5 Vikings Need Big Performances to Aid Long-Term Future

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There is still a chance that the Minnesota Vikings make the playoffs. Beat the Lions and have other results go their way, and they might just sneak in — and sneak is the word. As it currently stands, this Vikings team shouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs. Injuries have hit this team hard, and despite a mid-season rally and lots of close games, Kevin O’Connell hasn’t been able to find a way to win enough games.

Minnesota will play to win and see what happens, but five Vikings need a big performance regardless of the situation to aid their long-term future in Minnesota.

5 Vikings Need Big Performances to Aid Long-Term Future

There is set to be a lot of turnover on the Vikings’ roster during the upcoming offseason. Minnesota has only 37 players contracted for next season and a lengthy list of pending free agents. One of those free agents makes this list, but the other four are players contracted to be in Minnesota next season. However, whether it’s due to an underwhelming season in 2023 or because they play in a position that the Vikings are viewed as needing to improve,

These players may be looking over their shoulders and worrying about their current position on the roster during the offseason/preseason.

Alexander Mattison

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After serving as Dalvin Cook’s understudy for four seasons, Alexander Mattison finally got to step out of his shadow and become the Vikings RB1. The season hasn’t gone as Mattison would have hoped, with 676 rushing yards from 15 games, but the real disappointment is failing to score a single rushing touchdown — he scored 5 last season as a backup. Mattison did score three receiving touchdowns but also had drop issues early in the season.

Mattison has failed to prove himself as a genuine RB1, and the Vikings would be wise to add to the ranks for next season. They could look at the draft or bring in a veteran. Either way, the Vikings have to do something to get more out of their running game next season. Mattison will likely still be in Minnesota, with $4 million of his $4.6 million cap hit next season guaranteed. He will be a free agent at the end of next season.

Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth

CB2 Mystery
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It’s set to be a big game for two of the Vikings’ young cornerbacks. Byron Murphy has been ruled out for a third game with a knee injury, while rookie Mekhi Blackmon has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. That leaves the path open for Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth to patrol the perimeter against the Lions. Both players were drafted by the Vikings last season, Booth in the second round and Evans in fourth. Despite Booth having the higher draft stock, Evans has always lived ahead of him on the Vikings’ depth chart and has been a starter for the Vikings this season. 

Playing outside cornerback in Brian Flores’ defense is a tricky gig. It’s been a mixed bag for Evans; he’s had some good games but also some really bad ones. I firmly believe the Vikings need an elite-level CB to get the best out of the Flores’ defensive system. Evans does not fit the bill, and I would be surprised if he remains a starter for the Vikings next season. I was a big fan of the decision to draft Booth, but he’s not had the impact anyone would have hoped for.

During Murphy’s absence through injury, Evans and Blackmon have struggled, while Booth has grasped the opportunity for more playing time and been the Vikings’ best CB over the last couple of games. Booth has the opportunity to start for only the second time in his career, and he needs to make the most of it. His 77.0 coverage grade via Pro Football Focus against the Lions in the reverse fixture two weeks ago was a career-high. Another performance at that level to sign off the season would be a huge boost for Booth heading into next season.

K.J. Osborn

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K.J. Osborn has been a solid WR3 for the Vikings over the last three seasons, but in a contract year, he’s had his least productive season since becoming a regular feature in the Vikings’ offense.

A big game in Detroit would drag his stats up to where they have been for the last two seasons, but a player wants to excel Inna contract season. Despite Justin Jefferson’s lengthy injury giving him more opportunity up the depth chart, Osborn could not take advantage.

Osborn was another player who had drop issues early in the season when the Vikings had the reliable QB play of Kirk Cousins at hand. So, with Cousins’ injury, the Vikings QB carousel certainly hasn’t helped any Vikings receivers. Historically, Osborn has enjoyed himself against the Lions, including a 95 receiving yards and a touchdown game in Week 16. It could be a good game to finish the season with a good impression.

Osborn is a capable WR3 who is easy to think you can do better than. That won’t be easy, especially with the Vikings having so many positions needing attention. His future may depend on whether another team sees enough in him to offer a contract the Vikings are unwilling to match.

Nick Mullens

Nick Mullens got his first start as the Minnesota Vikings QB on Saturday at Cincinnati. Minnesota lost 27-24, but Mullens was productive while causing a couple of turnovers. He joined the Vikings in late summer of 2022 and has served as the team’s QB2 since.

What are the Vikings going to do at quarterback? It’s the question that will surround Minnesota until we get an answer. Will Cousins return? Will the Vikings draft a rookie? Will they do both? The man in the middle is Nick Mullens. He’s contracted to return to Minnesota next season and has had the chance to prove he can be the guy to hold the reigns while bringing in a rookie.

That hasn’t gone so well for him after being benched for this year’s fifth-round rookie. He gets the start this weekend and the chance to right the wrongs of the previous games.

Mullens showed he could move the ball and make the Vikings’ offense explosive. Unfortunately, he also showcased what has always been his downfall: a knack for turning the ball over at an alarming rate.

His future likely depends on what the Vikings front office decides to do at the quarterback position. If they go down the Cousins and a rookie route, Mullens is probably surplus to requirements and can save the Vikings the best part of $2 million if they let him go. Kevin O’Connell’s offense is notoriously difficult to get to grips with. It’s a good game here, and Mullens strengthens his case to stick around, especially if Cousins doesn’t return.