A Tale of Two Seasons: Minnesota Vikings 2017 Preview
Here at the Gents Clubhouse we’re always talking about windows. Not the kind that have been smashed by a wayward cricket ball, but Superbowl windows, of which Minnesota’s was wide open heading into the 2016 Season, so what went wrong?
The 2016 Season:
It would be safe to say that the Vikings were a solid pick for the 2016 Superbowl heading into Training Camp. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked to be primed for a breakout year, with the help of a legitimate no. 1 receiver in 1st round draft pick LaQuon Treadwell and the return of this generations greatest running back, Adrian Peterson. On defence they looked set to be the no. 1 in the league, with superstars at every position. The Vikings looked like one of the most complete teams in the NFL. It’s safe to say though that fortune has never smiled favourably on the Minnesota Vikings. The 2016 season was not exempt from this.
Towards the end of August, Teddy Bridgewater went down with a non-contact injury that turned out to be a torn ACL and dislocation of the knee. This would see their starting quarterback miss the entire season. The Vikings were left with a decision. Start journeyman back up, Shaun Hill or make a move in free agency and at least try to keep the season alive. The Vikings acted fast and within 4 days, they’d made Sam Bradford the Vikings starting QB, for the hefty price of a 2017 1st round pick, which divided opinion amongst experts and fans a like. Was this too high a price to pay for a QB, who had already failed to live up to the 1st round grade?
The Season started well, with the Vikings winning their 1st 5 games on the back of their exceptional defence. During these 5 games the offence was good enough to win, but an injury to Adrian Peterson in the 2nd game, meant they were left with an anemic run game, which took its toll. The Vikings had a bye week in week 6, after which they only went on to win 3 more games. The predictability of the offence became an issue, as they turned the ball over 15 times, after only allowing 1 turnover in the 1st 5 games. The Vikings finished the year ranked 32nd from running the ball and despite initial fears, Sam Bradford had a pretty good season, finishing the year with 3826 yards, 20 TDs and only 5 interceptions. That being said, Bradford had only 1 game over 300 yards, thanks in no small part to one of the weakest receiver corps in the league, led by their shiny new 1st rounder, who finished the season with just 1 reception all season, which can be written off as a “lengthy learning process”, if we’re being generous. Another way of looking at it however, would be that there’s a very good reason why the receiver ranked no. 1 by most draftniks was the 4th off the board. Adding to the offensive woes (or not depending how you look at it), Norv Turner resigned 7 games into the Season. He was replaced by Pat Shurmur, who had been brought in as a the tight ends coach earlier that season.
It wasn’t all bad for Minnesota in 2016 however. Kyle Rudolph had something of a breakout season and was essential to Sam Bradford if they were to move the ball at all. The defence was as advertised. Finishing the season having only 2 games with 30+ points given up. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks combined for 179 tackles, which is solid although perhaps a little disappointing after Anthony Barr’s breakout season the year before. Xavier Rhodes continued his rise up the cornerbacks listing, despite the odd boneheaded play along with Harrison Smith and Terrance Newman continuing as advertised in the secondary having solid, although not entirely flashy seasons. There was mixed blessings on the defensive line. Sharrif Floyd only played one game before sitting the rest of the season, due to nerve damage in his knee following surgery in the off-season. Now it looks like there’s a very real chance we may never see Floyd take the field again. Danielle Hunter however was possibly the Vikings biggest success story. Hunter was a player that narrowly missed the Gents top 10 edge rushers against an immense amount of competition. Hunter in a bit part role for the Vikings, racked up 12.5 sacks for the Vikings, a pleasant surprise for a Vikings team that could use a win in a season of hair pulling proportions.
The Off-Season So Far:
After another season of injury, Adrian Peterson was let go, with the Vikings not willing to pay over the odds for a running back with an extensive injury history. Instead they used the cash to pay over the odds for Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, a pair of tackles that have thus far failed to impress. Remmers last season apparently gave up 18 sacks over the last 2 seasons and after spending the last couple of years at right tackle, it looks like Riley Reiff will be moving back to the blindside. Regardless, after a season where the VIkings gave up 37 sacks, they needed to do something. It became obvious that Matt Kalil wasn’t the answer for Minnesota, after several years of injury and disappointing play. A shift in scheme seems to be the key for Minnesota, which comes with a change of offensive coordinator. Last season Shurmur hadn’t had the chance to implement his playbook and was still running what Norv Turner had left in place. Now it seems the Vikings will be running a more traditional west coast offence, with the offensive line switching to a zone blocking scheme, which requires new pieces. We’ll get into how the change in scheme should benefit the Vikings later, but needless to say I think this could be a very good move for the Vikings. The final point to make about the Vikings is about the addition of Pat Elflein from a draft that was light on offensive linemen, in which Elflein was considered one of the better centers. Elflein looks like he’ll be thrust into the starting lineup.
