There are a lot of people who do not consider the Minnesota Vikings to be Super Bowl contenders this season. Even when I was trying to figure out how things would shape up, this first thing that came to mind were “doomsday scenarios” for the offense and defense.
But then there’s the question that very few are asking about this team: What if things go right?
As the Vikings prepare for the 2020 season, I tried to come up with several best-case or “dream” scenarios for this team starting with an offense that comes into the season with plenty of continuity along with several intriguing new pieces.
What if Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson click right away?
Looking at Jefferson’s track record coming into the league, there’s good reason for everyone involved with this team to be excited about his potential. He completely shredded the competition at LSU and even with No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow throwing him passes, his stat line of 111 catches, 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns shows that he’s talented in his own right.
The problem here is that rookie receivers don’t often have that translate to the NFL…at least not immediately. But there’s a chance that Jefferson’s talent can override things and he’ll have a tremendous rookie season.
Cousins hasn’t been known to trust his receivers right out of the gate, but there’s a chance that Jefferson has enough skill to win his trust. Even with a stint on the COVID-19 list at the beginning of camp, Jefferson has already flashed enough of his own highlights to show that he can make catches that few other receivers can if given the opportunity.
When thinking about this, we should be clear that no receiver is going to do what Randy Moss did in his rookie year. Heck, Odell Beckham Jr., was probably the closest to making the same impact and he spent half the season on the sideline with a hamstring injury. Jefferson may get off to a slow start, but even if he can come close to replicating Stefon Diggs’ production last season (1,130 yards, 6 TD), it will help Adam Thielen, Irv Smith Jr. and the rest of the Vikings’ passing attack thrive.
What if the Vikings figure out their offensive line?
For a team that runs the ball as much as the Vikings do, it’s shocking they haven’t had a better offensive line over the past decade. With the issues coming to the forefront in big, late-season matchups with the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, the Vikings needed to do something about it.
To their credit, the Vikings drafted Ezra Cleveland in the second round of the draft but didn’t take another offensive lineman until tackle Blake Brandel in the sixth round and guard Kyle Hinton in the seventh. Because of the addition of one guard (Hinton, who might start the year at center), the “Can he play guard?” battle royale may be in full effect.
After Gary Kubiak’s most recent comments, it appears that Pat Elflein is in the lead for one spot, but there’s always the possibility that his major injuries suffered at the end of his rookie season needed more time to recover than originally thought.
There’s also the chance that either Dru Samia or Oli Udoh figure things out as the season goes along and find their way into the starting spot, and maybe the training camp experiment of putting Cleveland at guard will have a bigger impact than expected.
Of course, the Vikings will still have to worry about Riley Reiff against quicker defensive ends and Garrett Bradbury’s pass-blocking, but it’s possible that Cleveland could usurp Reiff or Bradbury makes a second-year leap. There are also people who still believe in Santa Claus, so this isn’t that far off.
What if Bisi Johnson bReaks Out as the third receiver?
Going back to the receiver position, there’s plenty of questions on how that unit will turn out this season. We know Thielen and Jefferson are good, but they both play the same position — with Jefferson running almost exclusively out of the slot at LSU and Thielen running 31.9% of his snaps in the slot last season.
The obvious answer is to move both receivers around the field so defenses can’t key into them, but there’s the obstacle of creating the slot position to begin with as the Vikings ran just 25% of their offensive plays with three wide receiver sets per Sharp Football Stats. By comparison, the next closest was Arizona at 36%. The Cardinals instead opted to go the opposite direction and run 31% of their plays as four-receiver sets.
A big reason for this is that nobody named Diggs or Thielen stepped up to be a credible threat, and the Vikings weren’t going to force Laquon Treadwell onto the field for a second straight year just to make it happen. In short, someone is going to have to step up, so why not Johnson?
Johnson performed admirably in the wake of Thielen’s injury and while he only produced 294 yards, he came down with three touchdowns, establishing a decent rapport with Cousins. Johnson suddenly isn’t going to remind people of Jake Reed, but his emergence could help bring the first scenario into existence.