Minnesota Vikings faithful! This week, in honor of Jim Cramer (!), Mad Money host and exclamation-point enthusiast, I’ll be telling you what you should:
- Buy! what I think is on a positive trajectory.
- Sell! what I see that could be on a downward trend.
- And hold! something I think you should have already bought into and should continue to believe in.
Additionally, I will provide something to watch out for that could develop in the coming weeks.
Danielle Hunter vs. The Giants
This season has been rough for Danielle Hunter. After two season-ending injuries, he has had to learn a new scheme that has seen him have to drop out and play coverage far more than he has in his career. Despite all of this, he has still shown an ability to win on the edge and get to the opposing quarterback.
This was evident in the first matchup against the New York Giants when he totaled nine pressures and two sacks. He will face rookie Evan Neal again. This season Neal has allowed 39 pressures and seven sacks. Neal has had a rough season overall, recording a PFF Grade of 44. Look for Hunter to have another big day and for the Vikings’ defense to isolate Hunter against Neal as often as possible.
K.J. Osborn’s Increasing Role
Osborn struggled at the start of the season because he appeared to regress from last year. In the last four weeks of the regular season, he seemed to have carved out an important role on this offense. In the aforementioned last four games of the season, Osborn is averaging 87.5 yards per game. This number is even more incredible because he only recorded 17 yards during the Giants game.
With T.J. Hockenson‘s drop problems and Adam Thielen‘s struggles this season, I would expect Osborn to see an uptick in targets as opposing teams look to take away Justin Jefferson and force someone else to beat them.
C.J. Ham, Johnny Mundt, and Irv Smith’s Importance
It isn’t going to be an easy task replacing Brian O’Neill, and you certainly can’t expect the likes of Oli Udoh and Blake Brandel to be one-for-one replacements. More likely than not, you will need to give some extra help on the right side of the offensive line in terms of both run- and pass-blocking.
To help out the right side of the line, you will likely see some combination of Irv Smith, Johnny Mundt, and C.J. Ham on the right side, helping to chip oncoming edge rushers. Also, look for the Vikings to implement a moving pocket on certain plays to keep Cousins as clean as possible.
It appears that the Vikings coaching staff has moved on from Dantzler, who has dealt with injury issues in the last few weeks. He has been benched in favor of Duke Shelley, who has grasped his opportunity with both hands.
It is important to remember that this is just for this current season, and I would still expect that Dantzler can still have a future with this team. For now, though, it feels like Dantzler won’t seethe field much for the Vikings’ playoff run.
It is clear that for the Vikings to make a run in the playoffs this year, they will need to stay healthy. Though this might seem like an obvious conclusion, it is especially true for Minnesota.
While there have been teams like the San Francisco 49ers who have succeeded despite their injuries at key positions, the Vikings have largely gotten to where they are by staying healthy. The depth of this team isn’t at the level where they can compete with other playoff-caliber teams if they are called upon.
Adam Thielen’s Impact
As painful as it is to say, we’ve seen a meaningful decline from Adam Thielen this year. Thielen’s dropoff this season has been dramatic, and he has struggled to produce at levels we have seen before. With Osborn and Hockenson elevating themselves in the offense, Thielen will likely see a decrease in his already limited role.
I still expect Kevin O’Connell to use Thielen in the red zone, an area where he has been dominant in recent years. But, outside of that, I don’t think he will see too much action.
Shelley might be the biggest surprise of the season. Since joining the active roster, he has allowed a completion percentage of only 48.8% and has recorded an interception and a whopping 10 pass breakups. It is clear that he has won the favor of the coaching staff and will continue to play across from Patrick Peterson in the playoffs.
One of my favorite things about Shelley is the sheer aggression he plays with. Too often this season, this defense has been afraid to get physical and challenge their opponents. Shelley is the exact opposite of that. Though he might lack the physical stature you would want from a cornerback, he makes up for that with the heart he shows.
Say what you want about point differential, DVOA, and whatever other stat you want to use to discredit the Vikings team, but I will point to this team culture. We have already seen them bounce back so many times, and they continue to do it.
Every time they have a horrible loss, they have always come back and gotten a win the very next week. They have made countless comebacks coming back from nearly unwinnable positions. I think this will positively impact the team and their mentality in the playoffs, should they see themselves down early. They will continue to fight through the course of the game.
While, yes, it is a long shot that rookie Jalen Nailor sees any meaningful snaps during the playoffs, he is someone to watch out for. In the last two games, he recorded 179 yards on seven grabs and showed an ability to stretch the field.
Nailor looks like he has already usurped Jalen Reagor on the depth chart, and we could see him used to stretch the field in four-wide sets. His speed could present a challenge for opposing defenses when he runs clear-out routes, which are designed to draw defenders higher up the field while creating space down low, something that O’Connell loves to scheme up to get Jefferson open. I’m not confident enough to buy this just yet, but I am watching it with a lot of interest.