Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

NFC NORTH

WRITTEN BY :: MIKE JOHNSON

Minnesota Vikings

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes ::

  • Offense: Offensive-minded head coach Kevin O’Connell returns to the Vikings along with offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.
  • Defense: Brian Flores returns for his second season as the defensive coordinator for the Vikings after leading the 11th-ranked DVOA defense in the league in 2023, a big improvement from the previous year.

Personnel Changes ::

  • Kirk Cousins is gone, and after dealing with a carousel of QBs during the second half of 2023, the Vikings signed Sam Darnold and drafted J.J. McCarthy with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
  • Minnesota’s big offseason acquisition was bringing running back Aaron Jones over from their rival, the Packers. Jones and Ty Chandler, who played very well down the stretch for Minnesota last year, should account for most, if not all, of the Vikings’ backfield work.
  • Justin Jefferson dealt with an injured hamstring last season, but finished the season with a monster game and is still one of the premier players at his position.
  • Jordan Addison had a very good rookie season that he will look to build upon while also upping his consistency in 2024.
  • K.J. Osborn left in free agency, while Trent Sherfield was brought in. Sherfield and Jalen Nailor are the likely candidates for the WR3 role.
  • T.J. Hockenson was the TE1 through 16 weeks last season and then tore his ACL. His recovery and availability for the start of the season will be something to monitor closely.

Schedule ::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • CHI x2, DET x2, GB x2
  • NFC West (4)::
    • vs. ARI, vs, SF, @ SEA, @ LAR
  • AFC South (4)::
  • @ TEN, @ JAX, vs. IND, vs. HOU
  • @ NYG, vs. ATL, @ NYJ

Bull Case ::

The Vikings ranked sixth in yards per game and eighth in points per game in 2022. Last year, they took a step back in large part due to injuries to Cousins and Jefferson, as they finished 11th in yards per game and 22nd in points per game. Looking ahead to this season, it is clear to see how Minnesota could return to its 2022 form or even surpass it. Jones and Chandler provide a better backfield outlook than what the Vikings running backs provided the last two years in terms of both efficiency and explosiveness. Assuming a fully healthy Jefferson and an early-season return for Hockenson, the Vikings could be screaming “buys” and hit the ground running. 

McCarthy was not asked to throw the ball at a high rate in Michigan’s run-first offense, but his advanced metrics were terrific and he has been nothing but successful throughout his football career. Putting a smart player like him with solid physical tools in an offense with several elite weapons and a great offensive coach is a potentially terrific situation. In the NFL, so much of a team’s outlook comes down to the quarterback position, so McCarthy’s development will obviously be important to watch. Even if McCarthy struggles to acclimate, Darnold is better than most people realize and would be in the best situation of his career were he asked to start. The Vikings were a wildly popular team last season with high ADP’s and they were on track to pay off those projections until injuries got the best of them. If McCarthy (or Darnold) is closer to Cousins than they are to the parade of QBs the Vikings trotted out during the second half of 2023, this offense will have multiple players smashing their ADPs.

Bear Case ::

The Vikings have improved their defense significantly over the last couple of years and should have an improved running game as well. Those factors could lead them into more games that come down to ball control, as opposed to the frequent shootouts we saw Cousins lead them through during recent years. Their starting quarterback will either be a rookie (McCarthy), who most experts agree has a lot of learning to do, or a journeyman QB (Darnold) who has never really been able to “carry” an offense to big production on a consistent basis. 

Hockenson will be exactly nine months removed from his ACL surgery when the NFL season kicks off, which is definitely feasible by today’s standards but far from a guarantee that he will be a “full go” and/or playing at a level near his elite standards. Jefferson is wildly talented and Addison is a great second option, but the change in quarterback adds an element of unknown for both of them. Meanwhile, Jones is a great addition in theory, but he is also turning 30 this season and “Father Time” is undefeated – especially against running backs.

The NFC North may be the toughest division in football this season, and the other three teams all have stronger outlooks at the QB position and fewer injury concerns. It’s easy to see how the Vikings could get knocked around this season, and it’s also possible that they turn to a more conservative offensive approach to make McCarthy more comfortable, which would crater the projections for their elite, and expensive, skill players.

Expectations/Takeaways ::

The Vikings were one of my favorite teams to load up on last season. Cousins was overlooked (as always), Jefferson was my 1.01, Hockenson was my TE1, I loved taking Addison/Osborn, and when in doubt, I would try to roster a Vikings RB. This year I once again find myself very intrigued by them:

  • If you were a QB trying to keep your head above water, don’t you think you’d be throwing the ball to Jefferson as often as possible? He’s going in the middle of the first round this season, which means I will have A TON of him.
  • McCarthy is a very interesting late-round QB option. He’s young and talented, but there is a bit of unknown around him. He has better rushing ability than Cousins had and has the same supporting cast to throw to. I’ll take the discount and hope the Vikings struck gold.
  • Addison is a “fine” option to me. I’m happy to take him in the seventh round if he’s there, but not reaching for him before then or making him a priority to “stack”. I specifically like taking him as my WR3 or WR4 with a couple of high-end WRs already on the roster. The reason for this is he had 10 games of single-digit PPR scoring last year, so I don’t want to be counting on him for weekly scores.
  • Hockenson was the TE1 when he got hurt last season. Players are coming back from ACL’s faster than ever. I’m taking the discount.
  • Jones is not someone I expect to play all season, but he can/should have some big games when he’s on the field. I’ll take him in the mid-sixth to mid-seventh round on DK and UD, where the weekly spikes are more valuable, but won’t roster much of him on Drafters with their cumulative scoring.
  • Chandler flashed at times last season, despite the fact that the Vikings’ offense was a shell of itself when he got his opportunity. Considering my optimism for their offense this year and my pessimism on the ability of Jones to stay on the field, I’ll be targeting Chandler often in the mid-double digit rounds.

This is slightly off-topic for a “Best Ball” product, but the Vikings odds to win the NFC North are currently posted at anywhere from 10-to-1 to 12-to-1. Considering their defensive improvement last year and their elite skill group on offense, along with a very good coaching staff, that is one of my favorite NFL futures bets for this offseason. The other teams in their division all have very strong outlooks, so I get why the odds are what they are….but that strength across the board could lead to a situation where they beat each other up and the division winner ends up with something pedestrian like a 10-7 or 11-6 record. If Darnold has improved as much as those around him say and/or McCarthy is the real deal, then Minnesota has far better than 10% odds to lead the division. Far from a sure thing. Not financial advice…..but something to think about.

Green Bay Packers

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