Andrew Krammer takes your questions for the Vikings mailbag. Send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or email@example.com and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast, or find them here on Friday mornings.
Q: Over/under 9.5 wins? Which injured player (excluding Cousins) would have the biggest effect on the season? — @mlawsonmvp
AK: I'll take the over, assuming at least some open-ended questions – Danielle Hunter's health, production at cornerback, Christian Darrisaw's development – pan out. The optimism comes a lot easier after two June moves: Hunter returned with a modest contract restructure and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson returned at on a bargain $3 million deal. Hunter and Richardson could form the Vikings' top two pass rushers, making life a lot easier on a retooled secondary. Nose tackle Michael Pierce, should he return from a recent calf injury, and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson further revitalize a front seven that's now a far cry from the December lineup that allowed an NFL-record six touchdowns to Saints running back Alvin Kamara. The player whose potential loss would hurt the most, in the non-QB division, is the same as it was in 2020: Hunter. You saw what the front looked like without him. He commands an offense's attention in ways that make his teammates' jobs easier. A close second is Dalvin Cook, who is one of the few exceptions to the thought that running backs can't individually elevate an offense.
Q: Do you think the Vikings will do anything before the start of the season to solidify the WR3 spot? Add more depth to OL and DE? — @jtlaurie
AK: There are a lot of recognizable names still available among free agent receivers, so that would make sense. But it doesn't appear Vikings talent evaluators are as concerned about the No. 3 receiver job as everybody else. There was some behind-the-scenes praise this spring for rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a fifth-round pick, as a burner with potential, but they've yet to play football in pads. First-year coordinator Klint Kubiak said this spring the No. 3 receiver could be a tight end, fullback, or running back on any given play as the younger Kubiak maintains the philosophies installed by his father, Gary.. When pads come on in early August, evaluations can change quickly, but at this point it's not surprising that there hasn't been a big investment at receiver behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Free agent receiver Dede Westbrook, recovering from a torn ACL in October, is visiting Vikings headquarters in Eagan on Saturday, according to a league source. Westbrook, a former Jaguars receiver, was coached by first-year Vikings coach Keenan McCardell in Jacksonville.
Receivers Chad Beebe got a big dose of reps in OTAs, and Bisi Johnson is also in the mix. Camp also provides a chance to evaluate the edge rushers behind Hunter, and whether they need to add even more bodies. The Vikings already brought in Weatherly, as well as rookies Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson, to remake that group. I'd been told Robinson and Smith-Marsette were two standouts this spring. We'll see if that carries over into camp.
Q: Will Danielle Hunter play right end or left end? I know [coordinator/D-line coach] Andre Patterson laughed off this question last year, but I think the numbers show the best stretch of Hunter's career sacking the QB was when Everson Griffen was out in 2018? — @dusty00688527
AK: The numbers, at least according to Pro Football Focus, say Hunter can line up anywhere and wreak havoc. The Vikings coaching staff has just chosen to keep him rushing right tackles. To address that stretch of 2018, PFF charted Hunter with a 3.4% sack rate in five starts without Griffen (five sacks in 148 pass rushes); he had a 3.0% sack rate (10 sacks in 330 rushes) in the other 11 starts. The pressure rate – a more important, overall metric – had minimal difference as well. He's just really good, regardless of side. But the pass rush will be under the microscope, and it can't get real practice work until pads are allowed starting Aug. 2. The team needs complements to Hunter from a group that includes defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, linebacker Anthony Barr, and defensive ends D.J. Wonnum and Stephen Weatherly.
Q: Team vaccination status/percentage? Given all the restrictions for non-vaccinated players, this could impact the season as much as injuries. — @grumpysicilian
AK: It's unclear where the Vikings are at currently, but league-wide vaccinations have been increasing as camp report dates near. Nearly 80% of all NFL players have at least one shot, according to NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, and sources indicated last month that Vikings players were nearing 60% after significant progress was made during OTAs. The restrictions for non-vaccinated players have been kept the same as they were last season; the difference is the vaccine is now available, and those restrictions are largely removed for the vaccinated. For instance, vaccinated players will no longer be quarantined if they're deemed a high-risk close contact with an infected individual. Vaccinated players who test positive can return in as soon as 48 hours with two negative tests; unvaccinated players are still subject to the 10-day quarantine. The league and NFLPA are still discussing a vaccination threshold, speculated at 85%, that would allow a team to loosen rules on player gatherings for everybody on the team. Nine teams have an over 90% vaccination rate among players, according to Sills, with five teams below 70% as of Friday morning.
Q: I know we all talk about the revamped defense but our special teams were dreadful last year. Who's going to be our kicker? Viking fans have had their hearts broken by kickers. This should be a larger story than it has been so far. — @co0pgoesvr00m
AK: Right now, it'll be either journeyman Greg Joseph or undrafted rookie Riley Patterson. General manager Rick Spielman kept investments minimal at the position after paying for former Pro Bowler Dan Bailey, who was cut this offseason and remains a free agent, trading a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, and taking Daniel Carlson with a fifth-round pick. The team, theoretically, could re-sign Bailey or find another veteran if they to camp and don't like its options. Joseph and Patterson got just $35,000 and $20,000 guaranteed, respectively. It was Bailey's December collapse – going 3 of 10 in games against the Jaguars and Bucs – that prompted a competition likely to result in a fifth different kicker in the past six seasons.