The Vikings 2020 season deviated from the usual scene many are used to seeing, as Minnesota's offense outpaced the defense.
In nearly every season before under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, the defense had led the way as one of the league's best units while the offense underwent turnover and was hit hard by various injuries.
But the Vikings offense was among the league's best a season ago, ranking fourth in yards per game (393.3). Minnesota also was 11th overall with 26.9 points scored per game.
Cynthia Frelund, an analytics expert with NFL Network, believes Minnesota's offense is poised to have another strong season in 2021.
She recently crunched the numbers to project the league's top 10 offenses based on estimated win share, and had the Vikings landing at No. 8.
Frelund explained the data behind her list
Remember, win share measures each player, position group and side of the ball's ability to earn/prevent first downs, points and touchdowns. All rosters used to simulate the season in this exercise are the forecasted 53 as of May 18.
Tennessee kicked off the list at No. 10, followed by Arizona and Minnesota.
View photos of the newest Vikings from a rookies photoshoot.
Frelund opined that a strong draft class — especially up front along the offensive line — could be what pushed the Vikings to have a consistently lethal attack when the ball is in their hands.
Don't sleep on the Vikings this season. The addition of Christian Darrisaw with the No. 23 pick last month addressed a real problem that matters for this style of offense and how Kirk Cousins executes it. Minnesota ranked 23rd last season when it came to its rate of sacks per pass attempt (7.6 percent). Basically, when defenses had a good sense the Vikings were passing, pressure increased and Minnesota's efficiency went down.
One way to see this is that the Vikings ranked 16th on third down (40.9 percent conversation rate) despite having the third-most earned first downs per game (23.9). With a rushing average of 4.9 yards per attempt (fourth in the NFL) and a passing figure of 8.3 yards per attempt (second), the Vikes were creating the right opportunities and making the most of them, just not keeping the sequencing efficient enough.
Put another way, Frelund's explanation is based off the notion that if the Vikings can improve their third-down offense, or even get in more manageable situations, Cousins and crew could stay on the field more and put up even more points.
Frelund also included a note about wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who took the league by storm by setting a Super Bowl-era rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards. He also compiled 88 catches (a Vikings rookie record) and seven touchdowns.
Frelund wrote that in most data models, Jefferson is more likely than not to exceed his touchdowns total from his rookie season.
Justin Jefferson, who scored seven touchdowns in a prolific rookie season, hits paydirt nine-plus times in 58.9 percent of simulations.
While the Vikings offense landed in the top 10 on Frelund's list, so did a handful of units that Minnesota's defense will see in 2021.
Besides the Cardinals (No. 9), the Vikings will also play the Browns (No. 7) and Cowboys (No. 4), along with a pair of Border Battle games against the Packers (No. 3).
Besides Cousins and Jefferson, Minnesota's offense also returns key names such as Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Irv Smith, Jr., plus starting linemen such as Brian O'Neill, Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury.
Borland listed as Vikings most exciting UDFA Addition
With Vikings rookie minicamp in the books, the focus now turns to Organized Team Activity practices, which will take place in the coming weeks.
While OTAs are voluntary, many players have shown up and participated under Zimmer, save for the 2020 virtual offseason.
While we'll soon find out which veterans are in attendance, it's safe bet that every rookie on the Vikings roster will be there and hungry to make an early impression.
A name to watch could be linebacker Tuf Borland, who joined the team after the draft out of Ohio State.
Bleacher Report writer Alex Kay recently tabbed Borland as Minnesota’s top undrafted free agent to keep an eye on this offseason.
If the Vikings are looking for a future leader on defense or special teams, it would be tough to find a prospect better than Tuf Borland. The linebacker was a three-year captain at Ohio State, a testament to how hard he worked and how consistent he was.
Borland is a natural who has a great feel for the game. He has a knack for making smart decisions, a quality that will translate to the next level.
While he's not an every-down linebacker, he could shine situationally and as a backup. He'd also add value as a special teamer with his strength and ability to shed blocks. That, coupled with his relentless motor, could make him a Pro Bowler.
Borland, who is listed at 6-foot and 229 pounds, played in 51 career games for the Buckeyes. He tallied 228 tackles (117 solo) with 19 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles.
He also showed plenty of the leadership Kay mentioned, as he is one of only two three-time captains in school history (J.T. Barrett).