Over the past few years, the Minnesota Vikings have made an effort to get themselves to a much younger roster after leaning on veterans for much of the Mike Zimmer era. Have those efforts borne fruit? According to the folks from Bristol, Connecticut. . .kind of.
Behind the great E$PN paywall, the folks from Football Outsiders have ranked all 32 NFL teams in terms of their young talent, which they define as any player under 25 years old. The Vikings are in the middle of the pack in this year’s rankings, checking in at #14. That’s just slightly below where they were last year, when they sat at #12, but it’s a far cry from where they were in 2020 when they came in at #30.
ESPN lists the Vikings' notable “blue-chip” players in these rankings as WR Justin Jefferson (duh) and OT Christian Darrisaw. We’ll touch on some of the Vikings’ other players under age 25 here in a moment, but here’s the commentary that was provided.
In a pre-draft news conference, new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah told reporters he wanted the team in a “competitive rebuild,” which explains its apparently contradictory decisions to extend veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins and trade back four times in the 2022 draft and net 10 total draft picks. Adofo-Mensah will have to hope that quantity trumps quality since his first pick after the dust of his trades cleared was the last pick in the first round, and his selection, Lewis Cine, is relatively small for such an aggressive safety at just 199 pounds. It is difficult to expect he will be an immediate blue-chip defender, even if that potential is there.
Fortunately for the competitive half of Adofo-Mensah’s plan, the Vikings already hit on some recent premium draft picks, none more decisively than Jefferson. The receiver has rare versatility to play in the slot and out wide and excel in routes at every level of the field. He ranked in the top five at his position in DVOA on out routes, dig routes and go routes in his sophomore season. And he has finished third in receiving DYAR in each of his first two seasons.
Darrisaw and left guard Ezra Cleveland fortified Cousins’ blind side with 3.5% and 2.1% blown pass block rates once the former player returned from a groin injury to make his NFL debut in early October. And cornerback Cameron Dantzler ranked sixth among regular corners allowing just 5.0 yards per target. After bulking up to 191 pounds this offseason, Dantzler should have a chance to start all season, a luxury he did not enjoy in 2021 under previous head coach Mike Zimmer. Dantzler, second-round rookie corner Andrew Booth Jr. and safety Cine offer the team some fresh legs in the secondary to protect and eventually replace the unit’s veteran leaders, Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson.
As you can see, the Vikings have plenty of younger talent on the roster outside of Jefferson and Darrisaw. Cleveland and Dantzler are mentioned, as are a couple of the team’s draft picks in Cine and Booth, but the Vikings’ under-25 list also includes such players as Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Ed Ingram, Camryn Bynum, and Alexander Mattison.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Kwesi Adofo-Mensah goes about building on this younger talent over the next few years. The Vikings are going to have players like Harrison Smith, Patrick Peterson, and Adam Thielen that could be moving on in a few years because of their ages, and the team is going to have to take steps to draft and develop players to replace them. It’s also important to note that after the 2022 NFL Draft the Vikings changed out a lot of front office and scouting personnel, meaning that when the 2023 Draft comes around Adofo-Mensah is going to have a collection of people that are more in tune with his philosophy and the Vikings’ draft strategy will likely change accordingly.
In terms of the NFC North, the Vikings are second in these rankings. The Detroit Lions check in at #7 and look to be in a position to. . .and I can’t believe I’m saying this. . .make a leap forward at some point in the near future. The Chicago Bears check in at #20, while the Green Bay Packers are down at #27.
What do you think of ESPN’s assessment of the Vikings’ young talent, folks?