3 Vikings Looking to Step Up to Next Level in 2024

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The 2023 season was a disappointment for the Minnesota Vikings. As defending champions of the NFC North division, the Vikings put up no defense with a 1-4 start, leaving them chasing the rest of the way. A run of five straight wins had Vikings fans dreaming again, but with a host of injuries, most notably to Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and TJ Hockenson, the Vikings season fizzled out to a 7-10 record.

3 Vikings Looking to Step Up to Next Level in 2024

That’s not to say there weren’t positives to be taken away from the season. Three young players were particularly impressive in 2023, giving hope that they can be key players around which Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell can build the future of the franchise.

Of course, Minnesota has just drafted two players who they hope will be a major part of their future — JJ McCarthy and Dallas Turner. However, when it comes to other players the Vikings should be looking to build around, three Vikings are looking to step up to the next level in 2024.

Camryn Bynum

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Bynum was drafted in the fourth round in 2021 by former Vikings GM Rick Spielman and turned from a college cornerback into a safety by former Vikings HC Mike Zimmer. The switch of position showed promise in Bynum’s rookie season, and he earned himself a starting role in Year 2 with Ed Donatell then in charge of the defense. Donatell’s defense was so bad that he was relieved of his duties after one season. Bynum struggled like everyone in Donatell’s but — step forward, Brian Flores.

The new look, aggressive, fly-around Minnesota defense, employed by Flores, suited Bynum. He almost doubled the amount of tackles he made in his first two seasons with 43. Add in three forced fumbles, two interceptions, and a sack, it was a productive season for the Vikings safety. Bynum had a grade from Pro Football Focus of 73.2 which ranked 22nd across the league for safeties. He graded in and around the top 10 for most of the season, but a run of bad grades at the end of the season, as the Vikings’ defense fell apart, lowered his score.

The next step for Bynum is to play at his best for a full season. At his best, Bynum played elite football for his position. To be talked of in the same light as Antoine Winfield, Jessie Bates, and Kyle Hamilton, he needs to bring his A-game more consistently. Another year of learning under Flores and, hopefully, improving his defense, should help him reach that goal.

Jordan Addison

Back at Jordan
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Adam Thielen left big shoes to fill in Minnesota, and with his hometown boy came a good story. Jordan Addison did a good job filling them in his rookie season. He soon found a connection with QB Cousins and raced out of the blocks with seven touchdowns in his first eight games. The standout performance was a 123-yard and two-touchdown performance against the eventual NFC champions, the San Francisco 49ers.

After Cousins got injured, life became more difficult for Addison amidst the Vikings QB carousel. However, the only other 100 yards and double-touchdown game of his rookie season came in Week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Cousins is no longer, and Addison will catch passes from Sam Darnold and/or McCarthy in 2024. In his rookie season, Addison proved himself a capable WR2 with 911 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. His aim for 2024 will be to break the 1,000-yard barrier and continue to be a good foil to Jefferson in the Vikings’ offense.

Jefferson will always be the main man in Minnesota, and Addison’s job is primarily to support him with consistent performances. An increase from the two 100-yard games he managed last season would be a significant next step for Addison.

Ivan Pace Jr.

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Undoubtedly, the big success story of the 2023 season, from undrafted to All-Rookie team Ivan Pace, burst onto the scene. Even though Pace is considered small for the position, it was still a surprise that he went undrafted. However, it was to Minnesota’s benefit as they immediately snatched him up, and the buzz didn’t take long to begin. Praise came quickly from the Vikings coaching staff, and when he was entrusted with the green dot during preseason games, it seemed like a matter of when, rather than if, the rookie would see the field during the regular season.

Pace was on the field from Week 1 and rarely left it, even taking over the green dot duties when Jordan Hicks got injured. A rookie season that saw Pace make 102 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss,  9 QB hits, and a forced fumble and recovery, as well as an interception and 2 pass deflections was good enough to see him named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team — where he was joined by Addison. PFF graded him at 77.1, the 16th best in the league, while his new teammate Blake Cashman’s grade of 82.1 was 8th best. Pace and Cashman promise to be a formidable duo in the middle of the field for the Vikings.

Of course, Pace has room for improvement, and that is the next step. While he was excellent in coverage and pass-rush situations thanks to his athleticism and aggressive nature, the latter often got him into trouble in the run game, where his lack of size meant rushing head-first into big linemen or running backs didn’t end favorably.

A more nuanced approach is going to be required for him to be successful in defending the run. Should Pace manage to do that, he would become a complete linebacker.