Grading the Vikings Offensive Position Groups

The Vikings’ offense has experienced a resurgence in the last couple of years. Mike Zimmer was known for his stout defenses, however, once Justin Jefferson came aboard it seemed as though the talent and ability shifted from the defense to the offense. Kevin O’Connell was hired to capitalize on this shift and he certainly did in his first year. The 2022 squad ranked 7th in offensive yards and points and ranked 4th in overall offense according to PFF. Let’s take a look at how the offensive side of the ball’s position groups grade out.

Starter: Kirk Cousins

Cousins is the anchor of the offense but lacks the versatility and skill to elevate the offense. He is tough to rank because his production tends to sate expectations and statistically puts him among the top ten in the league. Though his production is solid, he does not have the mobility or the particular indescribable quality that all elite quarterbacks possess to push the Vikings to a Super Bowl. The Vikings are likely heading into their last year with Cousins at the helm of the offense and need to be looking to the future for their next quarterback.

A nominee for the Vikings’ quarterback of the future is 2023 fifth-round draft pick Jaren Hall out of BYU. He has the athleticism to be a dual-threat quarterback, however, he lacks the arm strength to be a truly elite quarterback in the league. He will likely be a serviceable backup, however, stranger things have happened like Brock Purdy’s emergence after being Mr. Irrelevant. Second on the depth chart is Nick Mullens. Mullens has proven to be an above-average backup throughout his career and is a solid piece of depth for the team. The Vikings’ quarterback room ranks above the league average and is good enough to earn a B.

Running Backs
Starters: Alexander Mattison and C.J. Ham

Cook is gone. As an unsigned free agent, Cook’s departure takes a lot of juice out of the backfield and the pressure is on Mattison to replace him. While Mattison does not quite have the big play ability that Cook does, he can be a threat out of the backfield for the team. In the games that Cook has missed over the past few seasons, Mattison has been able to carry the load well. With the declining value of the running back position, the shift from Cook to Mattison will be less noticeable and worth the salary cap relief.

Ham has consistently been a top fullback in the league throughout his career. Overshadowed by Kyle Juszczyk’s versatility, Ham is one of the last fullbacks in the NFL who can be a touchdown threat out of the backfield. After Mattison and Ham, Ty Chandler and DeWayne McBride are the next best options at the position. Chandler is heading into his second year in the league after doing virtually nothing this past year. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a new, larger role as the first backup. However, he could get passed up quickly by McBride, the 2023 seventh-round draft pick out of UAB is a great talent that many people thought was a seventh-round steal. Though he has little pass-catching experience, he has the burst outside the tackles to provide some juice for the offense. This running back group has a ton of potential, but a lot to prove after Cook’s departure which is why this group grades out at a C+.

Wide Receivers
Starters: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn

Jefferson is the best wide receiver in the league. Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams are not too far behind, however, Jefferson has proven that he has the innate quality that puts him above the rest. What more is there to say? Jefferson is likely the most valuable, non-quarterback offensive player in the league. He will be getting a large paycheck in the form of an extension hopefully soon this offseason even though the team has said they are in no rush to get a deal done. K.J. Osborn is third in line and is in line for a larger share of targets he has seen before with Thielen gone. Osborn has yet to prove he can handle a large target share, however, Hockenson and Jefferson should be able to take the pressure off and help him thrive while Jordan Addison takes time to adjust to the NFL level. Osborn has the tools and I am excited to see O’Connell expand his role in the offense.

Jordan Addison was the Vikings’ first-round draft pick this year. The talented product is poised to take over Adam Thielen’s role and thrive opposite Jefferson. He is ranked as the second option on the teams’ depth chart, however, I am guessing we will see Osborn get a larger role early in the season until Addison finds his footing. Addison is easily compared to Tyler Lockett and could be a great asset for this team in years to come. Behind those three things get rough with Jalen Raegor, Jalen Nailor, and Brandon Powell. The Vikings better pray for a healthy wide receiver room in 2023 because they could be in trouble if any receiver goes down. Raegor’s inability to produce is well-documented but he is a valuable asset on special teams. Nailor does not have much experience but has shown some flashes of promise. Depth-wise the Vikings are a bit thin at wide receiver, however, part of the Jefferson experience is his ability to make everyone else look good. The wide receiver room is good enough to garner a grade of B+.

