3 Positives from the Vikings’ 2023 Season
Defeat in Detroit rounded out a season with flashes of promise but ultimately disappointed. As the dust settles, it’s time to look at the positives from the Vikings’ 2023 season Negatives will be examined in a separate article.
3 Positives from the Vikings’ 2023 Season
Following a 13-win season that saw Minnesota crowned division champions in head coach Kevin O’Connell’s first season, a 7-10 campaign and no playoff football are disappointments but also the result of a turbulent season full of adversity. Most notable was losing Kirk Cousins to injury in Week 8, an injury that ended his season and probably killed Minnesota’s chances simultaneously.
Despite an initial spark from Joshua Dobbs, the Vikings never recovered and suffered from inconsistent QB play for the remainder of the season. The injuries never ceased for the Vikings, but the team remained in the playoff race until the bitter end. However, a run of six defeats in the last seven games — the sole win a 3-0 victory over the Raiders — saw the Vikings season fizzle out.
That’s not to say there weren’t any positives. Danielle Hunter was one of the league’s best pass rushers, finishing with a career-high in both sacks (16.5) and forced fumbles (4). T.J. Hockenson proved he was a Top 3 TE in the league with 960 yards and 5 five touchdowns from 15 games. Justin Jefferson proved he was still great — as if there was any doubt — with another 1000-yard season despite missing seven games through injury. The three biggest positives this season came from people new to the organization that had a big impact.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah needed to hit with his first-round selection in his second draft as Vikings general manager. He did just that, selecting Jordan Addison with the 23rd overall pick. Addison was the fourth of four wide receivers in the first round, and the Vikings receiver outperformed the three ahead of him. The 2022 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner took the NFL by storm with seven touchdowns in his first eight games.
Despite a QB carousel following Cousins’ injury, Addison became only the 11th rookie to score 10 touchdowns on their debut season in the Super Bowl era. He joined the illustrious company with two other Vikings, Randy Moss and Sammy White. Addison finished the season with 70 catches on 108 targets for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns. That is an excellent rookie season that could have been even better had the Vikings enjoyed more consistent QB play in the second half.
Thankfully, the Ed Donatell experience lasted only one season, and it appeared something drastic was needed to turn the Vikings’ defense around. Brian Flores is just the man for that job.
After a few games to get in sync with the new scheme, the Vikings’ defense started to play very well through the middle part of the season. Unfortunately, the defense finished the season with a major slump that was a cause for concern but should also probably have been expected.
There were some notable injuries to Byron Murphy, D.J. Wonnum, and Jordan Hicks to contend with as well, as teams getting a look at what the Vikings were doing defensively and adjusting accordingly, highlighting the team’s biggest issue.
The Vikings’ defense lacks top-end talent. There is Danielle Hunter, and that is it — sadly Harrison Smith is no longer at that level. Players like Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus made significant strides this season, but the Vikings’ defense needs an injection of talent at every position.
The Vikings also need a lot on offense, including securing Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw’s long-term futures, re-signing Kirk Cousins, and/or drafting a rookie QB. Assuming Flores remains as the Vikings’ DC next season, he will put out a competitive unit, but to have a consistently good defense, Flores needs to be fed more than just the scraps of the free agency money and draft capital.
Ivan Pace was the fairytale story of the season, from undrafted rookie to one of the most valuable players on the Vikings’ defense. Pace played in all 17 games for Minnesota, starting 11 of them and wearing the green dot while Hicks was out injured. The rookie had 102 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 9 QB hits. He also had 1 interception, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble and recovery. His overall grade from Pro Football Focus of 77.2 was 17th best among all linebackers.
Pace’s PFF grade breakdown shows where he excels, in coverage (77.7) and as a pass rusher (78.0). Size (5’10, 231lbs) has always been the red mark against Pace, and it has shown up a few times in run defense (61.3) when he’s been there for a tackle but has been overpowered. His run tackling has by no means been bad, but it is certainly the area of his game with the most room for growth. Pace has exceeded people’s expectations for him this season and should be a certainty for the PFWA All-Rookie team.