A rebuild shouldn’t be in the conversation of a 13-4 team, but when you’re talking about the fraud 2022 Minnesota Vikings, it’s the only conversation.
Even though the Vikings had a top five record for the 2022 season, that didn’t stop them from being bounced in the wildcard by the New York Giants. Many were quick to crown the Giants following their upset victory, but watching Brian Daboll’s team get spanked by the Eagles puts the Vikings defense into perspective.
Daniel Jones was unable to get any sort of momentum going on the road against Philadelphia. Yet many fans online referred to him as “Vanilla Vick” for his performance in Minneapolis. Luckily for the Vikings’ fans, they’re used to being left out in the cold during January football.
What does the team need to do in order to be true contenders next season?
When questioned before the 2022 season, Vikings’ GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah referred to the Vikings’ situation as a “competitive rebuild”. Meaning, that the Vikings were in a spot to compete for the Super Bowl while improving the roster in small doses. But when the defense shows little to no improvement and is the main reason for the Vikings’ playoff elimination, it seems like he may feel differently this year. Now, as he and his team enter the offseason, Adofo-Mensah needs to overhaul the defense and rebuild from the ground up.
Donatell is out as DC
As broken down by Caleb Stene, Ed Donatell is no longer the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. Known for his consistent deployment of the remarkably inefficient shell coverage, the Vikings ended up being a near exact replica of the defense from the 2021 season under previous head coach Mike Zimmer. Both were near the bottom of the pile as league losers, and both were the main contributor to Minnesota being irrelevant in the playoffs in back to back years.
What got them into the playoff tournament this year, was the potent offense under the guidance of Kevin O’Connell. Though he suffered from rookie play-calling mishaps, O’Connell lead the offense to be the eighth best scoring unit in the league and able to win an NFL high 11 one score games throughout the regular season. The offense was a Ferrari engine ready to burn some rubber, but while the defense was the equivalent of three flat tires, it’s a miracle they won thirteen games at all.
Jettison the Old
Of all the problems on defense, player age is among the most egregious. During the Giants/Vikings playoff matchup, Daniel Jones ran roughshod by simply running. He’s no Lamar Jackson, by any stretch, but in that game he was most definitely a dual threat. Why? Because the defenders couldn’t keep up.
One of the appeals to keeping aging veterans is their knowledge of the game. The craftiness of a seasoned vet can, at times, be the difference in making a successful stop. But when the entire opposition is loaded with deep threats and speedy runners, craftiness can’t make up the difference.
Jones’ speed isn’t elite, but against players like Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, and Harrison Smith, it might as well be. What has held back Minnesota leadership from moving on from these players in the past is that they are household names. But so long as Vikings fans want the Vikings to win, they will have to say goodbye to the old favorites in the rebuild that needs to take place.
Rebuild with the New
Due to numerous injuries, there are still plenty of players from the previous draft who have yet to establish themselves on the roster. Perhaps next season during training camp, some of these players such as Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., and Akayleb Evans will be able to shine.
The closest we can get to a judgement on the rookie class is with offense guard Ed Ingram, and linebacker Brian Asamoah II. The latter was a stellar addition on special teams and provided the speed that was mostly lacking on defense, though he had few opportunities in the linebacker spot. Ingram, however, has not yet shown the potential he had coming out of college.
Built powerfully like a top tier lineman should be, he was bullied all season long by equally powerful defenders. Frequently in need of a helping hand from either Brian O’Neill or Garrett Bradbury, Ingram was the weak link. And, to add insult to injury, had tripped Kirk Cousins more than once following the snap.
All of the aforementioned rookies were taken within the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, typically where quality starters can be found. And yet, all of them struggled to gain traction for one reason or another. Perhaps (for the defensive players) it was due to Donatell’s coaching deficiencies, but it is hardly impossible to find great players within these first few rounds.
Stand out rookies Tariq Woolen, Isiah Pacheco, and Brock Purdy were all selected in the fifth round or later. All of them had a role in helping their teams make it into the playoffs. With a draft under his belt and a year of scouting, Vikings GM Adofo-Mensah needs to take significant strides in both identifying and selecting rookies for the 2023 season.
Vikings 2023 Outlook
The Vikings’ defensive coordinator job can be an appealing one, for the right coach. Because of the need for such a drastic rebuild, it’s unlikely a seasoned coach like a Vic Fangio would be interested in signing up for a long term process. But, as a playoff contending team, Minnesota is still a lucrative landing spot.
Coaches that are still looking for their first head coaching job would love an opportunity to show they can turn around a unit. Here is a team with nothing to lose defensively, and all to gain. If the Vikings can find a productive DC who can rebuild their slowed down, aging defense into a faster, and younger one in 2023 they could go on a playoff run. If they can add on to that success the following year, the Vikings can enter the conversation as true super bowl contenders and not the frauds we know.