2023 Minnesota Vikings: Stock up, Stock down

What a ride the 2023 Minnesota Vikings gave us. From starting 0-3 and potentially selling the farm to winning six of the next seven, the 2023-2024 Vikings were a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish.

With the ride ending and everyone lining up to buy their reaction photos, let us recognize that there was a lot on the line for some of the players and coaches on this team beyond the box score. Some were making a case that they belong, not only in Minnesota but in the NFL. Others were looking to make their case for more money/more responsibility beyond 2024. For some, they reached and exceeded their goals this season, causing their stock to rise significantly. Others missed their marks and may find it more difficult to sell their stocks in the upcoming off-season.

Let’s look at some stocks that rose and fell along this rollercoaster of a season for the 2023 Vikings.

Stock up: OLB Danielle Hunter

AP Photo/Craig Lassig
AP Photo/Craig Lassig

When Hunter came into the NFL out of LSU in 2015, then-defensive line coach Andre Patterson told Hunter that he would “help him become a big-time player.” With his ninth season wrapping up, Hunter has lived up, and probably exceeded, the expectations coach Patterson had set for him.

In 2023, Hunter set his career-highs in sacks (16.5), forced fumbles (4), tackles (83) and tackles for loss (23). He has been the surefire leader of this defense and the engine of the pass-rush that defensive coordinator Brian Flores relies on for his defensive philosophy to be successful. 

In an interview with ESPN’s Michele Beisner-Buck, Hunter states his enjoyment of being uncomfortable. How in football “you always want to be uncomfortable…I like when we’re backed up, and they’re about to score on us. I like being in situations like that. That’s fun to me.” This upcoming off-season, the quiet-mannered Hunter will be uncomfortable off the field as he faces free agency as one of the hottest commodities on the market. While he’s expressed his desire to return to Minnesota, his price tag (OTC valuation is $24.8M) may be too rich for the Vikings brass. Hunter is a rare talent and an exceptional leader for this defense. Nobody would bat an eye if the Vikings bit the bullet to keep Hunter in purple for a while longer.

Stock down: OLB Marcus Davenport

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

On the other side of the defensive line, or rather missing from that side, was free agent acquisition Marcus Davenport. Before the season started, Davenport’s ability was not what was in question. When on the field, he was one of the better young talents on a New Orleans Saints defensive line touted as one of the best in the league. Davenport’s physicality in the run and passing game made him a solid complement to Hunter and the rest of this defense.

In his 2023 debut against the Carolina Panthers (he only played four snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles), Davenport had four total tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. Minnesota got a tiny taste of what life with Hunter and Davenport could be like, and it looked good. Bryce Young was reeling. The defense had five sacks, including three from Harrison Smith. Everything on that side of the football was working. Even the following week against Kansas City, Davenport found his way to Patrick Mahomes and tallied a second sack on the season. The Vikings’ defense pressured Mahomes on over a third of his dropbacks, the second-most for him this season behind only the New York Jets. The pass-rush vision was becoming crystal clear and more deadly with Davenport in the lineup. Then, at the beginning of the 2nd quarter against the Chicago Bears, Davenport suffered a high-ankle sprain that required surgery that would eventually end his 2023 campaign.

In New Orleans, Davenport missed 19 regular season games over five seasons due to injury. 2023 was the opportunity for Davenport to prove that he could stay healthy and be relied on to contribute consistently. He wasn’t able to. Now, the 28-year-old will hit free agency again and hope that someone else makes a bet on the talent and ignore the potential bruises.

Stock up: QB Kirk Cousins

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

As the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. With the absence of quarterback Kirk Cousins, Vikings fans’ hearts progressively grew as the season progressed. Whether it was newcomer Josh Dobbs, the turnover-worthy Nick Mullens or the rookie Jaren Hall, nobody could captain the ship like Cousins.

Through the first eight weeks of the season, Cousins was playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL. Cousins was sixth in adjusted EPA/play, fifth in completion percentage, third in adjusted net yards per attempt, second in passing yards and tied for first in passing touchdowns. Cousins was on pace to break his single-season record of 4917 yards and flirt with breaking the 5,000-yard barrier that has alluded him for his career thus far.

