The folks over at Pro Football Focus released their rankings of every roster in the NFL for the 2021 season on Thursday, and the Minnesota Vikings cracked the top 10. Despite finishing 7-9 last season — or tied for the 17th-best record in the league — Ben Linsey of PFF used their grading system to rank the Vikings' roster 9th for the upcoming season.
That may seem high to some people, but given how much talent the Vikings have returning from injury and joining the roster via free agency and the draft, it makes sense. This is a really good team on paper, albeit one with plenty of remaining question marks and a few notable roster holes.
That No. 9 ranking is good for fifth in the NFC, trailing the Buccaneers (No. 1), Packers (No. 6), Rams (No. 7), and Cowboys (No. 8). The Chiefs, Browns, Bills, and Ravens of the AFC occupy the No. 2 through 5 slots. The Vikings are ranked ahead of four of the seven playoff teams in the NFC from last year: the Saints, Seahawks, Bears, and Washington Football Team.
PFF also identified the Vikings' biggest strength, weakness, and X factor for this season.
Biggest strength: Justin Jefferson did not play like the fifth wide receiver selected in the 2021 NFL draft as a rookie. He played more like someone who would be the fifth wide receiver selected in a re-draft of the entire NFL. His 2.66 receiving yards per route run finished third in the league behind only Davante Adams (2.96) and George Kittle (2.84) last season. Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook give Minnesota one of the league's best three-headed monsters on offense heading into this season.
I agree with Jefferson — and more broadly, the Vikings' trio of weapons — being their biggest strength. For all the veteran talent this team has on defense, their No. 1 advantage is having one of the best running backs in the league and one of the best wide receiver duos in the league. Those three give opposing defenses major matchup problems every single week and will allow offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak to scheme up a ton of explosive plays. Kirk Cousins just needs to continue taking advantage of his weapons, which is why the offensive line is such a crucial element every year.
Biggest weakness: Minnesota's interior offensive line has collectively earned a 44.2 pass-blocking grade over the last three seasons. That's nearly 10 points lower than the 31st-place Seahawks. Ezra Cleveland — who is expected to transition from right to left guard in 2021 — and Garrett Bradbury were both much more effective as run blockers than pass protectors in 2020. Rookie Wyatt Davis was drafted with the intention of helping in that department. But as we've seen in Minnesota over the past few seasons, relying on rookie offensive linemen doesn't always lead to smooth sailing.
Yep. There's no debate that the Vikings' IOL has been preposterously bad in recent years and has held back all of the offenses of the Cousins era. They're hopeful that Bradbury will take a leap in year three, Cleveland will continue growing, and Davis can be a solid starter right away, but none of those are sure things. Special teams is the only other acceptable answer here, considering how well the Vikings have done to upgrade their defense this offseason.
X factor for 2021: Last season, the Colts were the beneficiary of a former Vikings cornerback (Xavier Rhodes) transitioning to a scheme that better suited his talents. Minnesota fans will be hoping to be on the receiving end of a similar situation for Patrick Peterson in 2021. Peterson ranks in just the 37th percentile of outside cornerbacks in coverage grade over the past two seasons. However, Vance Joseph's man-heavy defense did Peterson's declining athleticism no favors. The Vikings' secondary provides an opportunity for Peterson to bounce back in a more favorable defensive scheme.
There are a ton of players, position groups, or other things you could choose as an 'X factor' for the Vikings' 2021 season, so I have no problem with the Peterson angle. He definitely has the role and upside to swing the outcomes of games based on his performance. Some other X factors that would fit here: Anthony Barr, Xavier Woods, Cameron Dantzler, the pass rush, the O-line, special teams, Cousins, injuries.
Here's what the Vikings' projected starters look like in terms of PFF grade (asterisks are given for grades from 2019 and double asterisks for college grades from last year):
Roster-wise, there are no excuses for the Vikings to not reach the playoffs this year.
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