37 Storylines to Watch for 2022 Vikings

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Vikings
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

The 2022 Minnesota Vikings have oodles of storylines to monitor, particularly because a new general manager and head coach took over the organization.

In no order of importance, these are the 37 storylines to watch.

1. Is Kevin O’Connell the ‘real deal’ right away?

Oddsmakers don’t much believe in the 2022 Vikings, pegging the purple team for eight or nine wins. However, the roster has enough talent to win the NFC North if coached properly — sans stubborn, old-school thinking.

Onlookers will determine right away in September if new skipper Kevin O’Connell is ready to lead a team to the postseason. A 2-4 start or so would mean, “Nope, not yet.”

2. Does Kwesi Adofo-Mensah roster’s construction check out?

When Adofo-Mensah opted not to rebuild the roster, it rubbed many onlookers the wrong way. Chiefly, the new boss retained Kirk Cousins and extended him by an extra year. That signaled a desire to remain relevant, avoid a roster rebuild, and perhaps contend in 2022.

Were the only items necessary really just a new head coach, free-agent signees like Za’Darius Smith, and a defensive-minded draft class?

3. Was Mike Zimmer alone ‘the problem’ during the last two seasons?

The Vikings ownership, new GM, and new head coach [through implication] are banking on Mike Zimmer as the sole and soul problem amid the last two seasons. Zimmer’s defense died, and Minnesota could not circumvent the obituary with blunt-force offense.

Similar to the two items above, is a new head “set of eyes” the singular fix?

4. Is Kirk Cousins a true-blue “.500 QB” or a Matthew Stafford waiting for “his McVay?”

To date, Cousins’ teams are a perfect 59-59-2 with him in the saddle. Is he the product of strange teams surrounding the signal-caller that weren’t quite good enough to trudge toward February football? Does he have a Staffordish plan afoot where he busts out with an offense-first head coach?

Or does he confirm the cynical narrative that suggests he’s Eli Manning without the ring hardware? The 2022 season is the next glimpse of Cousins’ odyssey.

5. Will Justin Jefferson solidify status as the best WR in the NFL?

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

PFF believes Jefferson is the seventh-best wide receiver in the business. Others consider that low.

After Year Three of service, fans and experts will determine if Jefferson is the best in the world. He’ll need another 1,400+ yard campaign as evidence, which he should be capable of inside an O’Connell offense.

6. Does Adam Thielen begin an age-related decline?

Thielen hasn’t tallied 1,000+ receiving yards in a season since 2018. That’s a long time, especially when the quarterback racks up 4,000+ passing-yard seasons like pulling the lever on a slot machine.

If Thielen gets hurt again or doesn’t nab 10+ touchdowns, he’ll indeed probably be approaching the age-related cliff.

7. Is K.J. Osborn here to stay as WR3?

Out of nowhere, Osborn became something the Vikings craved since Jarius Wright — a WR3 who wasn’t embarrassing.

However, Osborn needs prolonged production to earn credibility in the league. He received ample targets in the passing game last year because Irv Smith Jr. was injured for all of 2021.

So, with Smith Jr. back, does Osborn step up or step back with a reduced target load?

8. Can the new coaching staff make Garrett Bradbury thrive?

The Vikings spent 1st-Round draft capital on a center in 2019, a cringeworthy choice as most centers can be drafted after Round 1. But Minnesota wanted to fix the offensive line once and for all.

Alas, Bradbury didn’t do that. He enters the final season of his contract with whispered assurances from the new head coach that he’s “the guy” at center. Does the bullying by defensive linemen toward Bradbury end because of contemporary thinkers in the coaching room? Or is this Bradbury’s Viking swan song?

9. Who the hell finally solves the RG spot?

Minnesota hasn’t had competent RG play since 2017 (aside from a 2019 Josh Kline stint). The Vikings onboarded Ed Ingram, Josh Reed, and Jesse Davis this offseason to compete for the right guard title.

One of those dues has to solve the longstanding RG bane. Who is it — and is that man actually good? Or is he just not horrible?

10. Once and for all, does Irv Smith Jr. have a “breakout season?”

In 2019, Vikings fans clamored for an Irv Smith Jr. breakout season.

In 2020, Vikings fans clamored for an Irv Smith Jr. breakout season.

In 2021, Vikings fans clamored for an Irv Smith Jr. breakout season, but he tore his meniscus.

In 2022, Vikings fans are clamoring for an Irv Smith Jr. breakout season.

Will it happen?

11. Does Dalvin Cook evolve into a hybrid WR role?

This is being teased — but is it just smoke? Cook has the skillset to catch the football; he tallied 53 receptions in 2019. But then the Vikings offensive brains said, “We don’t need to do this anymore.”

Will O’Connell slide Cook into the passing game, leaving more carries on the ground for Alexander Mattison?

