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The wheels came off the bus early or the Vikings in the 2020 season. The team started out 0-3 then went 1-5 in the early going. The Vikings rallied late, going 6-4 down the stretch but it wasn’t enough. The Vikings finished 7-9, in third place in the NFC North and short of the playoffs. Now, the team is looking to bounce back in 2021—the fourth season with Kirk Cousins at the helm—and get back to the playoffs.
It was a fairly quiet off-season for the Vikings after plenty of big changes in 2020. Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak stepped down, but he was replaced by his son, Klint, who was the team’s quarterback coach. That should ensure continuity, but offense wasn’t really the team’s problem in 2020. The team did see veteran Kyle Rudolph head to the Giants and running back Mike Boone sign with the Broncos, but also added pieces in the draft.
In the draft, the Vikings took Christian Darrisaw with their top pick, improving the offensive line. The team also grabbed tight end Zach Davidson, running back Kene Nwangwu and quarterback Kellen Mond. All should add some depth to the squad. The most interesting draft addition was receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who could end up competing to be the WR3.
The Vikings also used free agency to beef up the defense, a weak spot in 2020. Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson came over from the Cardinals, while defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson came over from the Browns. The Vikings also added former Cowboys’ safety Xavier Woods, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and linebacker Nick Vigil. All of it should help the team better compete in the NFC.
Cousins had his best year as a Viking in 2020, throwing for 4,265 yards and 35 TDs. He finished as QB11, his best finish as a Viking as well. I think he’ll have a solid 2021 season, though passing numbers could come down with better defensive performance. Cousins has been no worse than QB18 in any of his Vikings’ seasons, and I think he’s a lock to be a top half QB2 in 2021.
In the backfield, it’s all about Dalvin Cook. Cook rushed for 1,557 yards and 16 TDs, catching 44 passes for 361 yards and a TD. He finished as RB2 in 2020. He’s a dual threat in the run and pass game, and that figures to continue. He’s a Top 5 option in 2021, and I currently have him finishing RB2 again. Behind him is Alexander Mattison, who rushed for more than 400 yards in a relief role in 2020. He’s one of the most valuable handcuffs in the league but offers little standalone value.
Among receivers, the Vikings had a pair of Top 10 options in Justin Jefferson, who had 1,400 yards as a rookie, and veteran Adam Thielen. Jefferson had an amazing rookie season and I think he finishes Top 10 as a WR1 again. Thielen finished as WR10 thanks in large part to catching 14 touchdowns. I think that comes down in 2021, putting him more in the WR2/3 range. At tight end, it should finally be time for Irv Smith, Jr. to shine now that Rudolph is in New York. He had 30 receptions for 365 yards and 5 TDs in 2020, I think that all goes up. I think he finishes in the Top 10.
The Vikings have all the pieces to compete. I think the team has a win range for seven to 11 victories, which should put them in contention in the NFC North and in the mix for the NFC Playoffs. If they fall short again, there could be some bigger changes next off-season.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.