Veteran Minnesota Vikings leaders could guide the ship to Super Bowl LVI

The 2021 offseason could have gone either way for the Minnesota Vikings. Luckily for fans of the purple and gold, general manager Rick Spielman went to work, bringing in players to impact both sides of the ball while retaining key members of the team.

As a franchise that’s been to the Super Bowl four different times, the Vikings have never won the big game. Now, a roster stacked with veteran leaders mixed with young playmakers could provide the perfect recipe for success. Can the Vikes finally take home the trophy in their 57th season?

Here’s why the Minnesota Vikings are a strong pick for Super Bowl 56.

Anthony Barr says Minnesota Vikings have Super Bowl-winning roster

With training camp just a few weeks away, Anthony Barr likes the roster, even saying they have a Super Bowl-winning team this year. Is Barr drunk on purple Kool-Aid or has he found Zimmer’s crystal ball

Barr spoke on how the Vikings feel like a championship team to him, per Fox9’s Jeff Wald:

“I really do believe that we have a Super Bowl winning team this year. Obviously there’s a lot of steps to get to that point, and I’ve been through good seasons and bad seasons with this team. But every time we’ve had a tough year, we’ve always bounced back,” Barr said. “I really feel like this year is going to be special.”

What he says is true, as far as bouncing back from a tough year. During the Mike Zimmer era, the Vikings have made the playoffs every other season. 2021 happens to be the “playoff year.” Putting superstitions aside, the Vikings do appear to have a much stronger roster than last season.

Minnesota Vikings’ roster is greatly improved

Minnesota Vikings' roster is greatly improved
Jun 9, 2021; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Patrick Peterson (7) and defensive back Harrison Smith (22) talk during drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

A common theme in recent years, the Vikings’ offensive line was not good enough in pass protection during the 2020 season. The idea is, after spending first and third-round picks on linemen expected to start, the line should improve from within. 

But, the inability to hold down the fort offensively was not their greatest downfall. Strangely that title belonged to the defense. A Minnetonka-sized boatload of injuries led to allowing 29 points per game, fourth-worst in the NFL. 

Bringing in eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson should help a team that started nine different corners in 2020. Internal options such as Cameron Dantzler should continue to develop after an impressive 70.9 PFF rookie grade.

Losing Anthony Harris is a bummer, but the Vikings have never really invested much in a safety to play opposite Harrison Smith. One could argue Xavier Woods has the highest ceiling of any safety that’s ever lined up next to Hitman. How Woods does in the Zimmer scheme will be fun to watch.

The secondary improvements are nice to see, but fans should be most excited about this defensive line heading into 2021. The two Vikings to receive the largest contracts in free agency during the past two offseasons are defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson. We’ve yet to see their impact in purple and gold, but after watching the Saints game, the additions of these gap-pluggers are just what the doctor ordered.

Vikings’ offense is set for success

Oct 4, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hands off the ball to running back Dalvin Cook (33) against the Houston Texans during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, the Vikings have found themselves in the middle of the pack. Do they tear it down to try and rebuild or do they go all in? They haven’t exactly done either and maybe that’s for the best. Now back in position to compete with a strong roster, placing the Super Bowl within their sights is justified.

The backbone of the Vikings is built off Dalvin Cook’s incredible footwork leading to success in both the running game and gaining massive amounts of yards after the catch using screen passes. I never thought I’d see so many Vikings fans wishing and hoping for their team to run a screen, but that’s exactly what to do when operating a Kubiak offense led by Cook. 

Kirk Cousins takes a lot of heat for his inability to make off-schedule throws when the play breaks down. The reality is, Cousins wasn’t born with the most God-given talent compared to some of his peers, but he can make nearly any throw on the football field.

Armed with a pair of Pro Bowl receivers with Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, Captain Kirk is a great leader of this ship.

