Scouting the NFC North: Can the Detroit Lions take the division in 2020?

Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /
3 of 5
Cousins talks to Garoppolo
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Minnesota Vikings offseason

Next, the Minnesota Vikings took a step forward in 2019 earning second place (10-6 record) and a playoff appearance; that lead to a loss in the divisional round to the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers. The task is to re-load and take down the Green Bay Packers without taking an eye off of other very competitive division rivals, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

Simpler said than done in the close black-and-blue division. However, the addition of Kirk Cousins the last two years to an already very competitive defense and budding stars, like running back Dalvin Cook, makes the Vikings a multi-dimensional threat and a dangerous team to face.

The Vikings are another team that hasn’t made big moves this offseason. They did move on from most of their secondary, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and Jayron Kearse left this offseason along with discontented wideout Stefon Diggs, who was moved to the Buffalo Bills. Also departed are defensive end, Everson Griffin, and tackle, Linval Joseph, after the Vikings signed defensive tackle Michael Pierce away from the Baltimore Ravens.

Their depth chart can be found from Ourlads, here. Predictably, corresponding moves were made by general manager Rick Spielman, who has drafted replacements for most of the key departures. Most notably, playmaking wideout Justin Jefferson was one of two first-round picks along with cornerback Jeff Gladney.

Instead of spending huge in free agency, Minnesota mostly chose to re-sign their own, bringing back names like Anthony Harris, Dan Bailey, Rashod Hill, and Ameer Abdullah, while quietly signing lower-tier players like receiver Tajae Sharpe and Pierce.

You have to like what Spielman did in the draft and what those moves did to reinvigorate the roster with some youth. After Jefferson and Gladney, he selected Ezra Cleveland in round two, to address the left tackle position, and Cameron Dantzler, another cornerback with experience who tested slow, but whom many scouts like his physical style of man coverage through the third round.

The rest of their draft class looks filled with guys who could come in and compete for jobs down the road like the fifth-round gem, Harrison Hand, who is a plus athlete at cornerback; that’s a big area where the Norsemen need to rebuild after their age and cost were taking a toll on the bottom line win-loss record.

While the Minnesota Vikings probably didn’t improve by leaps and bounds this offseason, it’s hard to say that they didn’t get better, either. The draft class is able to build upon an already solid core of players, plus they removed some distractions from 2019. If wideout Adam Theilen, running back Dalvin Cook, and Kirk Cousins have no major setbacks on offense, it’s tough to see them going away in the competition for the division title.

The defense has put Mike Hughes and the new cornerbacks in the spotlight via their wholesale change in cover people but the pass rush with Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo should help them to not be exposed for long. Otherwise, the Vikings have good depth almost everywhere.

Head coach Mike Zimmer, with the balanced offense, provided for by coordinator Gary Kubiak, and co-coordinator of the defense, Andre Patterson, return a lot of experience and continuity after Zimmer’s seventh year at the helm. The Vikings were fifth in scoring defense last year, eighth in scoring offense, and sixth in rushing yards as a team, according to Pro Football Reference’s website. Those are strong performances from a team that has probably improved in almost every area to some degree.