A Comprehensive Fresh Set of Thoughts on the 2021 Vikings

Harrison Smith
Nov 16, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson (12) attempts to make a catch against Minnesota Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith (22) during the third quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

To begin, let’s look at some of the past decisions and events that have led us to where we are today.

Rick Spielman was promoted to the Vikings GM position in 2012 after holding the position of Vice President of Player Personnel from 2006-2011. At this point, he is solely responsible for the entire roster’s construction and any draft capital gained or lost; this is the team he has built-in every regard. Mike Zimmer has also been the head coach for all but Spielman’s first two drafts, and the only players he inherited that are still on the roster are Harrison Smith and a recently returned Everson Griffen.

Overall, I think that Spielman has done a great job given many of the circumstances he’s dealt with throughout his tenure as general manager. I will be the first to say I haven’t agreed with every decision he’s made, but I’ll also be the first to admit that he’s made far fewer and less impactful mistakes than many other GMs throughout the league.

Anyone who has spoken to me about the Vikings over the last decade knows that I only have one real issue with the Vikings current roster, and that is the sorry state the offensive line has been in. One of the fundamental aspects of my team-building philosophy is that everything begins and ends with the line of scrimmage, especially in today’s game.

If you can consistently field Top-5 offensive and defensive lines, the rest of your roster gets lifted up so much. Not only is an offensive line debatably more important to the run game than the specific Running Back being used, but they also have the single biggest impact on a young quarterback’s development. This league has quite literally broken talented promising young prospects because they had their confidence crushed beneath them as they faced pocket pressure immediately and repeatedly.

The Vikings have been struggling to rebuild the offensive line to a worthy state for the majority of the last decade, although not for a complete lack of trying. We spent a Top-5 pick on Matt Kalil in an effort to lock up the left tackle position in a move that I was ecstatic about at the time, and that ended up to be one of the bigger busts in our draft history. We’ve invested a decent amount of draft capital recently, and I am finally beginning to be optimistic about this line moving forward.

Obviously, a large part of that optimism is directly related to the development and play of rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw, although he has been dealing with a few injury issues throughout camps and pre-season, as long as he can get back to 100% health, he should be a terrific player and great addition to this line moving forward. On the other end of the line, I fully expect Brian O’Neill to continue to develop into one of the best right tackles in the league. If Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland show that they have added a little bit more strength I think both have a chance to be good to great players at their position, especially in our offensive scheme.

The competition between Oli Udoh and Wyatt Davis for the other starting guard position will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on. While I fully expect Udoh to keep the job throughout the season, if he has a string of bad games, I would be curious to see if the Vikings would let Davis get a start to see if it sparked anything along the line. As usual, I think this season’s results will be most impacted by the play of our offensive line. If they all take a step forward, we could be in for a monster year from this offense, but if any take a step back or a serious injury occurs, things could get real ugly for Kirk Cousins real fast.

The rest of the talent on offense is great, I truly believe we have the best RB room in the league between Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and Kene Nwangwu, plus the option of bringing Ameer Abdullah in from the Practice Squad as well. At wide receiver, the depth isn’t as good but if K.J. Osborn is as good throughout the regular season as he has been in camp, he could end up being a great WR3.

Along with recently signed Dede Westbrook, whom I absolutely loved when he was coming out of Oklahoma, this Receiving Corps could end up much better than anticipated. Obviously, the loss of Irv Smith Jr. was a huge blow to this roster but I have always really liked Tyler Conklin, and much like Dede Westbrook, I was a huge fan of Chris Herndon throughout the draft process. No matter how you feel about Kirk, he has played some phenomenal football in Purple and Gold and I am fully expecting him to play as well as his offensive line allows, and we have good backup/future QB options on the roster in Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond.

I truly can’t complain much about the offense that Spielman has built at this point. I will be quick to admit, this offense’s success this season will come down to three things: Development, Protection, and Availability. We need key players to take a step forward at major positions, we need the offensive line to be at least somewhat consistent in the pass-game, and we need to avoid turning to depth players as much as possible.

As for the defensive side of the ball, Speilman and Zimmer have assembled a good roster, with a few true “Blue-Chip” players, including at least one at every level.

On the defensive line, we have Danielle Hunter, one of the best EDGE defenders in the league. I say EDGE defender rather than pass rusher because I truly believe that Hunter’s play in the run game is what sets him apart from many other great pass rushers in the league.