Experienced core can help fuel turnaround

The Vikings are a team that hasn’t had a ton of changeover in recent years. Long-time fan-favorite Kyle Rudolph is gone, but they still have plenty of veteran leadership. Aside from the years of experience coach Zim has, the Vikings have key players on both sides of the ball with great football minds. 

Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Patrick Peterson reads like a Pro Bowl roster on defense. Cousins and Adam Thielen have developed great chemistry over the years. Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson are your classic lead by example athletes. Seeing their talent on display just makes their comrades want to elevate their game to another level. 

Vikings Super Bowl run will depend on two things

1. Can the revamped Minnesota Vikings offensive line hold up along the interior?

Apr 29, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over video call after being selected by the Minnesota Vikings as the number 23 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the pocket keeps collapsing when the Vikings face stout defensive lines such as the Chicago Bears, there will be no hope for Cousins. Teams have already seen the blueprint for wrecking the offensive game plan Vikings coordinators have put together. 

If Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and Wyatt Davis don’t hold up their end of the bargain in pass protection, we could see a similar story playing out again in the Twin Cities. However, that interior should be much improved over the version we saw starting last season. 

Dakota Dozier unfathomably started all 16 games at left guard last season despite a putrid PFF grade of 44.6. The Vikings re-signed Dozier this offseason. Face-palm. I’m guessing so they would have an in-house comparison tool for their newcomers to easily clear the low bar set by Dozier? While Dozier may have the perfect name for an offensive lineman, I don’t see how anyone could do worse.

That got dark there for a second, but there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, eventually. Bradbury has disappointed across 32 games since being drafted. Decent when pounding the rock, Bradbury folds like a lawn chair in pass pro. The hope is with better guards on each side of him, Bradbury can improve in his third season.

Are the guards better? We’ve set to see Wyatt Davis, the 86th pick in the draft in a Vikings uniform, but he dominated playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. After just two years in college, Davis was named to the All-Decade team by the Big Ten Network. He can’t be worse than Dozier. 

As far as Ezra Cleveland, he’s the second-highest rated Vikings O-lineman left on the team according to PFF’s grades last season. After exclusively playing tackle in college, Cleveland learned to play guard on the fly as a rookie. He did well considering the circumstances, grading at 66.2 across 622 snaps. As he spends more time in the pocket, Cleveland should only improve.

2. Is the defense ready to rock U.S. Bank Stadium?

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer on the sideline
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I’m much more confident in Mike Zimmer’s crew getting their ducks in a row on the defensive side than I am of the interior O-line. One could argue the Vikings’ biggest offseason acquisition was 8x Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson to help shore up the back end. 

Aside from free-agent additions, the Vikings’ defensive stars are healthy again entering the season. Missing an entire year of Danielle Hunter tore the defense apart. With no pressure from the D-line, the brand-new cornerbacks were left out on an island like Tom Hanks and Wilson in Cast Away. 

Eric Kendricks missed five games, including the Alvin Kamara Saints six-touchdown shredder. Anthony Barr, the man with the Super Bowl plan himself, missed 14 games. Now entering a contract year after restructuring, Barr’s itching to prove himself and earn another nice payday.

Without fans in the stands last season, playing at home in U.S. Bank Stadium wasn’t the same. Players feed off the energy and excitement from fans. Listening to games on TV, you could hear player communication on almost every snap. That is not normal for Vikings home games. Usually, broadcasters are talking about how loud the atmosphere is, with the cameras even shaking a bit at times. 

When 73,000 football fans are cheering, you can imagine the effect it has when trying to not only communicate but be able to make quick decisions when the game is on the line. Last year, the Vikings and many other teams were missing their fans, but at U.S. Bank where home-field advantage is a real thing, not having fans is a big deal.

From 2016-19, the Vikings’ record when playing at U.S. Bank Stadium was 23-9, which tied for the best record of any NFC team. Last year, they went 3-5 at home, a far cry from their usual selves. Bringing the fans back, having their defensive stars healthy again, and an improved offensive line could be the perfect storm for the first Super Bowl ring in Vikings franchise history.

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