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Monday Morning Mailbag: 2022 Expectations, WR Depth & A Bittersweet Goodbye

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag, which is presented by FedEx. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

You can also send Eric a Mailbag question via Twitter.

Hi Eric, congrats on your baby and welcome back from paternity leave. I know it's only May, but do you think this team is playoff material?

— Jim Jenkins

Thank you, Jim! My wife and I were blessed to welcome a beautiful baby girl back on May 5, and we are just over the moon these days.

We're also a bit tired, and most parents of newborns are, but we're hanging in there and learning on the fly.

A big thank you also goes to my colleague, Craig Peters, who handled the Mailbag in my absence.

Today's Mailbag, however, will be my final one as the Vikings Team Reporter, as Friday is my final day with the organization six-plus years. I've accepted another great opportunity that will be announced in June.

I'll have a farewell piece coming later this week, so I won't pen a total goodbye here. But I did want to mention it in the Mailbag, since this space has been one of my main contact points with so many great Vikings fans over the past few years.

Running this Mailbag and getting a chance to interact with the fan base has been one of my favorite aspects of this job, and I will miss this piece of content perhaps more than any other.

I have all sorts of emotions these days, and the decision to leave is definitely bittersweet.

But before I go, let me answer Jim's question about 2022 expectations.

For the record, yes, I do expect the Vikings to make the playoffs. In my mind, it's likely as one of the three Wild Card spots, but Minnesota will be in the dance.

I'm a big fan of Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and believe he'll have some great schemes drawn up for an offense that features plenty of talent. The biggest hurdle will be season-long consistency, something the overall unit has lacked in recent seasons.

But with Justin Jefferson entering Year 3, along with key skill players such as Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Irv Smith, Jr., the Vikings have plenty of firepower. Brian O'Neill is a stud at right tackle, and other pieces along the line should also hopefully take a step forward.

Defensively, there are some question marks as that unit undergoes a scheme change and has swapped out some starters in certain spots. Depth at edge rusher, linebacker and cornerback might be a bit of a concern.

Yet if Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith are healthy and effective, they alone might change the tone of the unit. Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith will be their usual selves all over the field, and I like the potential that rookies Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth, Jr., have.

And let's not forget about Kene Nwangwu. Opposing teams might not kick it to him at all this season, but he's always a threat to score. If he can find the end zone once or twice, that might hopefully swing a game or two in the Vikings direction.

A quick glance at the schedule shows that the first six games on the docket are key. If Minnesota can get off to, let's say, a 4-2 start, the Vikings can give themselves some cushion and avoid matching the slow starts that have been problematic the past few years.

All in all, 10 wins is possible to me. If the Vikings can get there, I think they'll be playing past Week 18.

What do you think the main reasons that the Vikings are running it back this season and not going through with a full on rebuild? I personally believe it's because ownership looked back at last season and saw how many close games the Vikings lost. Did they think that it was more the defense's fault than offense [since] they have totally put all their offseason moves, including the draft, to re-tool and improve the defensive side of the ball rather than offensive side?

— Andrew Barnes

A multi-layered question from Andrew here, so let's get into it.

On paper, yes, the Vikings have a solid roster. And based on comments from Mark Wilf right after the season — when he said he expects the Vikings to be "super competitive" in 2022 – it's clear that ownership isn't looking for that full-on rebuild.

I listed reasons above why I think the Vikings should be in the playoff mix this season. And there's an argument that some people make that the team should have been in last season, too, if only more of those close games had gone Minnesota's way.

The Vikings played 14 total games in 2021 that were decided by eight or fewer points, including an incredible 12 in a row from Weeks 4 to 16. Minnesota's record in those 14 games was 6-8.

Given the moves we've seen over the past four months, and I'm mostly thinking of changes to the GM and head coach, perhaps the Wilf family felt a shakeup at the top was needed while the core of the roster could be retained.

Remember, there are plenty of proven players on this roster, and the expectation should be that the Vikings are playoff contenders each season.

In order for that to happen, however, everyone will need to play better than a season ago.

As for blaming the defense more than the offense, I don't think that's fair.

Did the defense struggle for most of the year? Sure.

But the Vikings offense wasn't the league's best at anything.

Minnesota ranked 26th in third-down percentage and was 20th in first downs per game. That unit could have done more to help out the defense at times, too.

Yes, nearly of the moves made this offseason were on defense, save for adding a few veterans to compete for the right guard spot. But that's because nearly everywhere you look on offense, the Vikings have highly-paid veterans or young players who are either stars or appear ready to ascend.

Based on that alone, and now that the Vikings have an offensive-minded head coach, expectations should be sky high for the offense in 2022. Let's see if they can meet them.

Have the Vikings considered Will Fuller on a one-year, prove-it deal with incentives? He is young, very good and is still available. He would make the offense very scary and would not break the bank at this point.

— Dan Morrone in Plymouth, Connecticut

Hmmm, an interesting inquiry from Dan. But I don't think Fuller is in the cards at the moment.

For one, the Vikings are already set at the top of the wide receiver depth chart with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. And while I thought adding an early-round WR was an option, the fact that the Vikings didn't showed faith in youngsters such as K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Bisi Johnson, who has returned after missing all of 2021..

At this point in the calendar, my guess is the Vikings go into training camp with the group they have and see how things shake out.

Now, if someone were to get hurt or certain players aren't progressing, then maybe adding Fuller is an option.

The 2016 first-round pick has plenty of experience (24 scores in 55 games) and is known for his speed and big-play ability, but he's also battled injuries in recent seasons.

Perhaps he'll be a training camp addition for a team that needs depth at WR. As of now though, that doesn't appear to be with the Vikings.

Thanks for the great work on the Vikings mailbag. I have been a Vikings fan since 1998 and will always be. SKOL. My question is also a recommendation proposed to NFL. Since the league has gone to 17 games, which is a good thing, there's more money to be generated. Can the Vikings, along with other teams in the NFL, advocate for increasing the players from 53 to 60 players and also increase the team's financial budgets to accommodate the extra seven players? My reasons for suggesting that is there have been many injuries in the game that put good players out of the game for a while, and some great players who don't make it on a team, due to the 53-player limit.

— Albert in Oakland, California

Good question, Albert.

The NFL has sort of done what you have mentioned, but not exactly how you lay it out.

In-season rosters will remain at 53 players for the 2022 season, a number that's been consistent in recent seasons.

But instead of adding seven more players to that, as Albert suggested, the league recently announced that practice squads will remain at 16 players, where that group has been set for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, in a way, they are adding extra players to a team. It's just on the practice squad and not the active roster.

Now obviously practice squad players don't make as much money as those on the 53-man roster, so it is cheaper for teams to keep players there. But it does give more players a chance to impress an organization in-house and be more readily available if needed for a call-up to the 53-man roster rather than being a free agent.

Are the Vikings trying Kyle Hinton out at center? No idea why he wasn't at least a starting right guard the past two years. The guy is a great athlete and ultra strong.

— Dennis Konchak in British Columbia

No sign of Hinton at center during the Organized Team Activity practice that was open to media last week.

Garrett Bradbury was in the starting spot, which is no surprise. And the second-team center job was occupied by veteran Austin Schlottmann, who was added to the roster this spring.

Hinton certainly had some key traits in college, leading to his selection out of Washburn University, a Division II school.

But he's also entering his third pro season after spending the past two years on the practice squad. Perhaps a new coaching staff will help him continue to develop into a depth player this year.

Based on the 2022 offseason program, which 2021 third-round draft pick (Kellen Mond, Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis and Patrick Jones) looks most poised to actually contribute in 2022?

— Mitch K. in Los Angeles

We'll limit the definition of "contribute" strictly to in-game playing time and production, but would like to note there are plenty of ways to contribute.

I'd put Jones at the top of that list, and mostly because he played the most out of any of those players as a rookie.

It wasn't much, with 99 defensive snaps over nine games, but Surratt and Davis didn't see the field at all other than special teams, and Mond played just three offensive snaps.

Jones had his ups and downs as a rookie, but he could get a chance to rotate in with a pass-rushing group that doesn't have much proven star power behind Hunter and Smith. If Jones can carve out a rotational role for himself in training camp, he'll likely see the field more than he did as a rookie.

Mond is not going to start unless something happens to Kirk Cousins, and he'll have to beat out Sean Mannion for the backup job just to even get that opportunity.

The starting inside linebacker spots are set with Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks, and Surratt will also have competition from rookie Brian Asamoah and others such as Blake Lynch and Troy Dye.

Finally, Davis has been below Jesse Davis and Chris Reed at the open, non-padded practices, so the chances of him starting this season seem low, too.

Jones may not start, but he figures to be more involved than the other three players who were also third-round picks in 2021.

A final THANK YOU to everyone for reading the Mailbag and interacting with me over the years. I will miss it.