The Vikings are 40 days away from the start of their 2021 season, meaning there is still plenty of work to get done before the games start for real.
Mike Clay of ESPN likes what Minnesota did this offseason, though, and he expects the Vikings to be much more competitive than they were in a disappointing 2020 season.
Clay recently compiled his list of the most-improved teams across the league, and put Minnesota fourth behind the Jacksonville, the New York Jets and Washington.
Clay explained the criteria for his rankings:
When the offseason began last February, all 32 teams had the same goal: to improve. Some teams did it better than others. So who improved the most during the past six months? Who got worse? Who is pretty much the same as when we last saw them on the field?
To take stock of each team's additions, subtractions, activity and inactivity from these spring and summer months, I ranked all 32 teams' net change from the end of last season to now. Keep in mind that this is not a ranking of how good or bad a team actually is, but rather a ranking of how the roster changed since last season.
He noted that Minnesota's offseason additions primarily focused on defense with Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Sheldon Richardson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland and Michael Pierce (2020 opt-out).
Clay opined that group should help revamp a defense that struggled across the board in 2020.
Clearly frustrated by what was arguably the worst effort we've seen from one of his defenses, Coach Mike Zimmer went into overhaul mode during the offseason. The Vikings could have as many as three new starting corners — Peterson, Breeland and slot man Alexander — and continued the secondary revamp by replacing Harris with Woods at safety. The interior defensive line goes from weak spot to massive strength with Tomlinson, Richardson and Pierce forming an outstanding trio.
Minnesota's new-look offensive line could be made up of players picked during Rounds 1-3 of the past four drafts with rookies Christian Darrisaw (left tackle) and Wyatt Davis (right guard) added to the mix.
The Vikings were the only NFC North team mentioned in the top half of Clay's rankings.
The Bears landed at No. 19, the Packers were 25th and the Lions came in at No. 29.
Clay's full rankings can be found here.
Vikings earn high ranking from PFF for backfield combo
It remains to be seen what the Vikings offense looks like in 2021 under new Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak.
Minnesota had the sixth-lowest passing percentage in 2020 with a pass rate of 54.25 percent, as the Vikings once again placed an emphasis on the run game.
Ben Linsey of analytics website Pro Football Focus recently wrote that if Vikings are a run-first team again in 2021, they have the players to succeed at that approach.
Linsey ranked his backfield combinations, and had the Vikings duo of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison at No. 4 on his list.
The biggest thing holding Dalvin Cook back throughout his career has been health. He missed some time again in 2020, but his 669 offensive snaps were a career-high, as was his 89.0 overall grade. Cook has now improved his overall grade in each of his first four NFL seasons.
Backup running back Alexander Mattison has also shown promise in his few opportunities since Minnesota drafted him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. That includes a Week 17 start drawn against the Detroit Lions last season in which Mattison recorded both rushing and receiving grades of at least 84.0.
Cook, a 2017 second-round pick, has made back-to-back Pro Bowls. He totaled 1,918 scrimmage yards on 356 touches last season. Mattison has rushed for 896 yards and three scores in his first two seasons in the league.
And while Cook and Mattison will likely lead the way in 2021, the Vikings also have Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu and A.J. Rose, Jr., currently on the roster.