NFL power rankings are a regular staple of online content, but this recent version from ESPN is a little different and caught my eye. They did "future power rankings," which assess how well teams are set up for the next three seasons (2021, 2022, and 2023).
Here's how they did it:
We asked our panel of experts – Jeremy Fowler, Louis Riddick, Seth Walder and Field Yates – to rate each team's quarterback situation, remaining (non-QB) roster, drafting ability, front office and coaching using this scale: 100: A+ (Elite), 90: A (Great), 80: B (Very good), 70: C (Average), 60: D (Very bad), 50 and below: F (Disastrous)
After averaging the results from the panelists, each of the five categories was weighted to create the overall score: roster (30%), quarterback (20%), draft (15%), front office (15%) and coaching (20%). The result is a comprehensive ranking based on how well each team is positioned for the future. Our experts each wrote a blurb for all 32 teams, hitting on biggest worries, stats to know and what could change in upcoming years.
I was a little surprised to see that the Vikings came in at just 19th with an overall score of 74.9 (a C grade). Let's take a look at the score breakdown and ESPN's explanations before I give my thoughts.
Why they're here: For years, we could count on the Minnesota defense to be reason enough to bet on the Vikings' short-term future. This past year was one to forget, but offseason moves give confidence that it can once again find its way under coach Mike Zimmer. Kirk Cousins is under contract for two more years, but he's yet to guide Minnesota to playoff success. If that doesn't happen this season, it's only natural to wonder whether speculation will start about when Kellen Mond takes over. — Field Yates
Biggest worry: Zimmer has a way that he wants his team to play defensively, and it starts up front with an ability to rush the passer and affect the QB in a very significant way. The problem is that the Vikings don't have the manpower to do that, and unless defensive end Danielle Hunter can return from missing the entire 2020 season with a neck injury, they will once again be at or near the bottom of the league when out comes to relevant pass-rush metrics. — Louis Riddick
What could change for the better: Minnesota has cap flexibility to go all-in or rebuild, whichever it chooses. The 2022 cap will be tight under Cousins' $45 million hit in the last year of his deal, but Minnesota has up to $133 million in space in 2023. This allows the Vikings to evaluate whether the Zimmer era regains its defensive footing over the next one to two years without overspending. — Jeremy Fowler
Stat to know: As a rookie, Justin Jefferson ranked second among wide receivers in completed air yards over expectation and yards after catch over expectation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He was a home run pick that should pay off for years to come. — Seth Walder
My analysis: I know the Vikings went 7-9 last year, but the fact that they rank between 15th and 21st in all categories feels odd. I guess that's what happens when ESPN bases these scores purely on voting and not on any statistics or other results-based data.
For example, how on earth could the Vikings' non-QB roster be ranked 21st? This is the same roster that PFF just ranked 9th-best in the NFL. The Vikings' offensive weapons (Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, etc.) were just ranked in the top five by ESPN's own Bill Barnwell. The revamped defense is loaded with talent at all three levels, including All-Pro caliber players in Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith.
I know the offensive line is still a question mark, but the only logical explanation for that roster ranking is that many of the Vikings' star players are still seriously underrated by national NFL analysts and fans.
The Vikings' quarterback situation being 17th is less egregious, even though Kirk Cousins has put up top-ten numbers at the position over the past two seasons. They're at a bit of a crossroads with Cousins failing to elevate the team like they hoped and recent third-round pick Kellen Mond now waiting in the wings as a potential successor if he develops nicely.
The coaching staff ranking 19th also feels a bit low. Mike Zimmer and Andre Patterson are among the best defensive minds in the NFL, and although Klint Kubiak is unproven as offensive coordinator, he's set up well for success and the Vikings have mostly great position coaches on that side of the ball.
Perhaps most baffling are the mid-tier ranks the Vikings got when it comes to the draft and the front office. Rick Spielman has been one of the better drafters in the NFL over the past decade and has done a great job retaining the team's homegrown talent past their rookie contracts. Cousins' contract hasn't aged perfectly, but it was a very logical decision at the time and the team did what appears to be an excellent job in free agency this offseason.
I think the Vikings should be at least in the top 15 when it comes to their setup for the next three seasons, regardless of the job security of Cousins and Zimmer. They've got a talented roster with a mix of veterans and young players, a well-respected coaching staff, and a front office that has done a good job assembling said roster.
But then again, they've only made the playoffs three times in the seven-season Zimmer era, so maybe I'm being too positive and the ranking is fair. Let's check back in three years from now and see how things have played out.
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