Every year, there are players who step up and answer the call upon them and there are players who regress as is the natural progression of the NFL. For the Vikings, there are more holes to fill than one might think for a 13-win team. However, the upper brass here are seven players who have the best chance to breakout this upcoming season for Minnesota.
S Lewis Cine
Coming off injury, consider this Cine’s redshirt rookie year. There is optimism that he’ll continue his play from his Georgia days and help lead a much improved secondary, but keep in mind that Cine was averaging 62% of the snap in the two games he was healthy last year.
QB Kirk Cousins
Cousins for the first time since coming to Minnesota doesn’t have to learn a new offensive scheme within a two year period and that is scary. Pair this with the phenomenal weapons in Jefferson, Hockenson, Addison and Osborn and there’s plenty of optimize Kirk could put up MVP level numbers.
Breakout Players for 2023
1. CB Mekhi Blackmon
A ROOKIE?!!?! Yes, Mekhi Blackmon steps into a great situation to instantly become a contributor for a defense that allowed the second most yards and the most first down conversions through the air. Blackmon is an aggressive cornerback who excels at man coverage. He’s sticky and physical and constantly has a play on the ball (leading the PAC-12 in passes defended in 2022), but will need to refine some of his technique to be a more complete football player and avoid penalties (7 penalties in 2022). For this defense, having a smart, physical perimeter corner is exactly what Dr. Flores ordered and there was a reason the Vikings made him their second pick in May’s draft.
2. TE TJ Hockenson
Already heralded as one of the best tight ends in the league, Hockenson immediately stepped in last year to provide a new level of talent that the offense was missing. In just 11 games with Minnesota, Hockenson put up the most yards by a Vikings receiver (648) since Kyle Rudolph in 2016 and was consistently a prime target for Kirk Cousins. Given a full off-season and a chance to continue to learn the O’Connell playbook, Hockenson becomes a phenomenal option to pair with Justin Jefferson and should look to help this offense excel while solidifying himself as arguably the best tight end in the league.
3. RB Alexander Mattison
After a long and enigmatic offseason, Mattison is poised to lead the Minnesota backfield for the first time in his career. The 24-year-old Boise State native has spent the last four seasons serving as the RB2 for Minnesota but is currently sitting in the drivers seat for the 2023 season. Not as electric as Dalvin, Mattison does have the ability as both a rusher and receiver, racking up 1,600 yards on the ground and 500 yards through the air. More impressively, in games Mattison started without Dalvin active, he averaged 115.5 all purpose yards and 23 touches. Don’t be fooled by the naysayers, Mattison can be a workhorse back and he’s set to go for the upcoming season.
4. OG Ed Ingram
Not very often are you talking about offensive lineman when it comes to breakout years, but Ingram is poised to improve this upcoming season. Leading the league with 63 quarterback pressures in 2022, Ingram looks to build upon a less-than-stellar rookie season. For clarity, the best rated guard in the league last season was Chris Lindstrom, posting a 95.0 PFF grade. Ingram graded in at 57.1, with pass blocking being one of his main concerns. However, another year in the system and Ingram has a chance to acclimate a little more to the NFL game and improve upon the start of his career. With a focus on technique and coaching, Ingram is setting himself up to improve upon his rookie campaign in a big way.
5. LB Brian Asamoah II
Another second year player, Asamoah II steps into a void left by eight year vet Eric Kendricks, who is off to Los Angeles. Drafted with the second pick in the 3rd round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Asamoah II has a great mix of speed and football IQ in his play to be able to fit well into Flores’ new defense, who will utilize linebackers consistently. Asamoah in a vacuum is a bit undersized and would typically be slotted in as a WILL but looks to fill the MIKE/TED role alongside Hicks for the coming year. What does he do well? He plays solid coverage and has good downhill power to help with the run. With some coaching, Asamoah II should have a chance to lead the team in tackles and put up some solid stats through next year’s campaign and be one of the key breakout players for this team.