As the Vikings head into training camp next week, there are a lot of intriguing things to look at especially with the new coaching staff and front office. As stated by multiple players on Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden’s podcast “All Things Covered,” the vibe around the team feels different from the new coaching staff. The question now becomes how that will translate on the field when the season gets underway. Honestly, the answer will only come when the Vikings host the Packers in Week 1. However, until then, there are a good number of questions heading into camp on the offensive side of the ball.
Will Cousins be this year’s Matt Stafford with Kevin O’Connell?
Once again, Captain Kirk will have another new offensive coordinator this year. He started with Matt Cavanaugh in 2017, then John DeFilippo, Kevin Stefanski, Gary Kubiak, and most recently Klint Kubiak. However, since 2018, the Vikings have been running a scheme that was mostly still rooted in outside zone runs and play-action passes.
This year could be very different from years past. O’Connell’s offense comes from using a Super Bowl-winning playbook with the Los Angeles Rams. Cousins already has some experience with O’Connell as they worked together in Washington five years ago. Cousins also has the benefit of not being at the same level as Stafford was before heading to Hollywood. The Lions were 74-90-1 (.451) with Stafford and the Washington Commanders and the Vikings are 59-59-2 (.500) with Cousins. Additionally, in their first 120 starts, Cousins has a slightly better stat line.
|Player||Passing Yards||Completion %||Passing TDs||INTs||Passer Rating|
On top of that, Cousins will already have chemistry with the players that he is throwing to, unlike Stafford. While it didn’t take that long for Stafford to build that chemistry, having it already in place should speed up the process even more so. Hopefully, we get some indication of Cousins improving to potential MVP-level stats. The backup battle is still up in the air even with O’Connell admitting he was impressed by what he’s seen so far from the 22-year-old quarterback. In OTAs, Sean Mannion was still largely getting the second-team reps at workouts. While Cousins will probably hit his numbers, it would be nice to have a younger player working behind him in case he goes down or for the future.
Who is WR3?
It’s very obvious who the top two receivers will be on the team. Justin Jefferson started all 17 games with 108 receptions, 1,616 yards, and 10 touchdowns. He has been a stud pretty much since he came into the league. Now that former Rams offensive coordinator, O’Connell is the head coach of Jefferson, his numbers are most likely going to go up if Cooper Kupp’s success had anything to do with O’Connell. There’s even a chance that Jefferson may take over as the number one receiver in the league as he only ranked second in the NFL in receiving yards and fourth in receptions, and his touchdowns were tied for sixth last season.
Adam Thielen will be the number two behind Jefferson. He had 67 receptions for 726 yards and 10 scores last season and even though he’s entering his ninth season, he still ranks fifth in team history with 464 receptions. Again, given the offensive mindset of O’Connell, he should easily get 36 more this season and join the 500 receptions club which only has Cris Carter (1,004) and Randy Moss (587).
However, one of the questions in almost every off-season is the depth of the receivers. K.J. Osborn improved significantly in his second season with 50 catches for 655 yards and seven scores. However, it remains to be seen if he can keep the trajectory that way or if he will have to be replaced by someone else. Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been decent, but he has been in a walking boot for the majority of the offseason. Will that injury plague any potential that he has?
Behind him is newcomer Jalen Nailor. Nailor had more receiving yards vs. single coverage last season than any other receiver in college. That’s notable given that two OSU receivers went #10 and #11 overall in the draft. At the combine, Nailor ran the 19th fastest 40-yard dash, and Vikings receiver coach, Keenan McCardell, really wanted Minnesota to draft him. Then the Voice of the Vikings, Paul Allen said that Nailor was the surprise standout during rookie camp and a little bit at minicamp. While Osborn most likely has the role, both Smith-Marsette and Nailor could be fighting for it as well.
How will Dalvin Cook do in his New Role?
Last season, Dalvin Cook racked up 1,159 yards and six touchdowns on 249 carries. Cook also caught 34 balls for 224 yards. After him, Alexander Mattison had 134 carries for 491 yards and three touchdowns with 32 catches for 228 yards and one receiving touchdown. As offensive coordinator, O’Connell only ran run plays 39.7% of the time. That ranked ninth lowest in the NFL and L.A. called the league’s 12th most passing plays. Given the skills already talked about with the QB and receiver positions, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the Vikings will be more pass-heavy than the prior coaching regime.
Even so, Cook told FOX 9 Sports’ Hobie Artigue that “Being a bell-cow running back is what I pride myself on being.” However, Cook was featured, at times, as a wide receiver at the Vikings’ June minicamp. The last time he was really active in the passing game was in 2019. That was when Cook caught 53 passes for 519 receiving yards. That was only 5th behind currently starting running backs. If that increases and he stays healthy, Cook becomes a player that is dangerous no matter what type of play is done.
The Return of Irv Smith Jr.?
It was apparent that Smith was primed to have a breakout in Year 3. Unfortunately, he was out the entire 2021 season with a knee injury. Tyler Conklin, who stepped in admirably, went to the Jets as a free agent. Now no other tight ends currently on the roster have logged a catch. However, it is looking like Smith is returning to form. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips stated that he’s “the Irv I saw on tape from a couple years ago.” Back in 2020, Smith had 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns. Hopefully, he is able to stay healthy because if he can’t, the tight end skill set drops extremely.
Behind Smith, there’s Johnny Mundt, Zach Davidson, Ben Ellefson, and rookie Nick Muse. However, it doesn’t mean that the Vikings’ post-season dreams are shattered if Smith goes down due to the other offensive skill players O’Connell has to work with. Additionally, Smith joined Travis Kelce’s Tight End University to improve his game by sharing knowledge and running drills with some of the other best tight ends in the league. There is no doubt though that the Vikings are scarier when defenses have to plan for Smith in addition to Cook, Theilen, and Jefferson.
Who will start at Right Guard?
It appears that Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and Brian O’Neill look to be locked in as starters for left guard, left tackle, center, and right tackle, respectively. However, the position battle for the right guard position is still up in the air. The main competitors for this position are newly signed Jesse Davis and Chris Reed along with rookie Ed Ingram.
Breaking down the competitors
Davis played in five seasons with the Dolphins and Pro Football Focus gave him a 52.5 grade in 2021. He was penalized just four times but was tied for the sixth-most sacks allowed with eight on the year. Reed was the 38th best-graded offensive guard last year and was a major asset in opening up rushing lanes for Colts running back Jonathan Taylor’s record-breaking season. He allowed 0 sacks so based on numbers alone, Reed seems the better option. However, Davis was a starter longer than Reed with 72 out of 80 vs Reed’s 29 for 61. There’s an argument for either Davids or Reed getting the job, but it will come down to consistency.
Ingram stands out over Davis and Reed in pass protection as he only allowed just 11 hurries in 484 pass-blocking snaps at LSU. As the team is heading more towards a passing offensive, Ingram has a lot of upsides to start. However, as of 20-Jul-22, he technically is not part of the team as he still needs to sign a contract. Though, assuming that gets figured out as it is projected by Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson, Ingram has a much higher ceiling than the others but will need to prove himself at training camp and the preseason to get the starting job.
We’ll see what happens the rest of the off-season but make sure to bookmark this site and check back for the latest Vikings news and analysis. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions there.