Anybody who watched more than a half of Minnesota Vikings football in 2020 would guess the team has several holes that need to be plugged.
But in true 2020 fashion, there is more than meets the eye to this football club.
It's clear the defense will be buttressed by the return of missing starters like defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Vikings beat reporters Jason Feldman and Robb Jeffries analyze Minnesota's top needs for the 2021 offseason, including everyone injured regaining their health.
Top need: Offensive guard. The Vikings are set for next year, if not the future, with Ezra Cleveland and Brian O’Neill at tackle and Garrett Bradbury in the middle. None are All-Pros, but they’re serviceable for what the team wants its line to do. Minnesota is in desperate need of two guards who can step in and play right away. Dru Samia was a disaster, and Dakota Dozier was slightly better than a disaster. The salary cap may prevent them from dropping big money on a free agent, so the Vikings may have to approach the draft like they did with corners last year: Take one right away, then get another in the third round and let them learn under fire.
Other needs include:
Defensive tackle: Michael Pierce returns to plug the middle, but the Vikings need a true “3-technique” to allow Pierce and the team’s defensive ends — Danielle Hunter, Ifaedi Odenigbo and DJ Wonnum — to do what they do best, get after opposing QBs.
Safety: Anthony Harris won’t be back in purple. Mike Zimmer made his feelings about safeties known well prior to this season, and Harris’ play late in the season didn’t warrant the big-money deal he wants. The problem? There’s no heir apparent on the current roster.
Linebacker: The Vikings have made a habit of finding an Eric Wilson-type in every draft, a guy who will be solid through his rookie contract, then move on because another team will pay more than the Vikings feel he’s worth. We saw this year how badly the team needs depth at the position, with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks sidelined.
Kicker: Maybe they give Dan Bailey a shot again in ‘21, or maybe they go another direction. We’ve seen kickers bounce back from disastrous seasons with very good seasons before (Mason Crosby in Green Bay comes to mind). At the very least, though, the Vikings need to put the screws to Bailey in training camp by bringing in some legit competition.
Top need: Offensive line. Left tackle Riley Reiff was Minnesota's best lineman — frankly, he had no serious competition — and it's likely he will be cut this offseason. The Vikings need to commit to center Garrett Bradbury, right tackle Brian O'Neill and last year's second-round pick Ezra Cleveland as three of the five starters because of the draft capital used on them. It seems all three could take a step forward with a full offseason of coaching. If Cleveland is moved to left tackle, as was intended before incompetence forced him to step in at right guard, the Vikings will need to address the interior line in both the draft and free agency.
Other needs include:
Defensive line: Minnesota stands to gain defensive tackle Michael Pierce and defensive end Danielle Hunter, but nobody on 2020's defensive line showed enough flash to be considered building blocks for the future. Co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson excels at taking raw prospects and building them into tanks in the trenches, but more immediate reinforcements are needed.
Safety: Harrison Smith remains a top safety in the league, but Anthony Harris will likely be gone, leaving a void at a position with no depth to speak of in the organization.
Specialists: Coordinator Marwan Maalouf is out, and the housecleaning shouldn't stop there. Minnesota should bring in a new kicker and punter to join long snapper Andrew DePaola, who joined the team mid-season when 2020 draft pick Austin Cutting faltered.
Quarterback: Minnesota is a run-first team and always will be under head coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings need to shed themselves of an expensive Kirk Cousins at the end of his contract, and drafting a young quarterback to wait in the wings would give Minnesota a low-cost option for 2022.