The Vikings experienced a successful season in 2022 by the franchise’s standards. It was a sign that this team might be ready to turn the corner and be a yearly contender rather than a 50/50 playoff team year in and year out. However, for the team to replicate its success next season, it has a rather extensive to-do list this offseason.
The Vikings currently own the 23rd and 87th picks in the 2023 NFL Draft as well as a pick in the fourth and fifth rounds. Four picks are tied for the least of any team in the whole draft. This is bad news for a team with quite a few aging veterans that could become cap casualties. Look for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to make some moves to acquire more draft capital. Last year he made six trades during the draft to pick up ten selections that included important contributors this season like Akayleb Evans and Brian Asamoah. Kwesi´s propensity to sniff out valuable trades will likely yield a rookie class that will play a large part in determining the 2023 Vikings´success.
While relying on rookies never feels all that safe, the Chiefs have relied on four rookies as starters this year and find themselves in the Super Bowl. Sure, they have Patrick Mahomes so they have more room for error but with the proper selection of rookies, the Vikings could find themselves deep in the playoffs in 2023. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his war room will have to prove they can draft NFL-ready talent because his first draft class with the Vikings underwhelmed. While this team has a great staff in place to develop prospects, the team will be in win-now mode next season and should be targeting the rookies that will provide the most immediate impact.
Fixing the Defense
The team checked the first task off its list by hiring Brian Flores as the team’s new defensive coordinator. After missing out on Ejiro Evero, who filled the same role for the Panthers, Flores was likely the next-best coach available. Many will argue that Flores was the best option, regardless. His experience with the Patriots under Bill Belichick and his time as the head coach of the Dolphins prove that he probably deserves a head coaching job in the league. Instead, he will be tasked with improving a Minnesota Vikings defense that ranked 31st in yards and tied-30th for points allowed.
Mock drafts in the media have the Vikings selecting a wide receiver, defensive lineman, inside linebacker, or cornerback. The draft will be the best way for the cap-strapped Vikings to improve their porous defense. With the 23rd overall pick the Vikings should be targeting a cornerback since the secondary was the most glaring hole on either side of the ball. The top cornerbacks available at the end of the first round could include Joey Porter, Cam Smith, and Kelee Ringo. If someone like Christian Gonzalez or Devon Witherspoon were to fall that would be the ideal scenario for the Vikings. However, if Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s “guy” is not there at the 23rd pick do not be surprised if he trades down like he did last year, especially since this cornerback class is very deep.
Again through the draft, the team should look to add a linebacker to the fold. With Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks at 31 years old, it is time to prepare for the future without them and invest in a young linebacker.
The Vikings’ offensive line had another down year after allowing the tied second-most sacks in the league. Since Kirk Cousins joined the Vikings in 2018, he has been sacked a total of 181 times, good enough for the third most in that period. The Vikings desperately need to repair their offensive line. They are off to a good start with Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill (and Garrett Bradbury, at times). At the guard position, Ezra Cleveland has shown moments of promise, while Ed Ingram had a lackluster rookie season. Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper has only been with the team for a year and will feel the pressure to get his squad in shape for the 2023 season. While Cleveland, Ingram, and Bradbury continue to develop under O’Connell and Kuper, the team may want to spend a late draft pick on a young guard to build depth behind the starters or even to challenge them for a starting spot.
The Vikings’ first year under the purview of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell far exceeded expectations. It produced an MVP candidate in Justin Jefferson and a 3-seed in the playoffs. Though the season was cut short in the playoffs, it was hopefully a sign of a new, winning, era in Minnesota. To repeat that level of success in 2023 will not be easy. With a tight cap situation, aging veteran players, and a lack of draft capital, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell will be tasked with a difficult road back to the playoffs. However, if they can execute the draft well, help Flores bring the defense to a competent level, and get better protection around Kirk Cousins, another great season could be well within reach.