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The most exciting part of this year is the defense. The offense was #4 in the NFL last year and little has changed on it. We did have good luck with injuries, or lack of injuries, on offense last year and we do face a much tougher schedule so there may be some "regression". Well, the appearance of it. Our offense could be as good as last year and be #9 in the NFL, as a for instance.
Defense! The defensive overhaul is incredible!
Considering 12 starters on defense -- I include the 3rd LB and the NB -- we have seven new starters. Seven!
Along with the new starters we have the returns of Anthony Barr and of Danielle Hunter. Premiere pro bowl players and leaders.
I'll be the first to say that not all change is always good. So, let's look at it.
Last year a platoon with Ngakoue, Wonnum, and Odenigbo
This year a platoon with Weatherly, Wonnum, and Griffen. Weatherly is a better run defender than the above three and Griffen is a better pass rusher than the above three. We can name Wonnum as part of both platoons but even that is an improvement. Second year players improve and he seems improved based on coach comments and preseason performance.
Last year, Shamar Stephen
This year, Michael Pierce
Has there ever been a bigger single year improvement from one year to the next at Nose Tackle? Not just on the Vikings, for any team? I doubt it but feel free to name who, when, and where.
Last year, Jaleel Johnson
This year, Dalvin Tomlinson
Has there ever been a bigger single year improvement from one year to the next at Defensive Tackle? Not just the Vikings, for any team? I doubt it but feel free to name who, when, and where.
3rd LB: UPGRADE
Last year, Eric Wilson
This year, Nick Vigil
Wilson ended up more like the 2nd LB. However, he was terrible in run defense. The 3rd LB is on the field for run-likely plays so we needed one strong against the run. Vigil is perfect for that.
CB1, CB2, NB: UPGRADE
Last year, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, and Chris Jones (rotating with a few others of equal quality)
This year, Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, and Mackensie Alexander
All you need to know is that Dantler, with a year more experience, has gone from #1 CB down to #5 or, arguably, #6 CB. This is a top crew of CBs. There are a few groups in the NFL who project better such as Denver's, but this group is likely Top 10 and possibly Top 5.
Last year, Anthony Smith
This year, Xavier Woods
This may seem like a push or even a downgrade but that is based on reputation and contracts. Harris was a big part of that mess against NO. His tackling was atrocious and he showed no heart. The reports on Woods have been extremely positive. Woods won't be as good as 2019 Harris but he will be better, easily, than 2020 Harris. Thus, it is an upgrade.
The Vikings -- and Zim and Rick -- have upgraded seven positions on defense! Without filling them with rookie draft picks! Truly incredible.
Then add in the more natural upgrades of players returning from injuries. Yes, more injuries may or will occur but last year the Vikings had distinct bad luck with injuries. If they have even average luck there, it will be a big upgrade.
Our defense, like many great defenses, is particularly strong up the middle. Tomlinson and Pierce on the line should lead to great run defense and with Kendricks, possibly the most underrated great player in the NFL, behind them and Harrison Smith, future HOFer, and Woods in middle coverage.
We may have had the worst interior DL in the NFL last year and may have the best now. Especially considering Sheldon Richardson coming off the bench in passing situations.
The strong run D should lead to more passing situations with longer distances needed and more time to get to the QB. Combine that with much better pass rush and push up the middle.
I expect the Vikings D to be Top 10 even against this tough schedule. If the Vikings O can stay in the Top 10, this will easily be a playoff team and quite possibly more than that.