The Minnesota Vikings are coming off a season in which they won the NFC North crown with a 13-4 record and took over from the Green Bay Packers as the team to beat in the division.

The Vikings featured a superstar receiver in Justin Jefferson and a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who appeared to answer many of the questions that critics had raised during his previous seasons.

But the Vikings struggled badly on the defensive side, ranking 31st in yards allowed and 30th in points per game allowed. That poor defensive showing came to the forefront in regular-season losses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers.

That struggling defense was also the primary reason the Vikings fell short in the Wild Card playoff loss at home to the New York Giants.

As a result of that disappointing finish and the team's salary-cap issues, the Vikings have undergone some significant changes in the offseason.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was fired and innovative Brian Flores was brought in to make the defense more competitive. Players like running back Dalvin Cook, wide receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks were sent packing.

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The Vikings are going to count on running back Alexander Mattison, wide receiver K.J. Osborn and linebacker Marcus Davenport for improvement.

In this piece, we look at a pair of hidden gems on the Vikings roster.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn

Prior to the 2021 season, Osborn was looked at a role player for the Vikings. Since the Vikings had Jefferson, Thielen and tight end T.J. Hockenson as their primary receivers, there was not a lot of opportunity for Osborn to work his way into the Vikings offensive gameplan.

But Osborn was not content just to be another player on the roster. He made it a point to show he could be a dependable receiver for head coach Kevin O'Connell, and while he was not a starter, he made the most of his opportunity.

Osborn has had two consecutive seasons in which he has exceeded expectations. He caught 50 passes for 655 yards and 7 touchdowns two years ago in Mike Zimmer's last season as head coach with the Vikings. He was even more impressive in O'Connell's first season at the Vikings helm with 60 receptions for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns.

More than the numbers themselves, Osborn showed a certain level of toughness with the ability to make the challenging catch in traffic. The coaching staff noticed that Osborn was always ready to make a contribution, and that may have played a role in the decision to let Thielen go and sign with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.

In addition to his receiving skills, Osborn is a sensational blocker. His teammates know he will do anything to help the team win.

“K.J. has a tricky role,” Jefferson said, “because he doesn’t get as many balls as he wants. Of course, he would want a bigger part and to do more than he already has been doing (in the passing game), but he comes up clutch whenever his name is called, whenever the ball is thrown to him. And I mean, he’s a great teammate.”

S Lewis Cine

The Vikings are counting on Cine to play a key role in his second year on the team. The Minnesota secondary has been a liability for each of the past 3 seasons.

The Vikings made Cine a first-round selection in 2022 and he was on track to make a key contribution before he broke his leg early in the season.

Cine played in just 3 games before suffering the injury when the Vikings played the New Orleans Saints in London in Week 4. That ended Cine's season, but he is healthy with the 2023 season around the corner.

Cine is a big man at 6-1 and 200 pounds, and he has excellent instincts and movement skills. He has the ability to fill holes and make tackles in the running game, and the Vikings clearly need his physical talent to help the defense take a step up.

He has the talent to become a gem for the Minnesota Vikings.