The Minnesota Vikings Youth Movement

Will Excite
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the previous general manager and head coach in Minnesota were relieved of their duties last year, one of the big tasks the people coming in needed to undertake was making the Vikings roster younger. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell came in and concisely turned the roster around, creating the Minnesota Vikings youth movement. Heading into the second season of their tenure, the Vikings roster has a much more youthful look about it.

The Minnesota Vikings Youth Movement

The Vikings spent years trying to rekindle the magic that took them to the 2017 NFC championship game. It never worked. The subsequent five seasons saw just two playoff appearances and one playoff win. The time had come to let go and move on from aging veterans on big contracts. Nothing signaled the Viking’s intention to do this more than the release of Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks. Two extremely popular players being shown the door early in the offseason signaled intent.

1 Vikings Theory Is All
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Speculation continues to surround Za’Darius Smith and Dalvin Cook, two of the more senior members left on the roster. During the whole offseason process, signs have pointed towards the pair leaving Minnesota; for now, they are still officially Vikings, but the smart money says that won’t be for long. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell are starting to shape the roster in their image; these significant changes are just beginning. 

The biggest question is, when does the change come at quarterback? Despite the draft hype machine linking the Vikings with a big move at the QB position, it didn’t materialize, and the Vikings drafted Jaren Hall in the fifth round. It’s not unheard of for mid to late-round quarterbacks to become starters, but expectations for Hall should be low. All eyes will be on the 2024 draft for the Vikings to finally make their move at quarterback.

Age of the Squad

Going into last season, the Vikings had the 19th oldest average age on the roster, at 26 years, 5 months, and 6 days. That doesn’t seem bad; however, the roster seemed top and bottom-heavy – many older and younger players. The way the roster is shaping up so far, that average looks set to be younger and more well-balanced this year. 

Vikings Youth
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The Vikings have one very senior player on each side of the ball, Kirk Cousins on offense and Harrison Smith on defense. Then you have the players the Vikings drafted that have matured into senior players like Danielle Hunter, Brian O’Neill, and Garrett Bradbury. Minnesota looks like they will have a lot of relatively young starters this season. Some positions look young, even when considering the oldest and most experienced player at the position.

Oldest Projected Starting Player by Position

  • QB – Kirk Cousins (34)
  • RB – Alexander Mattison (24)
  • WR – KJ Osborn (25)
  • TE – TJ Hockenson (25)
  • OT – Brian O’Neill (27)
  • IOL – Garrett Bradbury (27)
  • DT – Dean Lowry (28)
  • OLB – Danielle Hunter (28)
  • LB – Jordan Hicks (30)
  • CB – Byron Murphy (25)
  • S – Harrison Smith (34)

Youthful New Signings

Except for long-snapper Andrew Depaolo, all of the Vikings signings this offseason are under 30 – and the age of your long-snapper isn’t really relevant. When looking at entirely new signings in Minnesota, the eight players the Vikings have brought in range between 25 and 28 years old. 

Players Re-Signed

  • Andrew DePaola (35)
  • Jonathan Bullard (29)
  • Alexander Mattison (24)
  • Greg Joseph (28)
  • Garrett Bradbury (27)
  • Nick Mullens (27)
  • Khyiris Tonga (26)
  • Austin Schlottmann (27)
  • Oli Udoh (26)

New Signings

  • Byron Murphy (25)
  • Josh Oliver (25)
  • Joejuan Williams (25)
  • Marcus Davenport (26)
  • Brandon Powell (26) 
  • Troy Reader (28)

There has been an expectation that the Vikings would add more experience at certain positions – notably cornerback and linebacker. The CBs to come in are relatively young, although Murphy brings in a wealth of experience for such a young player and will be the Vikings CB1. Minnesota could still add more players to their roster, including experienced veterans, but I’d expect any new signings to remain in that 25-28 threshold.

Building for the Future

Usually, when a team undergoes this sort of transformation, they can be excused for being bad for a season or two. That was not the Modus Operandi for the Vikings; a competitive rebuild was the remit. It was successful in Year 1, with the Vikings winning 13 games and claiming the NFC North division title. Can it continue in the same vein in Year 2, with even more significant change?

That could depend on how the 2022 draft class fares in their second season, alongside this year’s rookie class. The Vikings will need this year’s first-round pick, Jordan Addison, to hit the ground running. The offense is the Vikings strength, but asking that side of the ball to make up for a porous defense again is a big ask – probably too big. A new defensive coordinator, new scheme, and style of play may help, but the Vikings need a lot of young players on defense to step up in 2023.

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The good news is the team that’s usually been the team to beat over the past two decades lost its quarterback and is entering a rebuilding phase. For the first time in a while, Green Bay isn’t seen as a deathly challenger. Strangely, Detroit is seen as the team to beat. A team that has made good progress under HC Dan Campbell as plucky underdogs. Now they play under the pressure of favorites.

What to expect from the Vikings almost entirely hinges on what Brian Flores can get out of that defense. Expecting miracles immediately is unwise, but can the young players show progress and start fulfilling their potential? Improvement from being one of, if not the worst, defense in the league is the starting point.