The Vikings have made a number of splash moves this offseason, including recently returning free agent Sheldon Richardson to Minnesota.
CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin this week listed the 10 NFL teams with the best offseasons heading into the 2021 campaign, and he ranked the Vikings at No. 6. He noted Richardson, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson and CB Bashaud Breeland as "key additions." As for "key rookies," he highlighted QB Kellen Mond, T Christian Darrisaw and LB Chazz Surratt. Benjamin wrote:
[It's] hard to find much wrong with what Minnesota did in prep for a potential make-or-break year at QB. Mond may not challenge until 2022, but his presence should at least motivate Cousins. Better yet, the defense feels like a safe bet to return to form. Tomlinson and Richardson instantly improve the D-line alongside a healthier Danielle Hunter, and both Peterson and Breeland bring stability to a young secondary. Do we smell an NFC sleeper?
Benjamin's full list was as follows, from 1-10: Browns, Buccaneers, Chargers, Chiefs, Washington Football Team, Vikings, Rams, Bills, Titans and Colts. Let's take a look at the three teams on this list Minnesota will face during the 2021 regular season.
View the best photos from minicamp at the TCO Performance Center shot in black-and-white by the Vikings team photographer, Andy Kenutis.
In Week 4, the Vikings will host former Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and the Browns. Cleveland this offseason added DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Malik Jackson, CB Troy Hill and S John Johnson III.
The pendulum has officially swung all the way from "laughingstock" to "powerhouse," or at least close to it. Yes, the Browns still need to prove themselves deep into the playoffs, but their roster was already incredibly balanced going into the offseason. Then they loaded up on defense, where Clowney's presence alone should aid Myles Garrett and guys like Hill and Johnson should bring confidence to a young and oft-banged-up secondary. Cleveland aced the test and still has plenty of cap space. This team, complete with a healthier Kevin Stefanski offense, is primed to contend not only for the AFC North but beyond it.
Minnesota is slated to play both Los Angeles teams this season: at the Chargers in Week 10 and welcoming the Rams to U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 16. The Chargers added TE Jared Cook and C Corey Linsley, both former Packers whom the Vikings are quite familiar with.
It remains to be seen how first-time [Head Coach] Brandon Staley will fare, especially considering he's got a defensive background and will be tasked with shepherding one of the game's top young QBs in Justin Herbert. But the Chargers got better in all the right places, adding a long-term blind-side blocker and All-Pro center for their hotshot signal-caller, an underrated safety valve in Cook, and a promising play-maker at corner in [rookie Asante Samuel, Jr.]. As long as Herbert stays upright and Staley's touch resonates with the talent on D, they have the makings of a sneaky challenger.
And speaking of familiar faces, the Rams acquired QB Matthew Stafford via trade with the Lions, and they also signed WR DeSean Jackson, who formerly teamed with Kirk Cousins in Washington.
If you look at all their moves individually, their offseason was just OK […] But the impact of the QB cannot be overstated, and the Rams somehow not only dumped the albatross that was Jared Goff's contract but also landed a perennial top-12ish talent in Stafford. We must be careful not to over-hype Stafford's ceiling considering how often he was good, not great, in Detroit. But in this system, with the Rams weapons, he's bound to do well – if not guide Los Angeles to a serious playoff run as long as the O-line stays intact.
Justin Jefferson included in PFF's 'Top 25 Under 25'
It really feels like Justin Jefferson is just getting started.
The receiver, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Wednesday, exploded onto the scene last season as a rookie, racking up 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns.
Jefferson was recently included in a list of "top 25 players under 25" assembled by analytics site Pro Football Focus. PFF's Sam Monson ranked Jefferson No. 8 overall and wrote the following:
Any time you're breaking rookie records held by Randy Moss, you are doing something pretty well. Jefferson wasn't just the best-graded rookie receiver in the NFL last season; his 90.5 PFF receiving grade was better than any other wideout other than Davante Adams. Jefferson generated 2.66 yards per route run, again second only to Adams.
Monson topped his list with 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, whom the Vikings are slated to meet in Week 12. Warner, a third-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2018, will turn 25 in November. He earned his first career Pro Bowl nod last season and also earned First-Team All-Pro honors from The Associated Press.
Warner has become arguably the game's best linebacker, a position that has become ever-more difficult to play given how good NFL offenses have become at attacking defensive weaknesses. The former third-round pick earned a PFF coverage grade of 91.1 in 2020, allowing a passer rating of just 81.9 into his coverage, some 25 points lower than the average at the position.
The Vikings also will see Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, whom Monson put at the No. 2 spot. Jackson already has three NFL seasons under his belt and won't turn 25 until Jan. 7, 2022.
A year removed from his MVP season, Jackson is a fantastic example of how quarterback development isn't always just a neat curve in the right direction. Jackson was still good in 2020, and he actually recorded a higher big-time throw rate than he did throughout his MVP campaign, but his touchdown percentage went from 7.7 [percent] to 5.7 [percent] while his turnover-worthy play rate doubled to 3.6 [percent]. Jackson is still a dynamic playmaker who likely splits the difference between those two seasons in 2021.
Click here to see Monson's rankings in full.