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The Athletic projects the Vikings to have the NFL’s best defense in 2021

Tall order? It might be

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NFL: AUG 04 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp

Going into the 2020 season, Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer made the declaration that he had never had a bad defense. While that might have been true going into the 2020 season, it certainly wasn’t true when the smoke cleared and the dust settled on the team’s 7-9 campaign. The Vikings were near the bottom of nearly every meaningful defensive category and struggled to stop pretty much everybody in the second half of the year.

The team has made a ton of additions to try to reverse that trend going into this season, adding players like Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson (among others) while welcoming back star defensive end Danielle Hunter and run-stuffer Michael Pierce after he opted out of the 2020 season. Will the changes be enough to return the Minnesota defense to prominence?

Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic certainly thinks so, as he has the Vikings projected to be the #1 defense in the NFL this coming season.

It’s pretty simple to explain away the Vikings’ struggles last season. They had the third-worst injury luck of any defense, according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric, and they had the most injured defensive line. The Vikings didn’t get a single snap from edge defender Danielle Hunter or defensive tackle Michael Pierce.

This year, not only are both players back, but Minnesota added Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson. With Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr still in the mix at linebacker, the Vikings project to have one of the league’s top front sevens. There are some questions on the back end, but the Vikings added veterans Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander to give themselves options at cornerback. Cameron Dantzler figures to improve in his second season.

It’s not just the players that have been added, however. As it turns out, Kapadia wants to remind everyone that the guy in charge of the defense is really pretty good at what he does.

On paper, it’s probably not the most talented group, but coach Mike Zimmer is one of the smartest defensive minds in the NFL. The Vikings finished first, third and fourth in defensive efficiency from 2017 to 2019. Barring another bout of terrible injury luck, they’re talented enough to get back into that range this season.

I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that the Vikings make a significant jump defensively this season. After the disaster that they were on defense for most of last year, such a jump is expected. Can they get all the way up to being the best defense in the National Football League?

If they can, this is going to be a very, very tough team to beat this season.