While there are still several important questions to answer this offseason, the Vikings addressed their first concern with the hiring of Brian Flores on Monday as the team's newest defensive coordinator.
Flores joins Minnesota after serving as Senior Defensive Assistant/Linebackers Coach with Pittsburgh this past season. He was also Miami's head coach for three seasons (2019-2021) and spent 15 years with New England in multiple roles, starting in the Patriots personnel department before transitioning into coaching positions in all three phases.
The move comes nearly three weeks after Minnesota moved on from Ed Donatell after just one season. The Vikings defense ranked 30th in the NFL in points allowed per game (25.4) and 31st in yards allowed per game (391.1) in 2022 under Donatell.
Matthew Coller of Purple Insider wrote the Flores hire is a solid fit for Minnesota, no matter where it decides to go with its roster.
"If the Vikings elect to keep their veterans on defense like Za'Darius Smith, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith, you can make a strong argument that — based on [Flores'] past as Miami's head coach — they will either be in a similar position to have success or better than 2022. We can find some evidence in Flores' best Miami defense in 2020."
View photos of new Vikings Defensive Coordinator, Brian Flores. The team announced the hiring on Feb. 6, 2023.
Under Flores in 2020, Miami ranked in the top eight in yards allowed per play (5.9, tied for eighth), turnovers (29, first), points allowed (338, sixth) and sacks per game (2.6, tied for eighth).
Using those metrics and the following stats from Pro Football Focus, Coller noted Flores didn't shy away from moving his pass rushers around or using his safeties more aggressively while in Miami. He wrote:
"The edge rushers Smith and Hunter both ranked in the top 10 in QB pressures, per PFF, with Donatell at the helm. Flores' roots are similarly in a 3-4 system with edge rushers qualifying as outside linebackers. He wasn't afraid to move around pass rusher Kyle Van Noy in 2020, lining him up on the D-line for 473 snaps and 224 at inside linebacker. Za'Darius Smith has a long, successful history of unique alignments. On the other hand, Van Noy's partner Emmanuel Ogbah rarely shuffled positions, which is the same for Hunter.
"[Donatell's system] only put Harrison Smith up in the box around 40 [percent] of the time. Miami's Eric Rowe lined up in the box or in the slot around 60 [percent] of snaps. Flores liked to turn all of his safeties loose on blitzes, with safeties racking up 133 pass rushes in 2020. That's a huge difference from the 2022 Vikings, which saw a grand total of 18 pass rushes from safeties."
Coller added whether the Vikings elect to maintain their veteran core defensively or revamp with a younger foundation, Flores is experienced to handle both situations. He wrote:
"If the Vikings keep their veterans, they won't have oodles of cap space to spend on defensive players. They would hope to take advantage of Flores' scouting background — he began in New England as a scouting assistant — to find players who both slide under the radar and fit his system.
"A longer-term approach to 2023 would allow them to know exactly which spots they needed to fill in free agency the following year and go big in free agency rather than constantly patching holes.
"A two-year timeline would ask Flores to work with the 2022 class, possibly draft a cornerback and work with the other unproven players they have on the roster with the aim to find some ballplayers who can be a part of the future."
Key NFL Draft prospects from Shrine and Senior Bowls
The final college football events of the 2022-2023 season ended last week with the East-West Shrine Bowl and Reese's Senior Bowl games being held.
NFL teams were on hand in both Mobile, Alabama and Las Vegas, Nevada to watch several top draft-eligible prospects showcase their skills.
Defensively at the Shrine Bowl, Sikkema wrote Louisville cornerback Kei'trel Clark and Florida safety Trey Dean made high-impact plays.
"[Clark's] motor was running at 100 percent at all times, he was quick to diagnose route concepts and screen plays and he was versatile as an inside and outside cornerback. His All-Star week showing made him one of the biggest risers of the week."
"Dean was an up-and-down player at Florida, but the best of his playmaking ability showed up in Vegas at the Shrine Bowl. After weighing in at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Dean earned an 80.2 coverage grade during practices and even grabbed an interception during the game. He was one of the big winners from the secondary players at both the Shrine and Senior bowls."
View photos of Vikings players competing in the 2023 Pro Bowl Game in Las Vegas.
Offensively at the Shrine Bowl, Sikkema identified Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers as a potential first-round selection. He wrote:
"Flowers was on every single 'watch list' heading into the Shrine Bowl, and he did not disappoint. He simply moved at a different speed than the other receivers on the practice field. He had some first-round buzz going into All-Star week, and now it feels more likely than not that he'll crack the top 31 picks in the draft. His tape has plenty of dynamic route-running and after-the-catch highlights, and he was able to showcase that again on many occasions during Shrine Bowl week."
At the Senior Bowl, Sikkema added a pair of Big Ten defensive linemen — Wisconsin's Keeanu Benton and Northwestern's Adetomiwa Adebawore – posted high pass rush grades. He wrote:
"Benton was very impressive during Senior Bowl practices. He made a note to get better at pass rushing this past season and certainly did so, jumping from a 74.9 pass rush grade in 2021 to an 83.6 pass rush grade in 2022. At the Senior Bowl, he continued to improve in that area with great reps where he flashed fast and violent hand movements, good rip and swim moves and an ability to overpower some interior players. He can't be seen as just your average nose tackle anymore. He showed he's bringing the juice in pass rush, too."
"Speaking of interior players who can collapse the pocket, no defensive lineman at the Senior Bowl posted a higher pass rush grade than Adebawore (91.8). He measured in at 6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, making him a unique player who can win with both leverage at the snap and length on his pass rushes. Senior Bowl week was his best showing as a pass rusher, as his career-high pass rush grade at Northwestern was 80.0 this past season. Even if it was a small sample size, NFL teams got a good look at what is possible for a player with Adebawore's build and skill set. That should boost him to a Day 2 selection."