The Vikings defense is estimated to be the fifth best unit in Navy for the 2021 draft.

The Minnesota Vikings’ defense could see one of the most dramatic changes in the NFL next season.

After finishing the 2020 season as the 27th ranked defense in the league, the Vikings traded the farm to fix the unit after an unusually bad season.

ESPN analyst Mike Clay recognized the unit’s potential and recently ranked Minnesota’s defense fifth in the league in his 2021 NFL Draft.

Updated 2021 NFL unit figures#clayprojections

– Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) April 14, 2021

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Viking defence overview

Minnesota has $32.2 million guaranteed on defense to free agent signings in defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson ($20.8 million), cornerback Patrick Peterson ($8 million), safety Xavier Woods ($1.75 million), linebacker Nick Vigil ($1.05 million), defensive end Steven Weatherly ($500,000) and cornerback McKenzie Alexander ($137,500).

Tomlinson, Peterson and Alexander will likely be starters and upgrades over their 2020 counterparts, but the biggest change will come from the returning players.

Pro Bowl talents Daniel Hunter and Anthony Barr return from injuries, as does presumed replacement Linval Joseph for nose tackle Michael Pierce, who declined to participate in the 2020 season.

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Defense recovery expected after 2020 exodus

The Vikings had a huge boost in defense after retaining Kirk Cousins for another two years. The two-year, $66 million extension cost several names, including five for the defense.

Minnesota said last season it was desperate to be there and even made a big move by acquiring Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. But after starting the season 1-5, general manager Rick Spielman drew a line in the sand and sent Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens to capitalize in the third round after giving Ngakoue a second-round pick.

Although the front office downgraded expectations for the postseason, the team struggled until week 16 of the season, allowing many young players to play significant minutes for much of the season.

Main area of project improvement

Clay evaluated each group of inputs with specific weights to calculate his scores. Most of the best defenses in the league have strengthened their edge rushers and cornerbacks, but for Minnesota, the edge rushers are the team’s biggest weakness right now.

Daniel Hunter currently has no partner on the fringe to match Everson, and could regress a bit if he doesn’t have someone to take the attention away from him.

Minnesota found it in uncontested fashion, developing stones at the rim in the middle and late rounds under coach Andre Patterson.  D.J. Vonnum, who was selected in the fourth round, showed promise in his first year, but he may not be physically ready to start full-time.

An early pick like Michigan’s Kwity Paye or Miami’s Jaelen Phillips could start on day one and make the Vikings’ pass rusher one of the best in the league for years to come.

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