Vikings Near the Basement for 2023 Defensive Ranking

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the Minnesota Vikings can nudge their defensive prowess from near the bottom of the league in 2022 to somewhere close to the middle in 2023, the sky is truly the limit.

But some folks simply don’t think that will happen, especially after the offseason departures of Eric Kendricks, Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, and Za’Darius Smith.

Vikings Near the Basement for 2023 Defensive Ranking

One such voice is Pro Football Network, and in particular, Arif Hasan, formerly of VikingsTerritory. Hasan authored 2023 NFL defensive rankings this week, and Minnesota lived in 26th place.

the Basement for
Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

The club ranked 27th in defensive DVOA last year, 30th in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed. Per EPA/Play, though, the Vikings curiously ranked 16th. Then, the franchise fired defensive coordinator Ed Donatell after just one season, shortly after the playoff loss to the New York Giants, and hired Brian Flores a few weeks later. Based on the shape of the offseason, Minnesota is banking on Flores as the cure-all.

Hasan wrote about the Vikings seventh-worst ranking, “The Vikings are slated to improve defensively, but not enormously. They revamped their secondary, which helps, but the turnover they’ve had makes them difficult to project. Losing Za’Darius Smith deals a pretty big blow to their hopes, but they’ve improved overall. Where they’re coming from wasn’t that great to begin with, though.”

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Too, Minnesota will have a litany of new starters, depending on summer camp battles. Some may include:

  • Marcus Davenport for Za’Darius Smith – OLB
  • Khyiris Tonga for Dalvin Tomlinson – DT
  • Dean Lowry for Jonathan Bullard – DT
  • Brian Asamoah for Eric Kendricks – ILB
  • Byron Murphy for Chandon Sullivan – CB
  • Andrew Booth for Patrick Peterson – CB
  • Akayleb Evans for Duke Shelley – CB
  • Lewis Cine for Camryn Bynum – S

None of the projections are final. But the problem is that Hasan and others don’t believe those are major improvements.

Should Sign Veteran CB
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota’s offense, on the other hand, will experience extreme continuity, only swapping Adam Thielen, who left in free agency to the Carolina Panthers, for rookie 1st-Rounder Jordan Addison and perhaps Dalvin Cook to a different team. It’s the same quarterback, offensive line, TE1, plus Alexander Mattison, who re-signed in March.

The Vikings defense was thoroughly shellacked in the postseason at home against the Giants — so much so that the offseason turned into a full-scale facelift. Flores was hired in February, and his defensive philosophy is the antithesis of Donatell’s. The 2022 Vikings defense showcased ‘bend but don’t break,’ whereas Flores is markedly more aggressive and blitz-happy. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also pressed the button for youth, speed, and affordability over experience.

Minnesota opens the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 10th.


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 Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.