Detroit Lions, NFC North training camp previews: Offense

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
4 of 5
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Minnesota Vikings

A high-priced, veteran-laden Vikings team got as far as the divisional playoff round in 2019, but changes were inevitable considering age, finances, and mounting pressure on the coaching staff. The results are another talented offensive group, but one that will have some noticeable differences in 2020.

Kirk Cousins returns for year three under center in purple and could be starting to shed the “can’t win big games” moniker. Securing his first career playoff win was likely a factor in him grabbing a two-year contract extension in March. The rest of the quarterbacks currently on the Vikings’ roster have a combined 74 career pass attempts.

After a public rift with Vikings management, receiver Stefon Diggs got his wish and was dealt to the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings used the acquired draft pick from that deal to replace him with former LSU star Justin Jefferson. A key member of the Tigers’ national championship team from this past January, Jefferson is a sure-handed, contested-catch expert who doesn’t have Diggs’ downfield speed but could quickly become a security blanket for Cousins.

How he complements veteran star Adam Thielen remains to be seen, as Thielen, like Jefferson, is most comfortable in the slot. The potential of this unit will likely depend on a viable third option. Seventh-rounder Olabisi Johnson got plenty of experience as a rookie in 2019, appearing in all 16 games. Tajae Sharpe joins the Vikings after three quiet seasons with the Tennessee Titans. This group lacks a speed threat.

Tailback Dalvin Cook finally stayed healthy in 2019 and broke out as a bonafide star. Now he wants to be paid like one and has publicly threatened to stay away from team activities until his contract demands are met. Cook was a key factor in the Vikings’ success last year and they would miss him for any length of time. As a second-rounder though, he has little leverage in contract negotiations, particularly in an often-tepid running back market. Alexander Mattison is a nice second option after a solid rookie year.

The Vikings’ offensive front has underachieved in recent seasons and is quickly shifting towards a youth movement. Brian O’Neill enters year three firmly entrenched at right tackle, but former Lion Reilly Reiff may have to hold off rookie Ezra Cleveland on the left side. Cleveland could even turn Reiff into a preseason cut candidate should he prove capable of being a day one starter.

On the inside, the Vikings will be looking for improvement at center from Garrett Bradbury after a shaky rookie year. Snap counts, transfers to the quarterback, and pass protection woes gave him trouble last season but that should be fixable over the summer.  Second-year man Dru Samia will battle veterans Pat Elflein and Dakota Dozier for one of the starting guard spots.

Tight end figures to be a strength for Minnesota in 2020. Iron man Kyle Rudolph had his lowest yardage total since 2014 but continued to be a red zone threat with six scores last year. Like Hockenson, Irv Smith Jr. will be looking to make a big jump in year two. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak could look to get him more involved with a higher rate of two-tight end sets. Brandon Dillon and Tyler Conklin will contend for the third spot, with special teams performance being the likeliest path.