The Minnesota Vikings are facing an important season. Kirk Cousins is in the final year of his contract, and while he is a polarizing player, he has at least provided stability at the quarterback position. Whether Cousins re-signs with the Vikings could hinge on the success of the team this season, but are the Vikings going to take a step forward, backward, or laterally this year? Let us take a step back and see why this question is difficult to answer.

After finishing with 10+ losses 3 times in a 4-year stretch between 2010-2013, with the one exception being due to an All-World performance by Adrian Peterson, the Vikings decided to hire Mike Zimmer. 

While the Vikings are remembered as an overall “good” team during his tenure, the team went to the playoffs only 3 times in his 8-year tenure. To understand Kevin O’Connell’s impact, we need to see what he was stepping into. Basic stats do not tell the whole story, but they can be useful in the right context. Below is a table showing the year-by-year comparison with ranks in the NFL.

Season Coach Off Points Off Yards Def Points Def Yards Points Dif Yards Dif
2014 Zimmer 20th 27th 11th 14th 18th 24th
2015 Zimmer 16th 29th 5th 13th 9th 21st
2016 Zimmer 23rd 28th 6th 3rd 15th 18th
2017 Zimmer 10th 11th 1st 1st 5th 1st
2018 Zimmer 19th 20th 9th 4th 12th 7th
2019 Zimmer 8th 16th 5th 14th 7th 13th
2020 Zimmer 11th 4th 29th 27th 22nd 15th
2021 Zimmer 14th 12th 24th 30th 18th 22nd
2022 O’Connell 8th 7th 28th 31st 15th 26th

The Vikings last season were not remarkable in basic stats. Their numbers were quite similar to their 2020 season when the team went 7-9 and their point differential was eerily similar to their 2021 season. The 2022 team scored 1 fewer point and gave up 1 more point than the 2021 season, but its win total jumped by 5 wins. The difference was, as it has been pointed out many times before, their one-score game record. They went 11-0 in one-score games in the regular season last year and 6-8 the year before. The logical thought process shows a future where they regress to the norm if given the same team. 

But maybe they got better over the off-season. Let’s examine their moves.

One of the clearest writings on the wall was letting defensive coordinator Ed Donatell go. That defense was atrocious and the numbers may not do it justice with how bad it truly was. They brought in Brian Flores to take the vacant job which should provide a big jolt, but a complete overhaul of a defense is always risky. Below is a list of defensive players lost and added over the offseason along with their 2022 Total Points.

Player 2022 Total Points Added/Lost
Patrick Peterson 67 Lost
Za’Darius Smith 39 Lost
Chandon Sullivan 33 Lost
Duke Shelley 28 Lost
Eric Kendricks 28 Lost
Dalvin Tomlinson 16 Lost
Byron Murphy Jr. 14 Added
Marcus Davenport 13 Added
Cameron Dantzler Sr. 11 Lost
Dean Lowry 7 Added
Mekhi Blackmon Added
Jay Ward Added
Jaquelin Roy Added

Now there may not be a sure-fire “big loss” in the group depending on personal preference, but losing 6 defensive starters in one offseason with almost all of the spots being filled with unproven talent is a bold strategy. 

Four experienced secondary members will not be a part of the 2023 team with those spots being up for grabs. Murphy fills one spot, but the other positions are up for grabs between mid-round rookies and a very underwhelming 2022 draft class. Injuries were a major factor for sure, but banking on immediate success from Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth, and Akayleb Evans is a long-odds play.

While the secondary is a crapshoot, the linebacking core is a little more stable. Letting Eric Kendricks go paves the way for Brian Asamoah to step up, and while there is a lot to like about the former Oklahoma linebacker, losing a reliable, veteran presence like Kendricks leaves big shoes to fill and is in no way a slam dunk improvement. The defensive line, including EDGE, is currently limited. Danielle Hunter is a monster (at the time of publishing, he is still a Viking, and losing him would further emphasize the points made here), but losing Za’Darius Smith means the other EDGE position is between a player on a one-year-prove-it deal in Marcus Davenport, a couple reserve players, or maybe an undrafted rookie in Andre Carter. 