Tight Ends
Starter: T.J. Hockenson

Hockenson is a top-five tight end in the league. The Iowa product has been producing at a high level ever since he joined the league and he stepped up his game once more after he landed in Minnesota. T.J. Hockenson has been a great outlet for Cousins, he attracts a lot of attention from defenses, and he excels at blocking. His game is very George Kittle-esque which helps the Vikings’ offense fire on all cylinders. Hockenson will be a great piece in this offense for years to come.

Behind Hockenson is newly-inked ex-raven Josh Oliver. Oliver is a scheme-dependent tight end who thrived with Lamar Jackson and a running-heavy offense. It will be very interesting to see how he fits into O’Connell’s plans but for now, it seems like the Vikings overpaid in free agency for a blocking tight end. University of Oregon product Johnny Mundt put up two touchdowns last season, however, he will likely fade into the background with Hockenson and Oliver in front of him. This is a solid position group for the team even if Oliver is probably a bit overpaid, this group earns an A-.

Offensive Tackles
Starters: Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill

Darrisaw and O’Neill form a formidable wall on the outside of the Vikings’ offensive line. The two rank 5th and 16th in the NFL among tackles according to PFF. Darrisaw found something big in his second year in the league and is climbing quickly. He will get paid big in a few years deservedly so and he has a great future with the team. O’Neill, not to be overshadowed by Darrisaw, is an elite tackle and completes a stellar pairing. The 27-year-old has gotten better and better every year since he entered the league in 2018. The duo provides excellent protection for Cousins on the outside and should aid in the outside run game, making Mattison’s new starting role a bit easier.

Backing up the two starting tackles are Blake Brandel and Olisaemeka Udoh. In 2021, Udoh led all tackles in penalties over the 16 games he started. Udoh lost his starting spot to Darrisaw, however, over the 132 snaps he played in 2022, he only committed one penalty and he did not allow a sack. He is a decent stopgap at the position if O’Neill or Darrisaw were to have to miss time. Brandel is a flight risk. This past season he allowed seven sacks over 274 snaps in nine games played and three starts. Injuries could be devastating to this position group, however, the Darrisaw and O’Neill ensure that this position group nabs an A.

Offensive Guard & Center
Starters: Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and Ed Ingram

The interior offensive line is not nearly as stout as the outside, however, Cleveland and Bradbury provide some proven support with solid upside. Cleveland has shown steady improvement since entering the league. He is especially talented as a run-blocker, among the best in it at the position. However, he struggles mightily in pass blocking. Bradbury has struggled in pass blocking as well, though in 2022 he took a giant leap in the discipline and upgraded his game. While he is below average at the position, 2022 was a good sign for North Carolina State alum. After all, he did sign a 3-year, $15.75 million extension this offseason, hopefully, his progression continues. Ingram is the biggest question mark on the offensive line for the team. The starting guard is heading into his sophomore season and hoping to drastically improve on his difficult first year in the league. Ingram started every game, allowed 11 sacks, and produced an abysmal PFF grade of 57.1. The Vikings drafted Ingram in the second round to fill their hole at guard and he has yet to prove his ability to do so.

Austin Schlottmann, Chris Reed, and Jacky Chen are next up for this group. Schlottmann started four games last season because of injuries. He did not do much with his starts, however, grading out at a measly 48.7 according to PFF. Reed is another filler guard who graded out slightly better than Schlottmann, however, the Vikings hope they will not have to turn to either of them. Chen is an undrafted free agent the Vikings signed just a couple of months ago. His story is an inspiring one and his appearance on an NFL roster is meaningful by itself. He has the opportunity to make a name for himself after going to a small Division II university. While the three backups provide some upside, they are not the kind of depth a team wants to rely on.

The outside of the line can only do so much to make up for the interior offensive line, all three starters are going to have to keep improving to give Cousins and the offense a chance to succeed this upcoming season. This squad grades out at a lowly D+.

The Vikings have put together a formidable offensive lineup. Sure, they do not have all As but that would require ignoring the defensive side of the ball. Looking to the upcoming season, it will be interesting to see how O’Connell employs his backfield with Mattison as the lead back and McBride with loads of talent sitting in the third-string spot. This offense is rich in the right positions (tackle, wide receiver, and tight end) except for the most important one: quarterback. An elite quarterback is so crucial to a roster that this season feels like it will be a wash with Cousins under center. Regardless, this offense is trending in the right direction and with O’Connell calling plays, this offense can be among one of the best in the league.

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