Ready or not, the 2020 season is practically around the corner.
The Vikings are slated to open their season at U.S. Bank Stadium in under a month, with a Sept. 13 kickoff against the division-rival Packers.
As Minnesota ramps up training camp in anticipation of the regular season, CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin took a look at the 2020 Vikings and made three “bold predictions” about the NFC North team. Benjamin topped his list of hot takes with a flashy one: Justin Jefferson breaks Randy Moss' rookie receptions record.
It's likely way too early to set that sort of forecast for the first-rounder, but that's what makes it bold, right? Benjamin wrote the following:
Stefon Diggs may be gone, but the Vikings probably couldn't have chosen a better pass catcher for their offense than Justin Jefferson, who went 22ndoverall out of LSU. […] In a run-first, play-action attack that should increasingly demand efficiency from Cousins, Jefferson could easily become the QB's new favorite target over the middle of the field.
Randy Moss owns the team's rookie receptions record, with 69 in 1998. Percy Harvin came the closest to breaking it with 60 catches in 2009. It hardly seems impossible for Jefferson to reel in 70 balls in Year 1. Consider that [Adam] Thielen got a whopping 153 targets from Cousins in 2018, that Vikings coaches already envision an instant role for Jefferson, and the fact that Diggs' absence will open up a lot more mid-range opportunities, and you've got a great recipe for Jefferson to become an immediate fan favorite.
Benjamin's other two bold predictions weren't as favorable for the Vikings. He projected that Minnesota's defense could fall outside of the top 15 and that Minnesota will miss the playoffs.
Zimmer is known for his defensive genius, so projecting anything less than a top-15 finish seems rather bold. And let's get this out of the way: Minnesota still has some premiere starters on D, starting with the perennially underrated Danielle Hunter up front. Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris are all Grade-A pieces.
Benjamin added, however, that he has a hard time looking past "thin depth at pass rusher" and "the total makeover" of the cornerback room.
Hartman: Vikings 'new-look defense' may surprise you
Although Benjamin isn't hyped about Minnesota's defense, the Vikings aren’t buying into the notion that expectations should be lower in 2020.
And neither is longtime reporter Sid Hartman.
Minnesota's defense experienced significant turnover after the 2019 campaign, including the loss of starting defensive linemen Everson Griffen (Cowboys) and Linval Joseph (Chargers) as well as veteran cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (Colts), Mackensie Alexander (Bengals) and Trae Waynes (Bengals).
View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.
Nevertheless, the Vikings are optimistic about their up-and-coming defenders, and so is Hartman. He wrote the following in Thursday’s column for the Star Tribune:
The only thing harder than being one of the best defenses in the NFL is staying there, something the Vikings learned last season.
In the previous three seasons (2016-2018) the club dominated the NFL, allowing 14,408 total yards (300.2 per game). The next-closest club to that mark was the Jaguars at 14,708 yards (306.4 per game). The next-closest NFC team was the Bears, who allowed over 1,000 more total yards than the Vikings at 15,449 (321.9 per game).
So while the club did just fine last season in giving up 303 points (18.9 points per game), which tied for the fifth fewest in the NFL, their 5,465 yards allowed ranked 14th.
Hartman said "a lot of people [are] expecting the defense to struggle" this season with so many fresh faces.
"But don't be surprised if the exact opposite is true and this defense actually improves from a year ago," Hartman noted.
He quoted Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson, who said he and Head Coach Mike Zimmer are motivated by doubters – and so are the players on Minnesota's roster.
"They look forward to the challenge," Patterson said. "Every year you have to earn how good you are. You know, it just doesn't carry over. You start from ground zero, you play 16 games and then when it's all over and done with, you look and see how well you've done."