3 Longterm Positives from Vikings First 3 Games
It’s difficult to look for the longterm positives from the first three Vikings games, but positives are always there if you are willing to look for them.
It’s premature to say this season is already up in smoke, but the gasoline has been poured, and the matches are ready to kindle the fire. Maybe the Vikings will make a miraculous comeback, or perhaps they won’t. Either way, there are some early positives to take out of this season.
3 Longterm Positives from Vikings First 3 Games
Longterm positives mean young players who will be in Minnesota for a long time. As much as Kirk Cousins’ 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns are impressive, with the high likelihood of him not being the Vikings QB after this season, that’s not a longterm positive. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft as Vikings GM is coming under heavy fire, and with good reason.
Akayleb Evans and Ed Ingram started the season as starters, but Ingram could be about to be replaced by new signee Dalton Risner. Evans looks like a solid player on the roster and should keep his starting place this season, but he doesn’t look like the longterm answer at cornerback.
The biggest issue with last year’s draft was the Vikings trading back from 12 with the Lions. I’m not interested in the value of draft picks and the politics of trading within the division. The players are what matters, and the Vikings passed on players like Kyle Hamilton, Jordan Davis, and Tyler Linderbaum, who would all look very good on the Vikings roster right now.
Instead, Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth are buried on the depth chart. The good news, however, is the 2023 draft is already showing more promise.
Jordan Addison is already promising to live up to the expectations of a first-round WR. Mekhi Blackmon is getting playing time in the secondary rotation — ahead of Booth, and Jaquelin Roy made his debut against the Chargers.
He should get more opportunity on a struggling Vikings defensive line. As a bonus, the Vikings picked up two of the highest-rated undrafted rookies in Ivan Pace and Andre Carter. Both were surprisingly left waiting on draft day and Pace has already made a mockery of his undrafted status. Carter got his first chance to play on Sunday and immediately made more of an impression than D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones. Even if Marcus Davenport returns from injury, Carter should continue to see some opportunity.
The first positive is clearly Addison, who has had a nice start to life in the NFL, working in the shadow of Justin Jefferson. It’s a nice place for a rookie WR to learn his trade. He was behind K.J. Osborn on the depth chart to start the season. If that hasn’t changed, it should be soon enough. Addison has 13 catches on 19 targets for 185 yards and two touchdowns through three games. Two big-play touchdowns highlighted Addison’s first two games.
In Week 3, after a quiet start to the game, Addison and Cousins found some chemistry, which resulted in career-high targets (8) and receptions (6). It showed a different side to Addison’s game, where he was getting open for quick, short gains to move the chains. Fulfilling that role, as well as the big play potential, is exactly what the Vikings want. Week 3 also saw an increase in time on the field for the rookie, who played on 58 (71%) of offensive plays. As well as making plays, Addison’s mere presence must be accounted for. One of the reasons for drafting the first-round rookie was to create space for Jefferson.
When an undrafted rookie is one of your best defenders three weeks into a season, it is partly a pleasant surprise but also raises a question mark over the rest of the defense. It was always unlikely that Brian Flores would completely fix the Vikings defense immediately. The Minnesota defense has struggled to find answers against two of the best QBs in the league and a dominant Eagles rushing attack over the past two weeks. A few players have been playing well, though, including Pace, who very quickly usurped Brian Asamoah to become the starter at linebacker next to Jordan Hicks.
Pro Football Focus grades Pace at 84.9 through three games, second among all rookies. He has 20 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 3 QB hits, with his pass-rushing ability the critical component to his early success. Pace is not the finished article; he can still improve his run defense, and he’s not great in coverage. However, the early signs from an undrafted rookie are more than anyone could have expected.
Bynum looks a completely different player than the one we saw last season. He seems revitalized under Flores, which is great news for the Vikings defense now and moving forward. Harrison Smith has been a stalwart of the Vikings defense at safety for 12 seasons, but the Hitman’s career is in its final stages.
While Flores remains in Minnesota, safety will be in an important position, and Bynum is locking down his place with his performances so far this season.
Bynum is always around the ball this year, making 29 tackles in the first three games. PFF grades him at 86.8, which is light years ahead of the 58.2 grade he finished last season with. It’s a vast improvement, and if Bynum can keep that performance level up, the Vikings may well look to extend his stay in Minnesota beyond 2024, when his rookie contract is due to expire.
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