The Vikings’ Offense Has a Lot of Touches Missing from 2022

Vikings: Week 16
Sep 20, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Despite a lot of continuity, the Vikings’ offense still has a lot of unused touches to go around.

Moving on from excellent veterans like Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen will inevitably lead to other players getting the chance to corral more touches. Partnering them with a couple subtractions at tight end means there’s even more chance for the new and continuing Vikings to see their opportunities get a boost in the upcoming year.

Minnesota subtracted more than 400 touches from their offense from last season, so several players will need to pick up the slack.

The Vikings’ Offense: 2022 Touches

Somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota has only lost four players who had the ball last year on offense: RB Dalvin Cook, WR Adam Thielen, TE Irv Smith Jr., and TE Ben Ellefson (who will be back in a unique coaching role).

Vikings Tight End Retires
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings tight end Ben Ellefson (82) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

Take a look at how many touches these players had last season for Kevin O’Connell’s group:

Cook, Dalvin26439303
Ellfson, Ben033
Thielen, Adam17071
Smith, Irv02525
TOTAL: 402

Obviously, Cook’s portion stands out as the major subtraction. Being the RB1 for the entire season happens to come with some responsibility, and that means carrying the ball a lot.

If we kick things back even further, we can see offensive opportunities more broadly. What I mean by that is targets in the passing game rather than just catches. Cook’s 56, Thielen’s 107, Smith’s 36, and Ellefson’s 3 add up to 202 throws from Kirk Cousins. Who’s going to benefit from the extra targets in the upcoming season?

Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) yells out before the snap during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports.

Probably the pair of names that stand to benefit the most are rookie WR Jordan Addison and soon-to-be RB1 Alexander Mattison. During his minicamp press conference, Kevin O’Connell spoke about both, expressing his usual optimism about his players. Mattison, in the coach’s mind, is ready for the larger job and the young receiver is being held out but is hard at work studying his play book.

Note: Mattison had 74 carries and 15 catches (18 targets) last season, so we can’t expect him to magically take on every forfeited Cook carry and catch. Instead, the broader RB room will need to help out.

We wonder about someone like Jalen Nailor, the sophomore wideout who many are highlighting as a sleeper going into 2023. The speedy pass catcher has the upper hand in the WR4 competition, meaning he could surpass his 9 catches as a rookie.

T.J. Hockenson, meanwhile, will have a full season to eat into the offense’s touches, so fans can likely expect the former Lion to easily cruise past 80 receptions. Moreover, Josh Oliver recently received praise from OC Wes Phillips because of how the TE’s massive frame helps him as a receiver.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) reacts after a play against the New York Giants during the second quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, a word on Justin Jefferson, the cornerstone of the offense. The phenom demanded a whopping 184 targets last season, cashing in those opportunities for a stunning 128 catches. Might we see O’Connell try to maintain that pace despite the recent additions and renewed commitment to running the football? If Jefferson doesn’t produce at an elite level, the Vikings won’t win too many football games.

O’Connell is stepping into a season with a plethora of weapons at his disposal. He’s also stepping into a season where his offense has moved on from players who demanded a ton of attention the year before. It’ll be up to the coach to put together a gameplan that effectively synthesizes the various skill players within his offense.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.