Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Presented by

Monday Morning Mailbag: 'Bold' Fan Predictions; Hockenson & Oliver in Tight End Combo Attack

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. Remember to include your name and town on the email. If Twitter is your jam, you can send a question to me that way as well.

We're just past the midpoint of July, and players will report next week to Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.

Last week had some cool national and international exposure for the Vikings with Netflix's Quarterback series launching with premiere events hosted by the Vikings at TCO Stadium and by Netflix in Los Angeles.

Then, Justin Jefferson received the 2023 ESPY for "Best Play." Without giving away any spoilers, the third episode of Quarterback, which is titled "Kings of Pain," will give viewers a much better idea of everything that went into Cousins being able to get the ball in Jefferson's direction.

We've got a fun final week in store for you before camp, with some more positional previews and other content on the way.

Here we go.

I would like to start by giving Brad Lewis from New York a big thumbs up! His observations and your responses are the best I've read this year.

I have three observations and 5 BOLD predictions for you to comment on.


1) I don't personally know anyone that does not believe that had Brian Flores had been the defensive coordinator last year, the Vikings would have went deeper in the playoffs. That is not a dig on Coach [Ed] Donatell. I believe that he is a great coach. The players he inherited were not players that excel in a defense with his coaching philosophy.

2) I have heard many pundits talk about stats that show Dalvin Cook had been less effective last year and how that, somehow, it was due to his age and workload. I think that is nonsense and that the stats actually show that Coach [Kevin] O'Connell's coaching scheme is not designed to fully utilize the skill set that Dalvin has.

3) Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Pat Peterson and Adam Thielen are four of my favorite players since the Purple People Eaters! Financial considerations dictated that three of them would play for different teams this coming season. I commend the Vikings owners and staff for the effort put forth to make sure that each player has the best opportunity for their futures.


1) The Vikings, with the return of their offensive line starters & others, along with the additions of [Jordan] Addison and [Josh] Oliver, will have a top 3 offense.

2) Vikings will defeat the Kansas City Chiefs at home in Week 5.

3) Vikings will win 12 games, sitting their starters in [Week 18], in Detroit.

4) Week 15 will be the trailer for the 2024 Super Bowl, Vikings vs Bengals.

5) Barring injuries, both Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins will be MVP finalists.

— David B. in Rochester, Minnesota

If you missed it, David's email is referencing last week’s Mailbag, which was led by Brad's thoughts on the trajectory of the team. I humbly appreciate the compliment on my responses.

Mailbag is at its best when people send in great thoughts and questions, whether they are full of high hopes or more critical — as long those critiques are done in a respectful manner, they usually are included in the spirit of continuing the dialogue.

The 2022 defense didn't yield what O'Connell and Donatell hoped and has been rebooted this year. Flores and the returning coaches, as well as those who are new to the team this season, have spent a considerable amount of time evaluating the personnel and creating a plan for how to best deploy it with intensity. I don't know that it's reasonable to expect a defense that dominates the way so many have during most of the best Vikings seasons, but if improvements are made on that side of the ball, and the offense sustains it's success or elevates to the point David expects, then the Vikings very well could fulfill some of those other high hopes.

There were times last year when Cook reached top speed on a smooth road, but then there were times when the sports car grinded its gears/bounced along Pothole Parkway. Most of the recent Super Bowl winners have utilized a running back by committee approach. I do know that O'Connell has expressed interest in trying to have each player, regardless of position, at 100-percent capacity, so I expect Alexander Mattison's workload will increase, but won't be surprised if the Vikings spread carries a little more this season.

The Purple People Eaters really were special together for so long, helping build an everlasting identity. Speaking of the Purple People Eaters, Jim Marshall is again in a group of semifinalists being evaluated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Senior Committee. We sourced's ratings in a write-up last week that I hope the committee members will add to their evaluations because they help explain Marshall's greatness with a centralized metric.

While Smith, Kendricks and Thielen did not have a cool nickname, the Vikings benefited from each of those players for the better part of a decade. Peterson wasn't here as long, but his impact was enjoyed.

The Kansas City game is highly anticipated, as it could be the first time the Vikings face Patrick Mahomes, who was injured in 2019 when the teams met at Arrowhead Stadium. He's a whopping 64-16 as a starter in regular-season games. Quarterback also has done a nice job of illustrating what has made him an exceptional player.

That Week 15 game at Cincinnati is another marquee matchup (it's day and time will be announced later), but who wouldn't mind seeing the Vikings and Bengals make a Super Bowl? One team would be guaranteed to win its first Lombardi Trophy in either its fifth try (Minnesota) or fourth (Cincinnati).

If the other predictions come to fruition, it's hard not to imagine Jefferson and Cousins in the MVP conversations.

I remember for the brief time that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were both healthy [prior to Hernandez's murder conviction], the Patriots offense was a juggernaut, even without a receiving corps close to the quality of the one Justin Jefferson heads up. I wonder if there are concepts from that scheme that O'Connell can employ with [T.J.] Hockenson and Oliver, or alternatively, run no huddle plays out of short yardage conversions to spread out and stress heavy defensive personnel, seeing as how Mattison, [C.J.] Ham, and the two tight ends can all be quality receiving options complementing Jefferson or another speedy wideout. Thoughts?

— Dan in Santa Barbara, California (Vikings fan since Gary Cuozzo was QB)

That's an awesome run of fandom, going back 50-plus years. Cuozzo went 10-2 in 1970, his first full Vikings season as the starter, in case anyone forgot.

Gronk is one of the very best players to ever line up at tight end. His Hall of Fame entry likely is only delayed by his unretirement for 2020-21 to reunite with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. The two-player game Gronkowski and Hernandez put together was incredibly effective before Hernandez's criminal activity brought pain and suffering to others and ended his career after just three seasons.

In 2011, their best year together, Gronkowski totaled 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns on 90 catches, and Hernandez added 910 yards and seven scores on 79 receptions. Receiver Wes Welker, by the way, had 1,569 yards and 122 receptions, along with nine touchdowns.

So there's a precedent for having a receiver with as much production as what Jefferson has delivered while involving two tight ends that heavily.

I sincerely believe the tight ends can be a real strength for the 2023 Vikings and previewed that position late last week.

I love the thought of involving a set with two tight ends to try to dictate a particular matchup, then going no-huddle to prevent a defensive substitution. That's the fun game within the game.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 7, 2024.

I have been a lifelong Vikings diehard fan since 1969.

Question 1:

Thielen was willing to take a pay cut to remain a Viking for life which the Vikings seem to say they value that mindset, but they cut him and pay Reagor $12.5M to catch a punt and run out of bounds, and [he] doesn't have the talent to even be a fourth WR, while Thielen was definitely a possession receiver with great hand and body control.

Question 2:

With our second pick we drafted [Mekhi] Blackmon with a draft rating of 66, compared to [Kelee] Ringo with a rating of 85. How do you justify this serious error in judgement? The rest of the draft was a joke.

With the departure of Za'Darius Smith, and possibly [Danielle] Hunter, our defensive line will not have the talent to compete. With two [drafts] under his belt, other than Addison, all [GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah] has done is dilute the talent we had on the team and get virtually nothing for 5 players that are now starters for other teams. While I am always hopeful, with the lack of attention to the defensive side of the ball and poor draft selection after Addison, I fail to see how the Vikings will win more than 9 games. It is one thing to get younger, but quite another when we botch two drafts so badly.

Skol Vikes

— Neval in Denver, Colorado

Appreciate the longtime support.

It was admittedly a bit surreal to go to offseason practices, see the No. 19 on a Vikings receiver and for it to not be Thielen. Newcomer Brandon Powell is now donning that jersey. He brought familiarity with O'Connell's system from his time with the Rams and could be competing with Reagor at the receiver/punt returner spot.

View photos of the top 10 receivers of all-time for the Vikings.

As for Reagor, he looked more comfortable in the system during the offseason practices. Keep in mind he was acquired just before the start of the season, and there's quite a bit expected from receivers in this system.

I do need to correct Neval on the $ for Reagor. His base salary this year is roughly $2.5 million, which is a faraway place from $12.5. Had the Vikings exercised the fifth-year option on him for 2024, he would have been in line to make north of $12 million next year. Instead, he'll be eligible to become a free agent after the season.

As for the second question, I'm not sure what draft ratings you are going by, but there's all kinds of ways to evaluate prospects. I can remember some external mock drafts placing Ringo in the first round with their projections. He wound up going 105th overall, shortly after the third day began. So, yes, Minnesota could have tabbed Ringo instead of Blackmon at 102 to close out the previous night, but their evaluation led them to want Blackmon.

I'd give Blackmon a chance to go through training camp, the preseason and longer before evaluating how he'll do here.

