If you had any aspirations for the players on the 2020 Minnesota Vikings defense to mature and blossom in 2021, it’s time to toss those visions of grandeur in a commode.
The Vikings defense slated for the upcoming season is fundamentally different than the embarrassing edition showcased during the pandemic season. Men that were asked to start due to [several] injuries to stars, are either buried back on the bench or completely removed from the team. This is not a growth gig — it’s blunt-force renovation, mainly re-tooled via free agency and returns to health by several key Vikings personnel.
Adding no free agents at all probably would have whisked the 2021 Vikings defense back to respectability — Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks all missed mega portions of time last year. Now, they’re back.
And head coach Mike Zimmer realizes it, teasing a refreshing return to normalcy when September arrives. In a press conference on Wednesday, Zimmer stated to reporters:
“Our guys in the front office have done an outstanding job. It’s probably gonna look completely different on the defensive side of the ball than it did last year, with the guys coming back and the additions that we made. So I am excited about that.”
Ordinarily, Zimmer doesn’t prognosticate (at least vocally) humongous expectations for his team. But he can feel it in his bones that this version of the defense is poised to regain decorum, mimicking defenses from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
This offseason, general manager Rick Spielman took steps to rectify the defense via free agency, adding a slew of new men — some rather surprising. All told, here are the new purple bodies on defense:
- Mackensie Alexander (CB)
- Bashaud Breeland (CB)
- Amari Henderson (CB)
- Parry Nickerson (CB)
- Patrick Peterson (CB)
- Sheldon Richardson (DT)
- Tye Smith (CB)
- Dalvin Tomlinson (DT)
- Nick Vigil (LB)
- Stephen Weatherly (DE)
- Xavier Woods (S)
That’s a lot of defensive red meat; that’s a lot of cornerbacks. Michael Pierce wasn’t even mentioned, and he has yet to play his first snap as a Viking. So, he’s essentially new, too. Pierce opted out of 2020 due to coronavirus concerns.
Those were the free agents. Here are the new faces via the 2021 NFL Draft:
- Camryn Bynum (S)
- Patrick Jones II (DE)
- Janarius Robinson (DE)
- Chazz Surratt (LB)
- Jalen Twyman (DT)
It’s a new team of defenders.
Based on 2020’s shortcomings, change was needed — or at a minimum, healthy players were required in retrospect. This is why the 2020 season felt so dastardly on defense:
Points Allowed Per Season by the Vikings, under Mike Zimmer:
- 2014 = 343 (11th in NFL)
- 2015 = 302 (5th in NFL)
- 2016 = 307 (6th in NFL)
- 2017 = 252 (1st in NFL)
- 2018 = 341 (8th in NFL)
- 2019 = 303 (5th in NFL)
- 2020 = 475 (29th in NFL)
Not to mention that Minnesota owned the league’s worst pass rush, as adjudicated by Pro Football Focus. The Vikings also allowed an NFL record six rushing touchdowns on Christmas day to Alvin Kamara. By the transactions Spielman enacted, it’s almost as if that memory was etched into his cellphone home screen.
Zimmer’s defense will be tested early. Out of the gate, the Vikings will face Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, and Baker Mayfield.