Minnesota Vikings Countdown Questions
The Minnesota Vikings begin their season in a little more than two weeks, and there are plenty of questions that need answering. In this article, we’ll merely focus on three. 1) When will the offensive line starters be set, and will they be good enough? 2) How will the linebackers be used, and what is going on with the linebacker depth? 3) Who is emerging behind Adam Thielen as a legitimate option at receiver?
The Offensive Line
At the beginning of training camp, Mike Zimmer indicated that coaches were planning on solidifying the starting five offensive linemen sooner rather than later. Zimmer’s statement has only been partially accurate, so the Minnesota Vikings still have some questions to answer at OL.
Four of the five positions are solidified. Riley Reiff is the starting LT, Garrett Bradbury at C, Pat Elflein at RG, and Brian O’Neill at RT. The uncertainty, as any moderately perceptive reader of that last sentence will tell you, rests at LG. So far, the competition has mostly been between Dakota Dozier – the perfect name for an offensive lineman, for whatever that’s worth – and Aviante Collins, who has long intrigued the Vikings because of his athleticism.
Neither Dozier nor Collins represent particularly appealing options. The Vikings are banking on a significant step forward from Bradbury to improve the interior of the line. To a lesser extent, the Vikings coaching staff is also hoping for Elflein to regain some of the gritty swagger that made his rookie season a success.
The Vikings have developed some quality depth at OL. Rashod Hill is a very good backup tackle, Brett Jones offers a high floor as Bradbury’s backup, and Oli Udoh continues to develop his seemingly limitless potential. Of course, the most intriguing depth option is second-round pick Ezra Cleveland. Cleveland has mostly been practicing with the 2s at left guard. At this point, it is unlikely that Cleveland will start against the Packers in Week 1, but an O’Neill-like midseason emergence is a distinct possibility.
As we’ve indicated countless times, linebacker is one Minnesota’s deepest and most impressive position groups. In spite of this reality, there are plenty of questions at LB.
The Vikings will keep at least five linebackers on their final roster. Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Troy Dye, and Eric Wilson are on this team. That means that there is at least one spot open. A few days ago, we speculated that the Vikings might be tempted to keep an extra linebacker. In so doing, the Vikings could allow Barr to take more snaps along the edge, thereby solidifying a position of weakness (defensive end) by borrowing from a position of strength (linebacker).
Vikings coaches haven’t indicated that Barr will be lining up at DE this season, but it’s worth keeping in mind as a possibility. The ambiguously titled Senior Defensive Assistant, Dom Capers, has a 3-4 background. In a Capers defense, linebackers like Barr – long, explosive outside LBs who are great blitzers – are commonly tasked with generating pressure. Vikings fans have always wanted more out of Barr. Capers may finally prompt Zimmer to unlock Barr’s full potential as a defensive weapon.
Otherwise, the questions mostly relate to depth. The Vikings recently signed David Reese II, and they’ve already brought in other depth options. Heading into training camp, Cameron Smith, Ben Gedeon, and Troy Dye gave the Vikings tremendous depth behind the Barr-Kendricks-Wilson Big 3. The depth has taken a hit, though. The fifth and (potentially) sixth LB spot is a fascinating competition as we head into the final stretch.
Unless he has issues with injuries, Thielen will be the Vikings’ #1 WR. The problem, of course, doesn’t rest with Thielen. Depth has been an issue for a couple years, but the Thielen/Diggs combo has mostly nullified this issue. In 2020, the Vikings will be forced to lean into their depth rather than masking it with elite options.
Bisi Johnson is leading the race for the #2 option. Johnson’s 31 catches, 294 yards, and three touchdowns last season were a tremendous success. Seventh-round picks are regularly cut, so the simple fact that Johnson not only made the team but also earned meaningful snaps is encouraging. At this point, it’s hard not to have more confidence Minnesota’s ability to develop late-round/UDFA receivers (Thielen, Diggs, Johnson) than in higher end prospects, which leads to the next point.
UDFA Chad Beebe and first-round receiver Justin Jefferson are the next options. Beebe should make this team. There are issues with drops and health, but he offers upside as an option in the slot who can consistently create separation. He also contributes on special teams. Jefferson shouldn’t be expected to replace Diggs. As we mentioned yesterday, the hope for Jefferson ought to be that he can mirror the impressive rookie seasons of players like Terry McLaurin rather than function as a one-for-one Diggs replacement.
In our humble opinion, the most exciting depth option is Alexander Hollins. The training camp reports are that Hollins has been consistently impressive. He was on Minnesota’s practice squad last season before forcing his way onto the field at the end of the season. He has tremendous speed, a trait that helped him create some consistent separation in his Week 17 routes. Hollins is going to make this team, and he’s going to bring an extra element to Minnesota’s offense.
Next Friday, we’ll offer a few more Minnesota Vikings Countdown Questions. In the meantime, feel free to offer your own reflections on the Vikings’ roster and/or send along some thoughts on the most pressing questions for Minnesota’s roster in the comments.