The other EDGE player opposite Hunter has to get pressure because the entire defensive front is full of run-stuffing, line-controlling, space eaters. Harrison Phillips, Khyiris Tonga, and Dean Lowry are not going to get after the quarterback consistently, which puts more pressure on the EDGEs. While the Vikings need help all over the field on defense, they used their only top-100 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft on a wide receiver.

Yes, the Vikings lost Adam Thielen, and yes, they needed help at wide receiver, but this should not have been a No. 1 priority. Thielen accumulated 15 Total Points last season; 0.8 per game. KJ Osborn accumulated 1.1 per game, and a significant Year-3 leap is not out of the question. Losing Dalvin Cook is a big blow, and while he may not have been the most effective running back last year, he is an electric playmaker who is hard to replace. Unless Alexander Mattison can exceed the wildest expectations, and Jordan Addison is a significant upgrade from Adam Thielen, the offense will be marginally better, if at all. 

Jordan Addison was graded as a solid starting wide receiver by our scouting department, taken right where he should have been, and he should be a quality NFL player, but he likely will not be talked about like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase’s rookie impact. Addison and Thielen’s skillsets actually align fairly well, but Thielen was significantly bigger, had more top-end speed, showed better hands in college, and was a menace on special teams. A Thielen-esque impact is likely the ceiling for Addison early in his career, and this does not look like an offense-changing weapon. This leads to a fairly logical conclusion that the Vikings misused their resources.

The whole argument comes down to “Did the Vikings get better over the offseason?” Their offense was average to above-average last year, but elite in very few areas. Their defense was, to put it mildly, an eye-sore. The basic stats did not show an exceptional team, and their 2022 advanced stats below do not inspire confidence either.

Stat Off Value Off Rank Def Value Def Rank
Overall EPA/Play -0.05 19th -0.02 25th
Overall Positive % 44% 17th 44% 24th
Early Down EPA/Play -0.04 19th 0.03 29th
Early Down Positive % 44% 17th 45% 25th
Late Down EPA/Play -0.06 16th -0.16 7th
Late Down Positive % 44% 14th 41% 5th
Red Zone EPA/Play 0.00 10th -0.03 19th
Red Zone Positive % 46% 9th 51% 32nd
Middle of Field EPA/Play -0.06 21st -0.02 23rd
Middle of Field Positive % 43% 21st 42% 15th

Those stats do not scream “13-win team.” Their offensive talent is relatively the same as last season—again depending on personal preference—with O’Connell’s growth as a head coach as a wild card, but it is still not anywhere near “elite.” The defense will be a bigger mystery, but having a bad defense, removing most of the quality players, and replacing them with unknowns is not a proven strategy. Not to mention that Danielle Hunter may not be a part of their 2023 defense which would be a big loss. Flores should have been given carte blanche to remake this defense, but instead, for the 2nd offseason in a row, the Vikings missed the mark on meaningful changes.

In a division that is ripe for the taking, Minnesota appears to have been passed this offseason. The Bears, Lions, and Packers forge ahead in their new identities while the Vikings cling to hope, and hope is not a strategy. The 13 wins last season look impressive, until you look at the facts—that team severely overperformed.

Final summary: The Minnesota Vikings will take a lateral step in terms of play quality, but unless lady luck blankets them like Sauce Gardner, they will see a regression in the win column. A 9-8 finish and no playoffs will lead the Vikings and Kirk Cousins to part ways without a quarterback plan in place (Jaren Hall is not a high-upside pick). Justin Jefferson will cost more than $30 million a year (rightfully so) leaving the organization cash-strapped, and a Top-10 draft pick in the 2025 NFL Draft may not be far behind.