5 Surprising Vikings Developments from 2023
When the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions wrap up their Week 18 game, one team will head to the playoffs, and the other will head home. This result has been expected for Kevin O’Connell’s team with the developments in recent weeks, but the year has been one of ups and downs. A few things jump off the stat sheet when looking back.
5 Surprising Vikings Developments from 2023
It would be obtuse to suggest that Minnesota hasn’t battled a substantial amount of adversity this season. From losing a star wide receiver in Justin Jefferson to losing a starting quarterback in Kirk Cousins, they have experienced everything in between. Still, they kept it together and nearly finished with a .500 record. They sniffed the playoffs all the way to the end and made each week worth tuning in for (at least for kickoff).
Here are five surprising realities that jump out from the year:
1. The Quarterback Carousel Produced Similar Results
After Nick Mullens makes his final start on Sunday, he should have very close to the same number of attempts as Josh Dobbs did (151). He’ll finish with something like 300 more passing yards, which is largely attributed to one stinker of a game for Dobbs. Before the Lions game, both had thrown for five touchdowns, with Dobbs having thrown five interceptions to Mullens’ six. Based on how bad the quarterback play as a whole has been in the absence of Cousins, it should have been expected that there was a higher level of ineptitude one way or the other.
2. Just Missing a Trio of 1,000 Yard Pass Catchers
Despite the starting quarterback going down halfway through the year, Minnesota’s pass catchers continued to feast. Rookie Jordan Addison had an opportunity to step into a more significant role after Jefferson went down, and he took every advantage of that. He will probably not hit the 146 yards he needs for 1,000, but it’s still been a great year. A huge game could get Jefferson over the hump for the fourth time in four seasons, and standout tight end T.J. Hockenson would have cleared the mark with ease had he not suffered a season-ending injury.
3. The Younger Rusher Might Be It
If the Vikings have learned anything this year regarding the ground game, even though Kevin O’Connell doesn’t much like it, Alexander Mattison isn’t a lead back. He’s struggled in virtually every big opportunity he has been given, and the 3.9 yards per carry leaves so much left to be desired. Ty Chandler has more than half as many yards despite being a clear backup for the vast majority of the season, and his 4.4 yards per carry are a substantial step in a much better direction. Maybe he’s not the answer going forward, either, but he presents a much more realistic ceiling.
4. Another Nailed Undrafted Signing
Needing linebacker help with the departure of Eric Kendricks, there was thought that Brian Asamoah may be the one to step up. Instead, it was undrafted rookie Ivan Pace Jr. who has been everything Minnesota needed and then some. Left off draft boards due to his size, he has emerged as a playcaller on the defense and has been an absolute catalyst.
His 93 tackles are fourth on the team, and he has contributed 2.5 sacks with an additional eight quarterback hits. Pace may be undersized, but at just 23 years old, he might be one of the most essential pieces for Minnesota’s defense going forward.
5. The Mettellus Effect Is Real
When the Vikings took Lewis Cine with their first-round pick a season ago, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had visions of pairing a young safety with Harrison Smith and allowing him to blossom. Unfortunately, and in part due to a catastrophic leg injury, that has never come to fruition. Cine is rarely on the field for Minnesota, and the emergence of Josh Mettellus has mitigated his absence.
A player in a similar vein, Mettellus can line up wherever Brian Flores wants him, and he can both tackle while playing in coverage. Now extended by the Vikings to a long-term deal, this has been a coming out season for the 25-year-old, and he should have been awarded a Pro Bowl appearance to go along with it.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.