EAGAN, Minn. -- Kirk Cousins could see it coming. At several points last season, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback said he was anticipating a potentially significant level of personnel turnover in 2023.
"Some of these guys, we've played together for a while," Cousins said in December, "and you realize it won't last forever."
As it turns out, Cousins was right about the Vikings' offseason plans. But he was pleasantly surprised at the degree to which the offense was spared. The team did release two long-tenured skill players, receiver Adam Thielen and tailback Dalvin Cook, but it re-signed both Bradbury and Mattison to keep the rest of the offense essentially intact. And after the Vikings signed free agent tight end Josh Oliver and drafted USC receiver Jordan Addison at No. 23 overall in April, it's difficult to look at their offense as anything other than potent -- even amid a widespread narrative that they are in rebuilding mode.
"[Losing] people you've played a lot of snaps with, like a Dalvin or an Adam, can be a little more difficult," Cousins said in June. "But you can also point to some guys who may not have been back that are, like a Garrett or an Alex. So that's also exciting to have a lot of stability there, too. The O-line is a group I'm very familiar with. Even losing Adam, you look at the receivers and you feel like you're throwing to guys you know. With the tight ends [also]. So there's some consistency there, too, and it'll always be that way. But I think we've got an experienced group on offense, which is a real positive."
After an offseason dominated by talk of personnel transition, particularly surrounding the Vikings' defense, let's take a step back and assess what we know about their offense. The following points are based on interviews and observations during the course of rookie minicamp, mandatory minicamp and three OTA sessions that were open to reporters.
Mattison really is going to be the top guy
Sometimes, the simplest explanation is correct. The Vikings really did swap out Cook for his longtime understudy, and to this point, all evidence suggests they will use Mattison in the same every-down role that Cook performed last season in coach Kevin O'Connell's offense.
Cook played roughly 75% of the Vikings' offensive snaps last season, with Mattison getting about 25%. No other tailback received playing time except in mop-up situations.
O'Connell was fairly direct about the situation this spring, saying he had seen Mattison "really show that all-three-down kind of ownership that he's been capable of for a long time." After Cook's release was official, O'Connell added: "The next step in [Mattison's] career is obviously just a little bit more consistent opportunities, which obviously we hope to provide for him."
But there is one significant difference between Mattison and Cook: explosiveness. Mattison has one NFL carry that has gone longer than 24 yards, making the competition for the No. 2 job a bit more interesting.
Ty Chandler appears the favorite at No. 2 RB
The two returning tailbacks who received the second-team reps this spring -- Chandler, a fifth-round pick last season, and third-year Pro Bowl kick returner Kene Nwangwu -- have one attribute in common: speed.
Chandler ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the 2022 combine, and Nwangwu ran a 4.32 at his 2021 pro day. Testing times don't always translate into explosive plays on the field, but both players' speed gives them a chance to be natural complements to Mattison.
With that said, it looks from the outside that the Vikings want Chandler to win the role, even if the competition ultimately expands to include seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride, whom O'Connell referred to during minicamp as "the rookie."
The Vikings drafted Chandler in large part because they were excited about his versatility in the passing game, but he was a surprisingly effective inside runner during the 2022 preseason. When asked this spring if Chandler was ready to ascend the depth chart after spending most of his rookie season on injured reserve, offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said: "I think he's going to have to be." Phillips went on to add: "Ty is obviously a great athlete. [That's] the reason why we brought him here. ... Ty's a guy that we're continuing to give opportunities in both the run game and the pass game. ... He's getting better every day."
TE Josh Oliver will have a passing game role
Don't be fooled by the presumption that the Vikings signed Oliver solely as a blocking tight end behind starter T.J. Hockenson. Yes, Oliver has a massive frame for the position. Although his listed weight is 258 pounds, his actual weight is more than 270 pounds, according to Phillips.
Oliver proved to be a pretty significant mismatch in the passing game during OTAs, especially in the red zone. When asked what Oliver could bring to the offense, Phillips laughed and said: "Have you seen the guy?"
On one occasion, Phillips said, Oliver turned a red zone target into basketball, boxing out a linebacker, extending his 33½ inch arms and snagging the ball with his 10¾-inch hands.
"The interesting thing is that coming out [in the draft], he was more of a pass-catcher," Phillips said. "It was like, 'Oh, he's got the size and we're going to have to teach this guy how to block if we were to bring him in.' When he gets that train rolling, he's just a tough cover due to his size and the length of his catch radius."
Hockenson will be the Vikings' primary tight end target, but Oliver should be far more than a designated blocker.
Wide receiver rotation seems obvious, but ...
As the Vikings prepared to draft Addison, O'Connell referred to him as a "Day 1 starter," as depicted in a social media video produced by the Vikings Entertainment Network. The expectation was that Addison would be part of the team's extensive three-receiver sets alongside Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn.
Unfortunately, the Vikings never got a chance to see that arrangement during spring practices. Addison suffered what O'Connell termed a "minor" injury during rookie minicamp and sat out the remainder of the spring. As a result, it's difficult to project whether Addison will be able to challenge Osborn for playing time in two-receiver sets.
What can be said is that in the absence of Addison and Jefferson, who skipped the voluntary portion of the offseason program, one player did catch a few eyes: 2022 sixth-round pick Jalen Nailor. There's no reason yet to think Nailor will be part of any three-receiver sets, but he is a smooth route runner who benefited from what amounted to a redshirt season in 2022. He also happens to be the Vikings' fastest receiver -- Thielen nicknamed him "Speedy" last season -- and if nothing else should provide competent depth in the event of injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.