If you need any reason to bring Cousins back, just ask superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson his thoughts on whether he wants a life without the 35-year-old signal caller. When asked, Jefferson says that he “definitely will always give that extra word for Kirko…there’s definitely something missing not having that main piece on the table.” Whether the main piece returns to the offense is up to the representatives on both sides coming to, as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah calls it, an agreement that works for both sides. Cousins is coming off an Achilles tear at age 35, making a decision on an extension more difficult. If Cousins hits the market, there is a good chance he won’t be coming back. If this season showed us anything, good quarterback play is hard to find, and Cousins is the safest bet hitting the open market in 2024.

Stock down: RB Alexander Mattison

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The departure of Dalvin Cook this offseason left a hole in the offense at the running back position. His decline this season shows that the decision to let him go was correct, but that left a void in the running game that needed addressing. At the beginning of the season, Alexander Mattison was given the mantle of feature back for 2023. In his few opportunities behind Cook, Mattison showed flashes of potentially being a three-down back with his combination of physicality and vision.

Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Vikings were sixth-worst in rushing yards and yards per attempt and tied for the second-lowest rushing touchdowns with only two. The rushing efficiency numbers were just as brutal, sixth-lowest in EPA/rush and 16th in rushing success rate. The offense needed a run game to help make up for the loss of Cousins for the season.

In week ten, against the Saints, second-year back Ty Chandler started to get more touches and carries in the offense. Mattison was still the feature guy, but Chandler would come in as a change-of-pace guy. When Mattison was out against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 15, that opened the door for Chandler, and the North Carolina product kicked the door off the hinges. Chandler’s 132-yard effort sealed the deal for him and demoted Mattison to a lesser role in the offense.

Stock up: S Josh Metellus

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

At the end of the 2022 season, right tackle Brian O’Neill went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, leaving one of the captain spots open. The team voted for safety Josh Metellus, a then-third-year safety out of Michigan, to take the role as special teams captain. Metellus had shown flashes of what he could do that season, spot-starting in three games and getting 42 total tackles (32 solo), five pass deflections and a game-sealing interception against the Detroit Lions.

The buzz around training camp was how Flores utilized Metellus while installing the defense. Metellus was being moved around the defense, playing at linebacker, safety, in the slot, everywhere. When the season was underway, not only did that vision come to fruition, Flores cranked the knob to 11. Metellus played essentially every position on the field: both safety spots, all three cornerback spots, all three inside linebacker spots, both outside linebacker spots, right defensive end and left defensive tackle.

Metellus finished his breakout season with 116 total tackles and 78 solo (both are eighth-most among safeties), seven tackles for loss (T-2nd), ten QB hits (1st), four forced fumbles (2nd), 2.5 sacks (8th), five pass deflections and an interception. How he was not chosen for his first Pro Bowl this year is beyond my comprehension, but he positively impacted the game in many ways for this Vikings defense.

Stock down: Turnovers

Nic Antaya/Getty Images
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The biggest stock killer for the Vikings was the improbable amount of turnovers from start to finish. Minnesota turned the football over 34 times, the most by any Minnesota team since 2010 and the fourth-most of any Vikings team since 2000. Those 34 turnovers were also good for sole possession of second place for the most turnovers by any team in 2023. The only team with more is the Cleveland Browns, and they found success behind their defense.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell made it known that the turnovers were a consistent problem in his post-game press conference after the Detroit Lions loss. Whether it was the inordinate amount of fumbles to start the year or Mullens’ crushing interceptions to finish it, the turnover bug consistently took massive chunks out of the Vikings’ chances to make the playoffs.

Without the three fumbles against Tampa Bay, Minnesota starts the season 1-0. Without the four interceptions against Detroit, they are 8-6 and in firm control of their playoff destiny. Minnesota was in 14 one-score games this season, including four that were decided by three points or less. They lost eight of them. In all eight losses, they lost the turnover battle. As a matter of fact, when the Vikings lost the turnover battle in Minnesota under O’Connell, they were 3-14. When they win or tie in turnover margin, they are 17-0.

When it comes to O’Connell’s Vikings, the formula is simple. Keep the ball in our hands on offense, and we will win the game.

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Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire