Longtime coach Gary Kubiak is certainly not a fresh face in the NFL, but the 2020 season will mark his first calling plays for Minnesota.
Kubiak joined the Vikings as assistant head coach/offensive advisor in 2019, and he was promoted to the offensive coordinator role after Kevin Stefanski accepted the head coaching position in Cleveland.
NFL Network's Cynthia Frelund included the Vikings – and the Browns – on her list of six NFL teams who are "set to thrive with new offensive minds" this season, particularly with the pairing of Kubiak and quarterback Kirk Cousins. She wrote:
Cousins was one of the NFL's best play-action QBs in 2019. Ready for an avalanche of [Next Gen Stats] to back this up? Cousins posted 14 touchdowns using play-action, the most in the NFL, while on rollouts to the left, he logged a 157.0 passer rating (best in the NFL) and seven scores (no other QB had more than two). Cousins was also the only QB (among those with a minimum of 200 drop-backs) with an average time-to-throw greater than 3 seconds (3.01). Then-coordinator Kevin Stefanski's system helped on deep throws, as well; Cousins earned the second-highest passer rating on deep passes (121.5), with a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio; he also had a yards-per-attempt mark on passes of 10-plus air yards of 13.1 (second-highest in NFL). Cousins was one of only three qualified quarterbacks to not throw an interception under pressure, while netting three touchdowns.
Frelund noted that Kubiak's presence and influence on the Vikings system last year "should provide a level of continuity that Minnesota will benefit from."
Kubiak comes from the Mike Shanahan tree (think: zone-rushing focused), and the versatility of every-down back Dalvin Cook, along with the continuity provided by their top two tight ends, will help Cousins and the passing offense adapt to life without [Stefon] Diggs. Look for Kubiak to leverage Cook and further develop running back Alexander Mattison, while folding rookie receiver Justin Jefferson into the passing game (once Jefferson returns from the reserve/COVID-19 list). And while I do project a decrease in efficiency for Cousins (It's hard to repeat as the best in play-action), play-action will still be a fundamental aspect of the Vikings offense.
In addition to Cleveland and Minnesota, Frelund highlighted Carolina, Dallas, Miami and the New York Giants as being teams set for success behind a new play-caller.
ESPN Ranks Odenigbo No. 1 Among 'Top 25 Prospects'
Lots of analysts have predicted which rookies across the league might make a splash in their first NFL season – but what about non-rookies who will become significant impact players?
Rivers McCown for ESPN ranked the NFL’s top 25 prospects, defined as "young players who could break out in 2020." He wrote:
This is a list of players who have a strong chance to make an impact in the NFL despite their lack of draft stock and the fact that they weren't immediate NFL starters.
Most of these lists are heavily dependent on the depth of incoming draft classes. For instance, this year's list doesn't have many edge players because most of the players either played right away or didn't have the requisite talent. … We're also going to be focusing more heavily on players with immediate chances to play this year because COVID-19 has canceled the preseason and made it harder for less experienced players to win regular jobs in camp.
Although McCown noted that he didn't include many EDGE players, topping his list at No. 1 overall was Vikings defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. Minnesota drafted Odenigbo 220th overall in 2017, but it wasn't until last season that the former Wildcat seemed to find his groove.
McCown said it's "a pretty clean projection to assume that Odenigbo will be moving into the starting lineup" after veteran Everson Griffen voided the remainder of his contract to become a free agent.
Odenigbo's roots at Northwestern were as a power player with NFL pass-rush moves and flashes, but he was essentially platooned by the Wildcats. He led the Big Ten in sacks as a senior anyway, with 10, and ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash at the combine. His performance in our SackSEER projection system was 62.7 [percent], impressive for a low-round pick; Odenigbo had an explosion index of 0.61 and offered a lot of college production.
Over the last five games of last season, Odenigbo notched four of his seven sacks, forced a fumble and returned another fumble for a 56-yard touchdown. He brought down both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers last season. He might still platoon with a different defender on pure run downs if that section of his game gets off to a poor start, but Odenigbo is on pace to become yet another late-round win on the edge for a Vikings team that already starts 2015 third-rounder Danielle Hunter.
Note: the Vikings on July 29 added Odenigbo to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he either (1) tested positive for the virus or (2) has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons.
McCown also included Alexander Mattison on his list, ranking the Vikings running back ninth overall.
Worth pointing out, however, is that McCown argued for Mattison to be "leverage against a Dalvin Cook holdout," despite the fact that Cook reported to Verizon Vikings Training Camp this week along with the other veterans.
In his first season in Minnesota, Mattison finished with a respectable 24 DYAR in 100 totes, despite a relatively low success rate of 38 [percent] … Mattison averaged 4.6 yards per attempt, with no real negative split when running zone plays, but SIS charting charged the Vikings with 11 blown blocks during those 100 attempts, and those 11 carries averaged minus-1.2 yards.
Prisco tabs Vikings defense as 'biggest question' heading into training camp
Although it will be a while before the Vikings take the field for padded practices, players have now officially reported to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for training camp.
CBS Sports' Pete Prisco recently looked at all 32 NFL teams and posed his biggest question for each one headed into camp. For Minnesota he asked, "Can the defense, which has undergone some change, play up to [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's standards?
The Vikings are in a youth movement on defense. Gone are 30-something players in defensive tackle Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes. They played a major part in helping the Vikings become a good defense and a postseason team under Zimmer. There is a change at coordinator, as well, with George Edwards out and Adam Zimmer, the coach's son, and Andre Patterson in as co-coordinators. They still have a star in pass rusher Danielle Hunter, but this is a team that needs more help up front to complement him.