While releasing players instead of trading them does not bring new players into the team, it has freed up salary cap space for this year and beyond, which had to happen one way or another.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 regular season schedule.

I understand it's a business, but it was really tough to see Kendricks go. Who is most likely to step up and be the on-field defensive leader?

— Steve in Holland, Michigan

In so many Vikings games over the years, the defense really responded to Kendricks, who developed his leadership along the way to pair with some phenomenal natural ability to play this sport. While the Vikings have parted with veterans, they do have some leaders they've added and returnees at multiple levels of the defense.

Inside linebackers is a good place to start since the position is kind of a nerve center. Jordan Hicks is back for a second season. He seemed to play with a balance of fire and fundamentals. Likely alongside him will be Brian Asamoah II, who was just a rookie in 2022 but showed some early leadership with his group of reserves during preseason games.

Harrison Smith and Byron Murphy, Jr., can lead the secondary, which will be an important and dynamic piece to the puzzle.

Veteran Harrison Phillips is back for his second season with the defensive line, and that group added another veteran in Dean Lowry, who has played well for Green Bay for several years.

Do you think the Vikings would ever consider finding a roster spot for Adrian Peterson this year and let him finish out his career with the team that started his career. He only needs a few more yards to hit 15,000, and wouldn't it be great to see him do it in Purple and Gold.

— Mike B.

While seeing Peterson, who ranks fifth all-time with 14,918 yards, take a run at that milestone or even try to vault Barry Sanders (15,269) would be fun, I'm not sure that is too likely. Peterson last played in 2021, appearing in one game with Seattle and three with Tennessee.

Although he's wound up playing with six other teams, people will always picture him in Vikings Purple as the most dominant rusher of his generation.

Why doesn't someone put an offensive lineman in at fullback to block for running backs or wide receivers close to the goal line? Like the old Refrigerator play of Chicago. Just curious.

— Michael Dawkins

Bridging a little bit for any of our younger readers for a sec. It was quite a sight to see William "The Refrigerator" Perry line up at fullback. The mammoth Bears defensive lineman was listed at 6-foot-2 and 335 pounds. He had to worry opponents who were tasked with taking on his block.

We've seen teams, including the Vikings, use an extra offensive lineman from time to time.

The Vikings have a really great fullback in Ham, who is listed at 5-11 and 250 and has proven to be quite a load for opponents to handle. I always think it's best to have players do what they do best, unless you can catch an opponent off guard, which is hard to do, given the level of preparation by each NFL team, but we've also seen an imbalanced formation or trick plays work from time to time.

With all the leadership leaving this year, what should we expect in terms of compensatory picks next year?

— Stever

Players who were released (Thielen, Kendricks and Cook) or traded (Za'Darius Smith) do not count toward the compensatory pick formula.

The big thing from those releases was cap space for now and beyond. The Smith trade will have the benefit of improving draft picks and clearing cap space.


2023 Schedule Wallpaper

Download desktop and mobile wallpapers straight to your phone or computer.

How well do you think we have improved with defending runs up the middle? I just remember with both games [against Detroit], that the Lions needed big yards, and they ran on us right up the middle. Other teams did as well.

— Robert Scribner in Grand Rapids, Michigan (considered the longest and big supporter of the Vikings in Michigan — 1961 was 4 and was a fan since; black-and-white TV, the horns looked like they were coming right out of the guys' heads!! Been a fan since, and enjoyed the wonderful years with my team, the Minnesota Vikings!!!)

Love that you chose to align with the Purple through a black-and-white TV and have repped since.

Jamaal Williams did the brunt of his damage between the tackles in Week 3, rushing 14 of 20 times for 55 of his 87 yards and a score.

In Week 14, the Vikings limited him to 29 yards on nine carries between the tackles, but Justin Jackson popped a backbreaking 15-yard touchdown that put Detroit up 28-13 with 13:28 left in the game on a day when Jared Goff also threw for 330 yards.

According to Next Gen Stats accessed through TruMedia, opponents rushed for 1,142 yards against the Vikings on inside runs in 2022, which ranked as the seventh fewest in the NFL. But Minnesota's defensive success on those plays was 57.0 percent, which tied with Buffalo for 22nd.

There's definitely room for improvement through that metric. I mentioned Lowry earlier as providing some veteran leadership, but I also expect him to help gum up the works for opponents.

A mostly unheralded player who could potentially play an important role in shutting down the run for opponents is Khyiris Tonga. He's listed at 6-4 and 338 and showed some impressive play strength last season.