Outside of changes to the offensive line, there’s a few new faces at some of the skills positions. Michael Floyd joins the team as a high risk/ little reward prospect, with enough baggage to fill the hold of a 747. If Floyd even takes the field this season and IF he can play to the level we saw in Arizona, he could lead an anemic looking group of receivers, but there’s a lot of “if’s” there. Cordarrelle Patterson had an up and down career with the Vikings, so much so that they were willing to let him walk in free agency. Replacing him, most likely in both the receiving game and on special teams, looks to be 5th round pick Rodney Adams, who comes with a fair amount of turnover concerns.
Replacing Adrian Peterson is a tall order, which Latavius Murray can’t do on his own. Luckily for him, he’ll have help from (and might even be replaced by), Dalvin Cook, who dropped to the 2nd round for the Vikings. Cook finished the 2016 season with 2253 yards from scrimmage, for Florida State and it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll be a solid pass catching back for them. Replacing Adrian Peterson is virtually impossible, but luckily it seems that a new scheme brings with it a new role for the running backs, who will be part of a 3 pronged system, with McKinnon being the 3rd part.
The changes on defence were few, but significant. Chad Greenway has been in the Vikings line up for 11 years and has missed only 4 games since entering the lineup in 2007. Where his ability on the field has started to diminish in recent years, his leadership will definitely be missed. With youth at the inside linebacker positions (Anthony Barr & Eric Kendricks), this is something that will have to be spread around. Sharrif Floyd missing any time will always be a huge loss for the Vikings, even in a talent rich position like their defensive line. Jaleel Johnson was brought in through the draft a replacement, but with the amount of talent they have, a replacement could already be on the team. Both Everson Griffen and Brian Robison have played interior defensive line and with Danielle Hunter making a name as a legitimate edge rusher, they have a replacement on the outside. Then add in the pick of out of sorts ex-Packers player, Datone Jones meaning that even without Floyd they still have talent and depth along the line.
In the Secondary there was little change, other than the loss of Captain Munnerlyn. Once again they have decent depth there and will be hoping for a better season from Mackensie Alexander as Munnerlyn’s natural successor. Once again another unit with decent depth.
Realistically though the defence isn’t the issue for this team…
It’s almost an offensive rebuild for Minnesota and it’s probably long overdue. Peterson hit the skids, not because he’s got nothing left or that they didn’t want to pay him, but instead for the simple reason that he’s not a scheme fit any more, which has been a problem for the last 2 years. Peterson couldn’t run out of shotgun and Bridgewater worked best out of shotgun. The team found made it work, with a ton of play action, but the fact remained that Peterson (and Norv Turner actually), was a square peg for the Vikings round hole. Now with a new scheme, a couple of new offensive linemen, a shiny new pass catching running back and potentially a choice of QB’s who fit said scheme, the Vikings offence could surprise a few people and actually move the ball. With Norv Turner it felt like they were set up to fail, with the age-old issue that a lot of modern-day coaches have got wise to. Players shouldn’t have to always fit around scheme. Maybe to a certain extent teams should tailor schemes to fit around what they have in front of them, which is what the Vikings are doing. For once it feels like both Bridgewater and Bradford are being set up to succeed, for the 1st time in both of their NFL careers.
The defence, despite the potential loss of Sharrif Floyd still looks solid. There was a belief that a lack of offensive production left the defence gassed towards the end of the year, which would explain the drop off in production. That being said it’s no excuse for the odd lack-lustre performance. Danielle Hunter looks like he could emerge as the star of the unit, but the Vikings need a stellar season their linebacking duo of Barr and Kendricks if their to succeed this year.
It feels like this is a team going into 2017 a little under the radar. The fact remains that despite the loss of their starting QB and their most productive weapon on offence they still won their 1st 5 games. Then a combination of offensive confusion and an exhausted defence hit home and they took their foot off the gas a little. This year seems to be a little more stable, which would have been roughly what I said around this time last year.
In regards to quantifiable results, I really don’t know. Do I think this team could pip the Packers to a play off spot? Absolutely. Could they also have a massively disappointing season? Also very possible. In the end though I’ve got to think they go 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs but still improving.
Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidate: Dalvin Cook
Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidate: Jaleel Johnson
Offensive Player of the Year Candidate: Dalvin Cook
Defensive Player of the Year Candidate: Danielle Hunter
MVP Candidate: Xavier Rhodes
Comeback Player of the Year Candidate: Teddy Bridgewater
Next up, the Detroit Lions.