In the middle of Mike Zimmer’s Purple Reign defense roams middle linebacker, Eric Kendricks. Since he came into the league, Kendricks’ play has put him firmly in the discussion with Fred Warner, Lavonte David, and Darius Leonard as one of the best off-ball linebackers across the league today.

And in the back end, you have Harrison Smith the greatest safety of this generation. That title might seem like hyperbole to non-Vikings fans, but look at the stats and read some of the quotes from different players and coaches in the league and it’s easy to see how highly “The Hitman” is thought of. Combine those three players with other guys like Mike Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, and others and this defense has a chance to be truly special. Much like with the offensive side of the ball, player development and Availability will be huge to this group’s success as a whole.

If we can get above-average to good play from our young DBs, guys like Cam Dantzler, Kris Boyd, and Harrison Hand, it could allow this defense to take a massive step forward. I’m also extremely curious and excited to see just what Patrick Peterson brings to the table. Peterson has long been one of my favorite players in the league, and his black Cardinals Jersey is actually the only non-Vikings NFL Jersey I’ve ever owned. Zimmer has shown the ability throughout his career to help high-end DBs extend their playing careers, and Peterson could be the next in line. I think the communication level between 2 savvy vets like Peterson and Harrison Smith could be game-changing for both players this season.

Overall, I tend to be cautiously optimistic about the Vikings upcoming season. I think we have a good chance to jump out to a good start and build some confidence as we move throughout the season. I’m hoping that the offensive line takes a big step forward from last season and we can get even better play out of everyone. The defense could be primed for a year of dominance if everyone can stay healthy and keep on developing.

However, if we lose multiple players in key positions for an extended amount of time, and this season could take a sharp turn for the worst. As usual, I will continue to be optimistic and plan on celebrating the long-awaited Super Bowl win with all of my fellow Vikings fans in February.

In closing, I just want to say thank you to Dustin Baker for reaching out to me with this opportunity, and I am really looking forward to being able to share my thoughts on the Vikings with you all moving forward! I plan on dropping at least one article per week with deep dives into my personal feelings about the current roster construction and future draft outlook after we get to see a couple of weeks of action. Here’s to another great season of Vikings football.

Skol — and here’s a little about me, the newcomer to VikingsTerritory for those interested.

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My name is Zach Bacon, and I am extremely excited for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the Vikings and NFL as a whole with all of you. For my first piece, I thought I would write something to give you all a little bit of an introduction to myself, my history as a Vikings fan, and my current outlook on the franchise — from how we got here to where we could be headed. So, sit back get comfortable and bear with me. It’s long.

I was born and raised in Minnesota spending most of my life living in small rural communities in southeast Minnesota near Rochester before moving to Mankato after high school. Some of my first memories about, not only football but of sports, in general, are of Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Randall Cunningham, and John Randle. I was in the crucible that is Minnesota Sports Fandom from 1997 to present. I was there for all the highs and all the lows throughout the last 25-ish years — from the greatest rookie wide receiver season of all time to Gary Anderson’s missed kick, Culpepper’s MVP season, Culpepper’s blown knee, the Randy Moss trade, Percy’s unmatched potential, the Brett Favre fantasy year of 2009, the disappointment of the NFC Championship, the drafting of Christian Ponder, the Adrian Peterson knee injury, MVPeterson, the drafting of Matt Kalil, the drafting of Teddy, Blair’s missed kick, Teddy’s knee injury, a great season from Sam Bradford, the Bradford injury and Keenum’s “Miracle” run, signing Kirk Cousins, drafting Dalvin Cook, trading Stefon Diggs, to the arrival of Justin Jefferson. And yet, after all that, I’m still here and most definitely still eager for more.

I always enjoyed watching Vikings football but for some reason, and I honestly don’t have something specific to point to, I began to really develop a passion for the game of football and the league as a whole around 2005. This is also when I really began watching a lot of college football as well, and to be honest, invested an unhealthy amount of time between NCAA Football and Madden throughout those years as well. During this time, I really started to develop a passion for the NFL Draft and team-building as a whole. I began to make up lists of positions that I wanted the Vikings to target in the upcoming draft, and started watching games of players I wanted and building up my own personal big-boards. It has always been my hope/intention to find somewhere to be able to discuss not only my team but my passion for the NFL Draft, Team-Building, and the game as a whole. Today, I am glad that it appears I have found that.