Vikings Vibes: 5 Key Takeaways from the Spring

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) celebrates after a touchdown with guard Dalton Risner (66) against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have gone through a transformative offseason with many changes to the roster. After finishing last campaign with a 7-10 record, the purple team was forced to replace some key players, which is why the expectations for the upcoming season are quite low, with the win total set at seven.

Vikings Vibes: 5 Key Takeaways from the Spring

We have learned a lot about the team and some players in the last few months through OTAs and mandatory minicamp.

1. It’s Justin Jefferson’s Team

Vikings Vibes: 5 Key Takeaways from the Offseason
Dec 31, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) looks on before the game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson dominated the Vikings’ news and rumors, and only the buzz about the potential acquisition of a quarterback in the draft was comparable. He signed a four-year extension worth $140 million, making him the best-paid player in the NFL outside of passers.

The Vikings rewarded greatness; rarely are new contracts as deserved as his. In his first presser after the deal, he emphasized the word “we” and made sure everyone knew his status as the face of the franchise. Jefferson will lead the organization for another five seasons like a true top-notch quarterback. The good news is that his charisma and the on-field play make him one of the rare non-QBs who can do it.

2. Starting Spot Not Handed to Risner

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons
Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) celebrates after a touchdown with guard Dalton Risner (66) against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Brandel was re-signed in free agency, and many were surprised by the three-year salary of $9.5 million. The longtime backup sneakily earned borderline starter money. When the Vikings passed on potentially starting offensive guards in free agency and the draft, Brandel was penciled in as the starter.

Dalton Risner couldn’t find another team, so he returned for a second season. He signed a one-year contract for $2.41 million, so it is quite obvious that there will be competition in the training camp. The coaching staff has praised Brandel in the past, and he will be allowed to fight off Risner, regardless of his starting experience.

3. Sam Darnold Is the Favorite

NFL: Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night
Feb 5, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is interviewed during Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Darnold was signed in free agency, and J.J. McCarthy joined the club via the draft with the tenth overall pick. Neither signal-caller should be expected to replace Cousins’ excellent numbers, but it’s reasonable to anticipate an upgrade to the QB carousel the Vikings went through last season.

While the rookie is foreseen to be the franchise’s future, Darnold is favored to start in Week 1. The coaching staff has clarified that they want to take a cautious approach with the Michigan alumnus, and Darnold’s upside as a former third-overall pick is intriguing. The theory of his supporting casts holding him back in previous stints will be tested in Minnesota’s excellent offense.

4. Rookies Impress Early

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy makes a pass against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during the first half of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.

All eyes are on McCarthy’s development. His arm strength has been a fascinating talker in OTAs. The teammates also praise his leadership, which is impressive for a 21-year-old.

Linebacker Dallas Turner caught the eyes of star left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who claimed that the rookie’s spin move is even more impressive than Danielle Hunter’s, a four-time Pro Bowler, who exited the state to join his hometown club, the Houston Texans.

Kickers are a spicy topic in Minnesota, but rookie Will Reichard had a promising spring. His leg strength and consistency have been praised by various reporters who watched him kick. It’s different in shorts without much pressure, but the sixth-rounder might finally fix the ongoing struggles at the position.

5. Don’t Count Out Jalen Nailor

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The WR3 spot is vacant following K.J. Osborn’s move to New England. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah only added Trent Sherfield and some undrafted talent to the receiver group, so last year’s emerging wideout Brandon Powell is the de facto new WR3 based on his 2023 resume.

However, there has been some buzz around 2022 sixth-rounder Jalen Nailor driven by no other than his head coach, who said about his speedy wideout: “I mean, Jalen Nailor had another really good offseason program. … When he’s healthy and on the field, he shows up every single opportunity he’s gotten.”

Unless the team adds another established weapon, it will come down to Nailor or Powell.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this article.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and prefers Classic rock over other genres. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt