After a season of disappointment in 2020 that ended in the Minnesota Vikings missing the postseason after reaching the NFC Divisional Round the year prior, Minnesota is aiming to return to the playoffs and attempt to make another deep run in 2021. Last year, the Vikings defensive unit took a step back and injuries certainly played a key factor in those struggles. From defensive end Danielle Hunter to linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and others, the Minnesota defensive roster had many familiar faces miss time or all of the season with injuries that set the Vikings back from the get-go. In the 2021 campaign, Minnesota will get those players back and have added some solid veteran players through free agency to try and shore things up defensively as soon as the regular season kicks off. As the off-season continues and the new year creeps closer, here’s a breakdown and outlook of the Minnesota Vikings roster and the defense that will likely take the field for the Vikings this season.
Minnesota Vikings Roster Outlook: The Defense
Throughout the 2020 season, Minnesota’s defensive line struggled and ended the year as one of the NFL’s worst, in part because of the absence of Hunter due to injury, Michael Pierce due to sitting out the year with COVID concerns and other holes present on that group.
As a unit, the Vikings defensive line ranked 30th in the NFL in expected points allowed per run play and also had the lowest pressure rate in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2021, they hope the return of Hunter, Pierce and addition of Dalvin Tomlinson, among other players, will fix those issues and improve the performance of the line in general right out of the game.
In terms of how the defensive line might look, it will be headlined by the trio of Hunter, Pierce and Tomlinson on the roster. Other players who will play key roles are D.J. Wonnum, Jordan Brailford, Jaylen Twyman, James Lynch, Janarius Robinson and Hercules Mata’afa, with Armon Watts, Jordon Scott, Patrick Jones II and Zeandea Johnson rounding out the rest of the current depth chart.
After a step back in production a year ago, Mike Zimmer and company think they have fixed a glaring hole on the defensive side of the ball going into the regular season.
When the linebacker group is healthy, the Vikings have an impressive group anchoring the defense led by the duo of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Unfortunately for Minnesota, those two players in particular experienced some injuries throughout the 2020 season and that resulted in the defense struggling as a whole throughout the regular season.
With Barr and Kendricks now back and healthy, the Vikings hope they return to form to lead the rest of the linebackers on the roster both in pass defense and rushing the quarterback on the other side of the line of scrimmage. This year will be an important one for Barr, as he is in the point of his career in Minnesota where he needs to step up and prove himself to earn another contract with the purple and gold. Kendricks has continued to step up and be stellar when he is on the field, even ranking as the third-best linebacker in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus’ grading.
With Barr and Kendricks headlining the linebackers on the depth chart, the rest of the roster will be rounded out by Nick Vigil, Chazz Surratt, Blake Lynch, Ryan Connelly, Troy Dye, Tuf Borland, Christian Elliss and Cameron Smith in 2021, at least as the depth chart looks at this point in the off-season.
One of the things Minnesota worked on improving this off-season and prioritized throughout free agency was the defensive back spot and specifically the cornerback position on the back end of the defense.
After experiencing a lack of talent and some youth at cornerback in 2020 that exposed the Vikings pass defense throughout the regular season, Minnesota went out and signed some veteran players to help shore up that weakness and to also provide some veteran leadership to the defense. Most notably, the Vikings added Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland, signing former Vikings player Mackensie Alexander as well.
With Peterson likely to take over the starting cornerback slot in Minnesota, he will be followed by Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Breeland, Kris Boyd, Alexander, Harrison Hand and Tye Smith on the depth chart as things stand right now. That will already provide a boost to the Vikings pass defense.
When it comes to the safeties, Harrison Smith is returning to Minnesota once again to lead that group, although there are a few new faces alongside him on the roster going into 2021. The Vikings added Xavier Woods as a free agent earlier this off-season to pair up with Smith, and that duo will be joined by Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, Myles Dorn and Luther Kirk in the new year.
Minnesota has worked hard in retooling the defense this off-season to try and bounce back from a disappointing season in 2020, and the Vikings defense should look better this year granted the entire group can remain healthy.
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