agent. One of the team’s most questionable decisions this offseason was the surprise release of Josh Kline. This could suggest that the Vikings have a lot of faith in either Dru Samia or Dakota Dozier.
The second-round selection of Ezra Cleveland suggests that the team is either set on moving Riley Reiff to guard or going to move on from the starting left tackle at some point. Cleveland brings a lot of talent with him to Minnesota, but it could be a year before he is a starter for the Vikings.
With so many new faces in 2020, the Vikings look to be in a small rebuild mode. However, with all the talent still on the team paired up with 15 total draft picks in 2020, the Vikings have a bright future ahead of them.