12. Will Kene Nwangwu be used as an offensive weapon or just a special team mercenary?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We already know Nwangwu can return kicks at a best-in-the-NFL clip. But is he more than that?

O’Connell has speed galore to utilize with Nwangwu, but sometimes men are just cut out for speed. They usually play for the Raiders. The 2022 season should tell onlookers if Nwangwu is more than just a special teams weapon.

13. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, or Jalen Nailor?

Like Van Jefferson with the Rams, the Vikings will probably take advantage of a WR4 for the first time in a decade. That role can reasonably be filled by Smith-Marsette, Johnson, or Nailor.

Who’s it going to be?

14. Is Kellen Mond the QB2?

This is important because it sheds potential light on life after Cousins. Does Mond have the maturity and tools to eventually become a QB1 for the Vikings or a different team?

If he cannot oust Sean Mannion from the QB2 seat this summer, the answer is likely no.

15. Is Wyatt Davis terrible or was he simply shunned by the previous coaching regime?

Like Mond, Davis was a humongous mystery in 2021. He was once one of the best guards in college football. Well, one of the best NCAA guards couldn’t even see a regular season field during his rookie year.

Is he truly a dud, or can he make the 53-man roster? If so, Rick Spielman will feel vindicated somewhere. Maybe on TikTok?

16. Who the hell is the TE2?

This is very strange territory for the Vikings. The franchise is embarking on the 2022 season without a proven Irv Smith Jr. replacement. Either the coaching staff knows Johnny Mundt is the next Tyler Conklin, a free-agent TE will be signed before September, or they don’t care about TE2s.

Vikings enthusiasts are used to a crowded house at TE — especially since 2019 — so it’s a brave new [scary] world with Smith Jr. and the pocket lint.

17. Will O’Connell suddenly embrace fullbacks?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Rams didn’t use fullbacks. The Vikings have a good one. Something’s gotta give.

C.J. Ham is everyone’s fashionable “roster cut” this summer, but he’s pretty good at football. Will O’Connell carve out a roster space — and use him — or let Ham walk to a team that implements fullbacks?

18. Who’s better? Michael Pierce or Harrison Phillips?

Michael Pierce was absolutely terrific for the Vikings, but he didn’t play much. Phillips is just getting off the ground as an NFL starter — he started eight games in 2021 for Buffalo — so fans will determine if he’s Pierce-lite or Pierce-esque.

Fans just assume he’ll be good because he’s a great guy, but he must go out and wreak havoc this autumn.

19. Is Jalen Twyman really a redemption story?

Twyman was shot multiple times in 2021, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s ready to play football again. ESPN even slates Twyman as a starter, but that feels like a typo.

The Pittsburgh alumnus has the strength and stature to blossom into a starter. But for now, all the chatter on Twyman is “upside” related.

20. Can Armon Watts be a quality starter?

Watts played wonderfully when the aforementioned Pierce missed time in 2021. Yet, some believe “every dog has its day.” Watts should start in 2022, and fans will find out if he’s a spot starter or a genuinely good defender.

21. Does Za’Darius Smith regain 2020 form?

Smith reneged with the Ravens to join the Vikings and did so at an affordable price — an honest-to-goodness prove-it deal.

In his purest form, partnering with Danielle Hunter should sponsor quarterback pandemonium. Smith turns 30 in September, and he’ll either shine with the Vikings or get hurt. When on the field, he’s fabulous.

22. Will Danielle Hunter prove he’s not “injury prone?”

One of the weirdest debates on Vikings-themed social media — aside from is Cousins good or not — is the case for Hunter’s injury status. He’s missed 79% of all Vikings games since the start of 2020.

Some scoff at that, insisting it means nothing about “prone to injury.” Others say, “Well, look, pal, the guy missed 79% of games in the last two years.”

You’ll get a verdict in 2022.

23. Can Eric Kendricks bounce back from a down year?

Kendrick’s PFF grade in 2021 was 59.9 — not stellar. The year before, he scored an 82.6.

In theory, Kendricks could be “slowing down,” but that diagnosis feels a wee bit premature. Kendricks is the cardiovascular system of the Vikings defense, and Ed Donatell needs the 2020 Kendricks for an optimal version of his 3-4 defense.

24. Is Patrick Peterson vindicated after saying he returned because the roster was “stacked?”

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports.

Peterson rejoined the Vikings because he views the roster as a win-now entity. He must be telling the truth because his career is gradually winding down. The man wants a Lombardi.

If the Vikings miss the playoffs, Peterson will have been wrong. If they do not, Peterson returned to the purple team for a good reason.

25. Like the Thielen possibility, does Harrison Smith slow down?

Smith is 33 years old. Per histrionics of football, his days are numbered.

Yet, on the field, it doesn’t really look like it. Paired with Lewis Cine, will Smith continue a Pro Bowl-level performance as he tunnels to an age-34 season in 2023?

He’s a Vikings mainstay, so it’s tricky to envision a diminished Smith.

