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2020 NFC North Preview: Questions at cornerback for the Vikings

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With NFL Training Camps getting underway, we wanted to take a peek around the other NFC North teams to see what they’re thinking as they prepare for the 2020 season, and to do so we got some help from our friends at SB Nation.

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings were 10-6 and a wildcard team a year ago, and they have enough talent to be in the playoff mix again this year. But the Vikes have been a playoff team every other year under head coach Mike Zimmer, so if that trend continues that means they’ll miss the postseason in 2020.

They certainly have enough talent to be contenders for the NFC North again, but they haven’t beaten the Chicago Bears since 2017.

With players starting to report to training camps this week we wanted to check in with our SB Nation sister sites that cover the other NFC North teams to get their take on what we should expect from them.

Daily Norseman’s Training Camp Preview

(Everything in the blockqoutes is from our friends over at DN, with the italicized text being my thoughts on their takes.)

Notable free agency additions: DT Michael Pierce, DE Anthony Zettel, WR Tajae Sharpe, LB DeMarquis Gates. With their cap situation the way it is, the Vikings had to largely concentrate on retaining their own free agents, including franchise tagged safety Anthony Harris. Pierce is an interesting addition, as he’s essentially in the same spot that Linval Joseph was in when the Vikings signed him in 2014. . .big guy, known for stopping the run, getting a big second contract. If the Vikings can get similar returns, they’ll continue to be in good shape up front.

Minnesota’s defense has Pro Bowl talent at every level, but they have yet to re-sign defensive end Everson Griffen who was a Pro Bowler in 4 of the last 5 years.

Over/under 10 wins? I will declare this a push, as I believe the Vikings will go 10-6. Both sides of the football are going to have some questions, but with the offense now coming under the control of Gary Kubiak and the Vikings having enough veteran leadership on defense to help the youngsters get along, I think the Vikings can get to 10 wins, and possibly more if things break the right way.

I’ve always been a fan of the Shanahan style offense that Kubiak runs, and with him becoming their offensive coordinator after being an advisor a year ago, the offense could improve from last year’s 10th ranked (DVOA).

Rookie I’m most excited about: DT James Lynch. The three-technique tackle spot next to Pierce is wide open, and Lynch might have as good a chance as anybody to claim it. He’s coming off of an outstanding final season at Baylor that saw him named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a Unanimous All-American. He could, potentially, provide the sort of interior defensive pressure that Shamar Stephen hasn’t been able to bring and play a pivotal role in the Vikings’ defensive line rotation.

Even though Lynch was a 4th-round selection, he very well could slide into that starting spot. I thought this was a real solid draft class from the Vikings with 2nd-rounder Ezra Cleveland, the offensive tackle from Boise State, and Michigan State edge Kenny Willekes, a 7th-round pick, being two players that intrigue me.

Best position battle heading into training camp: Cornerback. The Vikings’ top 3-4 cornerbacks (depending on how you view Jayron Kearse) all have new addresses this year. That makes Mike Hughes the “old man” in the cornerback room. . .Hughes was drafted in 2018 and has finished each of his first two years on injured reserve. The Vikings will (presumably) get a full season out of Holton Hill, and used two high picks on corners in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. The Vikings’ play at the corner position was pretty atrocious last year, for the most part, and it will be interesting to see which of the youngsters step up to stake their claims at the top of the depth chart.

If Minnesota does have a weakness on defense it’s at corner. The young talent is there, but they may not come into their own for a couple years. Last year in the two games against the Bears, Chicago wide out Allen Robinson had 16 receptions for 148 yards.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Have the Vikings done enough to replace Stefon Diggs’ production? The focus here will likely be on first-round pick Justin Jefferson, and rightfully so. But the Vikings will be looking to other places to help replace Diggs’ production from last season, including second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. Adam Thielen is now the unquestioned #1 wide receiver for the Vikings, and the Vikings will have to get creative to help take the heat off of him a bit.

I think their tight ends are about to be a bigger part of Kubiak’s offense, and that’s a reason they felt okay in dealing Diggs away.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Can the offensive line continue to improve? The Vikings appear to be pretty solid at the tackle spots on the offensive line, and added to that by drafting Ezra Cleveland in the second round this past April. The interior, on the other hand, has been pretty rough. The team needs to hope for a significant jump forward from second-year center Garrett Bradbury and to get him some kind of help at the guard spots. Pat Elflein has been a disappointment, but there are high hopes for second-year players Dru Samia and Oliseameka Udoh, both of whom were essentially red-shirted in 2019. If the Vikings can get the problems on the interior sorted out, this offense could really take off.

The Bears have racked up 12 sacks and 22 quarterback hits against the Vikings in their recent 4-0 run against them.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: None that we are aware of at the present time.

What do you guys think about DN’s takes on the Vikings heading into training camp?