Pressure’s on Zimmer, Vikings, looking to lean on restored D
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-9)
New faces: DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Michael Pierce, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Bashaud Breeland, TE Chris Herndon, K Greg Joseph, S Xavier Woods, CB Mackensie Alexander, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Nick Vigil, DE Stephen Weatherly, WR/KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR Dede Westbrook, T Christian Darrisaw, G Wyatt Davis, QB Kellen Mond.
Key departures: T Riley Reiff, S Anthony Harris, LB Eric Wilson, TE Kyle Rudolph, K Dan Bailey, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, CB Mike Hughes, QB Sean Mannion.
Strengths: Dalvin Cook is one of the best all-around RBs in the NFL, and Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are an ace WR duo for QB Kirk Cousins. The addition of Tomlinson and Richardson plus the delayed debut of Pierce, the team’s top free agent signing in 2020 who skipped the season for COVID-19 precaution, ought to restore the ferocity badly missing in the middle last year. The return of two-time Pro Bowl DE Danielle Hunter from the neck injury that sidelined him in 2020 is a major boost. Longtime friends Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, who suffered a season-ending pectoral tear in the second game, remain a proven and reliable LB tandem.
Weaknesses: The OL is again a question mark. Darrisaw was drafted 23rd overall to succeed Reiff at the vital LT spot, but his recovery from a groin injury and core muscle surgery has been slow. He does not appear ready for the regular season, giving Rashod Hill the job for now. Uli Odoh, who has appeared in seven career games, is the latest in line at the frequently fluctuating RG spot.
Camp Development: Cousins missed five days of practice early in training camp because he’s unvaccinated and was deemed a close contact of the rookie Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19. The Vikings have lagged behind most of the league in their team-wide vaccination rate, irking coach Mike Zimmer and increasing concern a key player would have to miss a game for league quarantine rules.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Herndon, acquired on Tuesday in a trade with the New York Jets, had 502 yards and four TDs as a rookie in 2018. Herndon could be the top pass-catching option at TE following a knee injury for the on-the-rise Irv Smith Jr. Meniscus surgery has set Smith back for at least a few weeks, if not longer.
FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl: 40-1. Over/under wins: 8 1/2.
Expectations: The pressure is cranked up on GM Rick Spielman and Zimmer, who each received contract extensions in 2020 but have won only a total of two playoff games since Zimmer was hired in 2014. The Vikings are in win-now mode as much as they’ve ever been, with a $31 million salary cap hit for Cousins and a whopping 10 veteran free agents on defense for either starting spots or rotational roles. Any result short of advancing in the playoffs will likely make ownership look hard at significant changes.
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