26. Cameron Dantzler or Andrew Booth?

Patrick Peterson is likely a shoo-in as a starting cornerback — at least for this season — so who wins the other CB job?

Dantzler, when he exited the Zimmer dog condominium, continued to develop like a 3rd-Round corner should — gradually and efficiently.

Now, though, Booth, a rookie, has the toolset to start immediately. This summer battle will arguably be the most fun to monitor. Having too many good corners is a beautiful thing.

27. If Lewis Cine starts — he better — then what for Camryn Bynum?

Bynum was terrific under the bright lights in Harrison Smith’s stead. He likely isn’t thrilled that his potentially starting forecast was extinguished by the drafting of Cine.

So, how many defensive snaps are afforded to Bynum? His 2021 production, albeit limited, demands a sequel. How will Donatell wiggle Bynum into the defense?

28. D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, or Janarius Robinson?

Minnesota is outlandishly top-heavy for EDGE rusher, especially with Hunter and Za’Darius Smith’s recent injury maladies. And even if both men stay healthy, the Vikings need a notable third EDGE rusher.

If Adofo-Mensah signs no more EDGE rushers, will Wonnum, Jones II, or Robinson grab the situational pass-rusher job?

29. Do fans get a peek at Akayleb Evans?

Vikings Top Pick from Each Day of 2022 NFL Draft 
Akayleb Evans

Because Adofo-Mensah traded like a fiend during the NFL draft, it was swept under the rug that the new GM traded future draft capital for Evans. Now, 2022 will decide if Evans is a “project” or if he’ll steal snaps from the CB reservist hodgepodge of Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Parry Nickerson, and Nate Hairston.

30. Does Brian Asamoah get meaningful playing time?

You won’t see too many three-off-ball-LB sets in the Vikings 3-4 defense. And, when healthy, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks rarely come off the field. This seemingly leaves 3rd-Rounder Brian Asamoah in limbo.

Ergo, when and how is Asamoah interweaved into the defense?

31. Is ‘Luiji Vilain’ just a cool name like ‘Whop Philyor?’

Listen, Luiji Vilain is a tremendous name for anybody. But is he any good — or is it just a name?

Making the 53-man roster will shed light on an early verdict.

32. Can homefield advantage dominance be reestablished?

From 2016 to 2019, the Vikings held the NFL’s second-best record at home — the first four seasons of U.S. Bank Stadium’s existence.

Then, from 2020 to 2021, Minnesota became totally average (8-8) at home. Can O’Connell reestablish the building as a house of horrors for visiting teams?

33. Is Donatell’s 3-4 better than Zimmer’s 4-3?

Tons of red meat here.

The Vikings have used a 3-4 defense one time — in one season — in franchise history. Zimmer’s 4-3 defense at the peak of its powers was murderous. However, in the last two seasons, the murderous 4-3 got murdered by the opposition.

Is life after Zimmer on defense a breath of fresh air? Or do you spend October afternoons craving the 2014-2019 Zimmer defense?

34. Who’s the kicker?

Vikings Reportedly Sign New Kicker
Gabe Brkic (47) continues to carve out a spot among the best kickers in OU history. Lx13732.

Greg Joseph did his damndest to make amends for the Cardinals atrocity. But a few weeks ago, Adofo-Mensah signed an entertaining kicker named Gabe Brkic.

Does Brkic become a Chase McLaughlin-like practice squad legend? Or does Joseph exit-stage-left, handing the kicker job to Brkic?

Like the Dantzler-Booth war, this one will be fun — and probably maddening.

35. Is the mortifying situational defense fixed?

A little secret: outside of the Vikings late-half meltdowns in 2021, Zimmer’s final defense wasn’t half bad. According to EPA/play, Minnesota was the NFL’s 12th-best defense last year. It just never felt like it because the defense handed out points at the end of the 2nd and 4th Quarters like hotel pillow mints.

Was the lousy defense at the most critical times merely Zimmer flatlining? Or is the group of defensive players prone to collapse?

36. Will the Vikings keep turnovers relatively low with a new coach?

The 2021 Vikings had the fewest turnovers — in a good way — in the NFL. They protected the ball on offense and on special teams.

Was this a Zimmer trait that can be carried over to O’Connell’s repertoire? The last thing fans want is for the Vikings to regress via ball security. Teams that protect the ball reach the postseason when they’re not named the 2021 Vikings.

37. Does the Vikings kicker curse follow O’Connell?

Numerous Vikings kickers on Zimmer’s watch — and even before that — ruined Sunday afternoons. Blair Walsh did it. So did Gary Anderson 24 years ago. None of them hit extra points like the rest of the world’s kickers.

Plus, the incumbent, Joseph, has Arizona demons.

With Joseph or Brkic, does the nasty, snakebitten kicker tomfoolery rest with Zimmer’s exodus — or is this an eternal Vikings hex?

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).