One of the driving factors behind Minnesota's success in 2022 was its veteran presence, as seven Vikings who played at least 80 percent of their snaps were in their fifth NFL season or beyond.
Another crucial component, though, was the play of Minnesota's young talent, especially in the later part of the season.
Joe Nelson of Bring Me the News, via Sports Illustrated, looked at Minnesota's roster and identified multiple young players who could have a larger impact on the Vikings next year.
Nelson noted although Lewis Cine's rookie season was unfortunately cut short after suffering a compound fracture in his lower leg in Week 4, the safety is showing solid progress toward making a return in 2023. Nelson wrote:
"The 32nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft has the speed and explosiveness to be a dynamic playmaker in Minnesota's secondary – especially if new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores gets aggressive and uses him all over the field similar to how Cine was used in college at Georgia."
Nelson added safety Josh Metellus (31 defensive tackles, one interception in 2022) and linebacker Brian Asamoah II (15 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery) could each find his way into starting roles next season. He wrote:
"If Harrison Smith isn't back next season, the starting safety job opposite of Camryn Bynum or Lewis Cine is going to be Josh Metellus. The 25-year-old's Pro Football Focus grade was one of the best among NFL safeties this season and his teammates voted him a captain late in the season.
"[Asamoah] is a virtual lock to be a starting linebacker next season. He flashed big-time playmaking ability in Minnesota's Christmas Eve win over the Giants when he forced and recovered a fumble. He was graded the ninth-best linebacker in the NFL over the final four weeks of the regular season by PFF."
View the best photos of Vikings wide receivers, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor during the 2022-23 season.
On offense, Nelson noted while wide receiver Jalen Nailor and running back Ty Chandler didn't have much of a role in 2022 on that side of the ball, that could change in 2023. He wrote:
"Minnesota is hard up for cap space, and it needs depth at wide receiver. Nailor could have a big role as the No. 3 wide receiver in 2023 but only if Adam Thielen doesn't return. If Thielen is back, Nailor is likely No. 4 on the depth chart behind Justin Jefferson, Thielen and K.J. Osborn. But if Thielen is gone, Nailor slides up to No. 3 and could be the field-stretching speedster the team needs to take pressure off Jefferson.
"Chandler popped in the preseason but wasn't used as a running back during the regular season because the Vikings had Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. If Cook is cut to save salary cap space and Mattison goes elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, there's nothing standing in the way of Chandler becoming the primary running back."
Strengths, areas of improvement & NFL roles for top draft prospects
The 2022 NFL season is officially behind us after Kansas City edged Philadelphia 38-35 in Super Bowl LVII to earn its second title in four years.
Now, all 32 teams are turning their attention to next year, with the 2023 NFL Combine and the draft rapidly approaching.
Pro Football Focus recently unveiled its NFL Draft Guide, which includes scouting profiles, advanced statistics and grades for this year's draft class.
The PFF staff broke down a few of its top draft-eligible prospects, analyzing their strengths, areas of improvement and predicting their roles in the NFL.
View the photos of Vikings special team during the 2022 season.
Offensively, the PFF staff said Alabama quarterback Bryce Young — one of the top projected picks in the draft — has strong playmaking abilities but could improve on his frame. Overall, PFF predicted his NFL role to be a creator:
"Young has that creative mindset that we're seeing take over the NFL at quarterback. He's good in structure, but when Young breaks the pocket, he's capable of special plays.
"While his height isn't changing, Young could stand to add some muscle to his frame simply for injury avoidance. He's never going to have Josh Allen's risk aversion when it comes to contact, but taking some big hits is unavoidable at the position.
"Young is the kind of talent that you turn the keys over to as an offensive coordinator. You can trust him to make the necessary adjustments to the called concepts for them to be successful. He just sees the game so well."
Another offensive player who could hear his name called early is Texas running back Bijan Robinson. The PFF staff wrote he has a complete skill set, but he needs to improve on handling the ball. Overall, PFF eyes Robinson as a feature back in the NFL. They wrote:
"Robinson has answers for everything. He can run with power, speed or elusiveness. He set the PFF single-season broken-tackle record this past fall with 104.
"[Turning the ball over] is about the only thing that really moves the needle negatively with Robinson. His six fumbles on 539 carries could stand to get cleaned up.
"Robinson is more than just a bell cow. He's a back that you make the focal point of your offense. Whether that's 15-plus carries a game or scheming up targets as a receiver, you want the ball consistently in his hands."
Up front, the PFF staff added similar to Robinson, Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson has plenty of tools to showcase on the field, but he could improve on his hand usage while blocking. PFF wrote:
"You want someone who can cut off the backside, displace a three-technique, mirror an athlete off the edge and lead out on a screen? Johnson is your man. It's all there for him to be a high-end NFL tackle.
"The truth is that there are a lot of areas where Johnson could stand to improve — independent hand usage being chiefly among them. That's almost a good thing considering how well he's performed already."
Overall, PFF placed Johnson's role in the NFL at left tackle.
Defensively, Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon and Alabama safety Brian Branch — two secondary players who have been projected to the Vikings in recent mock drafts — are also key prospects in this year's class.
The PFF staff lauded Witherspoon's vision and experience but added he can work on limiting how many penalties he draws. Overall, they view him as a top corner in the league. They wrote:
"You want 11 defenders that see the game the way Witherspoon does. With 2,334 snaps to his name, Witherspoon has seen it all, and it shows on tape. Expect him to get his hands on a ton of footballs in the league.
"Witherspoon has the kind of reliable man coverage skill set that enables him to play on an island consistently. Due to his ball production, you may think he's a boom-or-bust type of cornerback, but he's not that by any means."
With Branch, the PFF staff also praised his smart play, but added he needs to build on his frame. Overall, they predict his NFL role to be defending slot receivers. They wrote:
"Branch is precisely the type of player you want leading your defense. His presence makes everyone else's job easier because of how adept he is at executing his role flawlessly. He'll do that and make plays that go beyond his assignment on a given play.
"Adding some muscle to his frame would give Branch that extra pop when taking on wide blocks and sticking ball carriers. There's little about the way he plays the game to poke holes in.
"The slot is a valuable role in today's NFL, and those who can play both the run and pass at a high level there give their defensive coordinators immense flexibility."