The Vikings will hold their 2021 minicamp this week, so it's the perfect time for NFL.com's deep dive into Minnesota's roster and season outlook.
NFL.com's Adam Rank rolled out his "State of the 2021 Minnesota Vikings" and opined that it's "time for [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's crew to strike." Rank wrote:
The Vikings have been one of the better teams in the NFL over the past few years, reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2017 and authoring some of the most improbable playoff wins in recent memory (sorry, Saints fans). In Mike Zimmer's seven seasons as head coach so far, Minnesota has only logged two losing campaigns. Unfortunately, last season was one of them. The disappointment of going 7-9 underlined the broader frustration of being a perpetual contender (at least on paper) that always hangs around the playoff picture without really breaking through.
The Vikings competitive window has not closed – anything but. However, it feels like something needs to give here. There needs to be some answers. This feels like a pivotal year.
Rank recapped the team's highs and lows from the 2020 season, which included Justin Jefferson's impressive rookie campaign and missing the playoffs, respectively.
He then spotlighted various individuals who will make an impact on this season: Zimmer, quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook, tight end Irv Smith, Jr., cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson.
Rank projected Cook as Minnesota's MVP for 2021.
Cook [broke] through with his first 1,000-yard campaign in 2019 and was even more amazing last year, rushing for 1,557 yards and scoring 17 total touchdowns.
Maybe the most important figure is that Cook carried the ball 312 times in 2020, which is kind of a lot, considering he played in 14 games. You might have heard, but the NFL is expanding to 17 games this year. And with Cook's history of injuries, the Vikings are surely going to be very cautious with him. In fact, you have to wonder if we'll see some NBA-style load management during the season. Because the Vikings don't want their star running back going into any kind of Arian Foster- or Larry Johnson-type decline. So expect them to protect Cook – and look out for Alexander Mattison to be in the mix a lot, too.
Rank believes Smith will be the team's "breakout star" this season, and he mentioned Peterson and Tomlinson as "new faces to know." He pointed out that Peterson was a "solid" offseason addition for the Vikings, who ranked 25th against the pass in 2020.
Sure, Peterson turns 31 this summer. But the dude is durable. He's never missed a game due to injury in his NFL career. The biggest question is, can he stay with two of the best in the business, Bears receiver Allen Robinson II and Packers receiver Davante Adams, in the two times he faces each this season?
Rank posed questions remaining for the team this offseason and also noted an "overlooked storyline": the free agency signing of safety Xavier Woods.
This was a pretty nice pickup. […] I kind of like what Woods will be able to bring to the table in Minnesota – being four years younger (25) than [Anthony] Harris (29) is a nice start.
Remember to check out Rank's full article, but let's jump here to his overall conclusion:
The Vikings have all the ingredients to be one of those squads that shakes off a "good-not-great" early designation and ends up making an actual deep playoff run. Minnesota has a good coach, a good quarterback (for real) and offensive and defensive lines that could make serious strides this year, especially if [Christian] Darrisaw is as good as we think he can be.
While the path to victory would no doubt be easier with [Aaron] Rodgers [out of the division], Minnesota should still be aiming for the top spot. If Rodgers leaves Green Bay and the NFC North becomes wide open, the Vikings absolutely have to take advantage – but frankly, it would do a lot for everyone involved if this team were to take a step forward and morph into a true power regardless of who's playing quarterback for the Packers.
View the best images from Week 3 of OTAs at the TCO Performance Center shot in black-and-white by the Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis.
1998 Vikings tabbed as franchise's best Super Bowl-era team
Which Vikings team has been the best in the Super Bowl era?
CBS Sports' Bryana DeArdo recently took a look at every NFL team and took a stab at answering that question. He wrote:
Every NFL franchise has one team that set the standard for excellence. And while some franchises have been more fortunate than others, each franchise can point to at least one team from its past that stood out from the rest.
DeArdo used the following criteria to make each selection:
- Average margin of victory during the regular season
- Offensive and defensive rankings, specifically as it relates to scoring
- Strength of the opposition
- Talent on the roster
- How far the team advanced in the postseason
The Vikings have fielded some pretty great teams over the years, but DeArdo chose the 1998 squad. And it's hard to argue with that.
Minnesota went 15-1 in the regular season that year and advanced to the NFC Championship game, where it lost to Atlanta in heartbreaking fashion. The Vikings featured the highest-scoring offense (at the time) in league history and posted a 16.3 average margin of victory.
With respect to Bud Grant's four Super Bowl teams, the '98 Vikings are the most dominant team in franchise history. They are also arguably the greatest NFL team that didn't reach the Super Bowl. Led by Hall of Fame receivers Randy Moss (that year's Offensive Rookie of the Year) and Cris Carter, All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, Hall of Fame defensive end John Randle and an offensive line that featured three Pro Bowlers, the Vikings lost one game (27-24 to the Buccaneers in Week 9) during the regular season. Minnesota, which scored a then-NFL record 556 points during the regular season, ran away from the Cardinals in the divisional round before hosting the Falcons in the NFC title game.