Latest Moves Indicate Different-Looking Vikings Offense in 2023

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The Vikings entered the offseason with an aging roster and salary cap problems. The organization improved in both categories a couple of weeks later, but it cost them some veterans. Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson left in free agency after both signed big deals in the AFC North.

Minnesota also had to release Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen, two longtime franchise staples, to gain youth and cap space. Kendricks signed with the Chargers, while Thielen is heading to Carolina to catch passes from the next first-overall pick. A different longtime Viking is staying with the team.

Latest Moves Indicate Different-Looking Vikings Offense in 2023

Veteran fullback CJ Ham will stay on the team for two more seasons, according to his agency ‘Team IFA‘ on Twitter: “No place like home! #30 remains in Minnesota on a two-year extension. Let’s go C.J. Ham ?.”

Latest Moves Indicate Different-Looking Vikings Offense in 2023
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The move to extend Ham came somewhat surprising. Many expected him to join Thielen and Kendricks as a cap casualty, but he’s staying on the team.

The Vikings were way over the salary cap when free agency began and had a bunch of needs that had to be addressed without many resources. Ham’s release would’ve saved $3,050,000 against the cap, which is very expensive for a fullback, a popular but not necessary position in today’s NFL.

O’Connell’s previous team, the Rams, didn’t employ a fullback. In Minnesota, that spot is filled by hometown hero Ham from Duluth, Minnesota. FBs are always popular among fans because they do the dirty work without getting much praise. However, Ham is different.

He regularly receives carries, is a part of the passing game, and is an excellent blocker. In addition, Ham helps the special team units with his contributions. The veteran’s value doesn’t stop there, as he has also been a team captain and a valuable piece in the locker room, but his role is slowly declining.

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Since he became the fullback of the Vikings in 2017, Ham has never received fewer rushing attempts than in 2022 and had fewer targets in the passing game only in 2017. His role is clearly disappearing. O’Connell prefers an extra wide receiver or a second tight end on the field compared to past offensive coordinators who used Ham more often.

Ham was on the field for over 350 offensive snaps in each of the last three seasons during Mike Zimmer’s reign. He only played 169 snaps in 2022. That equals only 15% of the Vikings’ plays.

In addition to extending the fullback, the Vikings made more moves that indicated a change of philosophy on offense. Josh Oliver, a tight end, was the only big external signing on offense in free agency. Notably, Oliver hasn’t been a great receiving threat in the league but is known as a great blocker in the running game. He came out of college as a receiver, and his $7 million salary per season indicates that the Vikings are betting on his upside in the passing game.

However, the team also employs T.J. Hockenson, one of the best receiving tight ends in the game, which directly leads to the potential of using more 12-personnel in the upcoming season.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver (84) spikes the ball after a touchdown score as tight end Mark Andrews (89) looks on and Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andre Cisco (5) is slow to get up after an attempted stop during the fourth quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jaguars edged the Ravens 28-27. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

The advantage of that is exciting. Opponents have to play more base defense and send safeties into the box to counter the running threat of an extra blocker. That will lead to more single-high coverages, which means fewer double-teams for Justin Jefferson. If the opponents don’t counter that way, the running game should be much more effective, something the Vikings struggled with in the last couple of seasons.

Putting more focus on the running game makes sense for the Vikings after fielding a horrendous running attack in 2022. The EPA/play on rushing plays ranked 29th in the NFL, an unacceptable ranking. For comparison, the passing offense ranked 10th in EPA/play.

Keeping Ham in the building and possibly letting him see the field more often, in addition to more 12-personnel by adding a sensational run-blocker, should fire up the backs on the team.

In addition to those two moves, the Vikings re-signed Garrett Bradbury. The center is an excellent run blocker, especially his reach blocks are famous. He uses his athleticism well in space. On the flip side, his pass protection, despite improving in 2022, is the weakness in his game. The team could’ve tried to sign a different center, someone whose strength is the passing game, fitting for the Vikings offense. However, they didn’t do that, which might hint at a different offensive approach in 2023.

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All of those moves could lead to a higher frequency of the running game. In 2022, only two teams ran the ball more than the Vikings, and both offenses struggled. The Buccaneers and the Chargers fired their offensive coordinators after the season because they were too pass-heavy.

Don’t be shocked if the Vikings become a more run-happy offense in the upcoming season. That doesn’t mean the Vikings will stop throwing the ball, they might still be in the top 10 in passing frequency, but a more balanced offense could help the offense.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt