Within the next couple of months, the Vikings plan for the 2023 season will start to take shape.
Draft-eligible prospects will be evaluated and interviewed. Important decisions regarding current players will be made. And the next class of Minnesota's future will be introduced.
Alec Lewis of The Athletic looked at a few key headlines for the Vikings prior to the start of the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
Lewis wrote Minnesota must decide in the coming weeks what direction it should go with several critical players, most notably quarterback Kirk Cousins.
For the Vikings, the conversation begins here: Do team ownership, [General Manager Kwesi] Adofo-Mensah and [Head Coach Kevin] O'Connell want Cousins to be their long-term quarterback?
If the answer is yes, a long-term extension would be most beneficial to a salary cap that could also have to weather a record-breaking receiver deal for Justin Jefferson.
If the answer is no, the Vikings must ask more questions. What's the succession plan at quarterback? Do they need further flexibility on the salary cap for this season, raising the idea of a potential one-year extension?
Lewis also noted the Vikings need to find ways to improve their rushing attack on offense.
Although passing reigns supreme in today's NFL, Lewis said there was a rejuvenation with the ground game in 2022. He wrote:
In 2022, teams ran the ball more efficiently than in any season since 2008. Additionally, the league-wide rushing success rate was higher in 2022 than in any year since 2004.
The Vikings, meanwhile, regressed in the run game this past season. Minnesota was in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing success rate and expected points added per rush. The Vikings also led the league in runs that netted zero or negative yards in 2022.
On the other side of the ball, Lewis wrote despite cornerback and linebacker being crucial areas of focus for the Vikings, Minnesota should also commit to bolstering its interior defensive line.
With or without [Dalvin] Tomlinson, the Vikings would benefit immensely from more pass-rushing firepower at this spot. [Esezi] Otomewo and [James] Lynch showed flashes in 2022, and [Khyiris] Tonga held his own, especially against the run. Still, for as much as cornerback and linebacker seem like necessities for the future of this team, fortifying the interior should be high on the team's list of priorities.
Overall, Lewis said this week should offer a glimpse of what steps the Vikings will take toward improving in 2023.
Last March, Adofo-Mensah talked about team-building. About how the common misconception is binary: You're either all in or you're rebuilding. His approach, he expressed at the time, actually lay in the middle. Minnesota, he said, would try to navigate both worlds — try to, as Adofo-Mensah put it, "live in the today and the tomorrow."
That brings us to today and to Minnesota's direction forward. Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell have both referred to the goal of reaching "a championship standard." Question is, what approach do they — or, more specifically, ownership — believe will put the team in the best position to achieve that standard? Is it attempting another retool of this current roster? Or is it clearing a large chunk of the deck to (hopefully) raise the ceiling in 2024 and beyond?
View photos of current Vikings players during their time at the NFL Scouting Combine from previous years.
Top prospects to watch during NFL Scouting Combine
More than 300 draft-eligible prospects will converge at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine and will try to impress teams both on and off the field.
With the festivities starting Tuesday, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com identified 10 players to watch this week.
Brooks listed Quentin Johnston (TCU) and Josh Downs (North Carolina) as his most intriguing wide receivers. He wrote:
As an explosive playmaker with A-plus size and speed, Johnston has the potential to leave Indianapolis as this draft class WR1 if he can dazzle on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. This prospect pool generally lacks size at the receiver position, increasing the appeal for a big-bodied playmaker like Johnston. But some draftniks remain skeptical about how his game will translate to the next level.
Despite the TCU standout's rich contributions in Sonny Dykes' version of the Air Raid offense — contributions that helped the Horned Frogs take college football by storm this past fall and advance all the way to the national championship game — questions persist about the wideout's hands and ability to separate. With a chance to show coaches and scouts that he can deftly run the entire route tree and consistently corral the football, the extra-large pass catcher can abate potential concerns about his skill set.
Downs (195 catches for 2,364 yards and 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons at North Carolina) flashes elite traits as a slot receiver with excellent ball skills and route ability. But questions about his size could derail his chances of entering the Round 1 conversation if he fails to post athletic numbers that overshadow physical deficiencies.
If Downs blazes the Lucas Oil Stadium turf with an exceptional time in the 40-yard dash and shows great change-of-direction skills in the shuttle drills, coaches and scouts are more likely to ignore the durability concerns associated with slender pass catchers in the league.
Brooks added Tulane running back Tyjae Spears brings a variety of skills to the table.
The electric runner displays remarkable stop-start quickness and short-area burst. In addition, Spears has impressed as a versatile playmaker with the potential to impact the game as a runner and receiver.
Given another opportunity to shine in front of NFL coaches and scouts after a magnificent performance at the Senior Bowl, this explosive playmaker could drive up his value in a crowded running back class.
Defensively, Brooks wrote Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo could shine this week.
As a unanimous five-star recruit with an impressive track background, Ringo arrived at Georgia with a whole heap o' hype. He was forced to redshirt his first year on campus due to a shoulder injury, but started on each of the Bulldogs back-to-back national championship teams over the past two seasons, earning second-team All-SEC honors this past fall. A size-speed combo with explosiveness, Ringo has all of the surface-level attributes NFL teams are looking for at the cornerback position. But there are questions about his anticipation, technique and ability to track the football in the air. His tape from the 2022 campaign was a mixed bag.
Ringo's rare athleticism should shine in the combine setting. The question is how he'll perform in positional drills. If he can showcase better-than-anticipated footwork and technique, as well as scheme versatility, Ringo could see his draft stock soar.
View the best celebration photos of Vikings players during the 2022-23 season.
Up front, Brooks noted Florida A&M edge rusher Isaiah Land could improve on his impressive Senior Bowl performance.
The 2021 Buck Buchanan Award winner (top defensive player in FCS) is poised to build on a solid performance at the Senior Bowl that showcased his versatility and disruptive potential as a front-seven defender.
With another chance to show off his athleticism and movement skills among the best players from the FBS ranks, Land can entice teams to view him as a front-line hybrid (edge rusher/linebacker) with the potential to play multiple spots in a defense that features various sub-packages and personnel groupings.
After the first time, it becomes clear that the italics are the writer's words, so I think it's OK to go without "he wrote" each time. :)