Are The Vikings Ready To Contend For The NFC North Title?
This is the third installment in a series that will look at the offseasons for all of the teams in the NFC North and form a hypothesis about whether each team improved or regressed. Today is the Minnesota Vikings.
2016 Season Recap
The Vikings started the 2016 season off extremely hot, winning all of their first five games. The rest of their season was a completely different story, as they finished 3-8 over the last 11 games. The Vikings had a very good defense in 2016, but their shortcomings were mostly a product of their horrible offensive line play, non-existent running game, conservative passing attack and missed field goals. The Vikings were clearly a talented team in 2016, but their offense held them back big time down the stretch.
Biggest Needs Going Into The Offseason
Going into the offseason, the Vikings needed help everywhere on their line. Besides not having any star blockers, their depth was also abysmal in 2016. They gave up 38 sacks, and did a horrible job opening holes in the running game, resulting in the Vikings having the worst rushing offense in the NFL. Injuries piled up as the 2016 season went on, and the situation only got worse and worse. Finding blockers was by far the biggest priority for the Vikings in the 2017 offseason.
Although the Vikings offensive line deserves some blame for their 32nd ranked rushing attack last season, the Vikings lacked star power at runningback with the departure of Adrian Peterson. Going into the offseason, the most established back on the roster was Jerick McKinnon, who had 539 yards at just 3.4 yards per carry last season. Finding a playmaker at runningback was a big priority this offseason.
Last season, the Vikings experienced huge issues with their kicking game. Blair Walsh was 12 of 16 on field goals and 15 of 19 on extra points in nine games. Walsh’s final games was a meltdown against the Lions in which he had a key field goal attempt blocked and missed an extra point. The Vikings would lose the game in overtime. The Vikings then signed Kai Forbath, who was 15 of 15 on field goals in the final seven games, but missed three extra points.
The Vikings also ranked 28th in the entire NFL in net yards per punt at just 39.8. The Vikings needed to find a better punter in the 2017 offseason.
The Vikings also lost Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency, who was the NFL’s best kickoff returner last year by yards per return, and has ranked highly in that statistic for all of his four seasons with the Vikings. Having a threat at kickoff returner can be a big advantage, and Patterson will be missed by the Vikings.
Latavius Murray, Runningback (Oakland)
Signed a three year $15,000,000 deal
Latavius Murray is a big running back who has shown flashes in his career, but never really lived up to his potential. Last year, he rushed for 12 touchdowns, but only had 788 yards and averaged four yards per carry. Murray offers the Vikings a decent option at runningback – when he plays his best, he is a very good running back. The issue is consistency, Murray has just as many games where he does nothing as he does where he breaks off big runs.
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver (Arizona/New England)
Signed a one year $1,410,000 deal
One year ago, Michael Floyd was a very good up and coming receiver for the Cardinals. Since then, he was arrested for DUI, released, and appeared in three games with the Patriots. Floyd averaged 54 receptions for 910 yards per season from 2013 through 2015. Then, he had a disappointing 2016 season and was arrested for a DUI in which he had a .217 blood alcohol level which ultimately led to his release. He was signed by the Patriots, but didn’t do anything of note. His role with the Vikings is yet to be determined.
Datone Jones, Defensive End (Green Bay)
Signed a one year $3,750,000 deal
Datone Jones was a first round pick for the Packers in 2013. In the four seasons since then, he has only managed nine sacks. There is speculation that he will be a better fit in the Vikings defensive scheme than he was in the Packers’, but at this point he likes like purely a rotational defensive end.
Mike Remmers, Tackle (Carolina)
Signed a five year $30,000,000 deal
Mike Remmers looked like a very good tackle in 2015 when he was playing the right side. In 2016, injuries forced him to the left side, where he looked horrible. The Vikings signed him to a big deal with plans to return him to the right side and hopes that he returns to his 2015 level of play. This signing is the biggest gamble on this list, but could pay off for the Vikings.
Riley Reiff, Tackle (Detroit)
Signed a five year $58,750,000 deal
Lions fans should know Reiff well, as he has spent the first five season of his career in Detroit. After being mostly a swing tackle in his rookie year, Reiff started every game except for one at left tackle for the following three seasons. Last season, he switched to the right side. The Viking signed him to return to left tackle. Reiff is about as average of a tackle as you can find on either side. This is definitely an overpay, but a necessary one for the Vikings.
Adrian Peterson, Runningback (New Orleans)
Signed a two year $7,000,000
Adrian Peterson is the biggest name on this list. He has racked up over 11,000 yards and 97 touchdowns in his 10 seasons as a Viking, but is coming off of an extremely disappointing 2016 season in which he only had 72 yards in three games. Peterson is 32 years old now, which is very old for a running back. We won’t know if letting him go was a good or bad move until we see how he plays in New Orleans.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner (Oakland)
Signed a two year $8,500,000 deal
Cordarrelle Patterson has consistently been one of the best kick returners in football since he joined the NFL. In his four year career, he averages over 30 yards per return and has five special teams touchdowns. Besides this, he has started to develop nicely as a receiver, posting a career high 52 receptions for 453 yards last season. Patterson can also be used in the running game, where he has 333 yards and four touchdowns while averaging over 10 yards per carry in his career.
Matt Kalil, Tackle (Carolina)
Signed a five year $55,500,000 deal
Matt Kalil had been with the Vikings for five seasons. He started every game for his first four seasons at left tackle, before being injured and missing 14 games in 2016. Kalil had a very good rookie year, before regressing badly as an NFL sophomore. Since then, his level of play has widely varied. Kalil isn’t a great player, but he is an alright player. However, the Vikings probably got an upgrade, swapping him out for Riley Reiff.
Captain Munnerlyn, Cornerback (Carolina)
Signed a four year $17,500,000 deal
Captain Munnerlyn has played the nickel cornerback position for the Vikings for the last three seasons. In that time, he has appeared in all but one game and has made 30 starts, while recording four interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Munnerlyn is a good player, but the Vikings have too much young talent at cornerback (Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander) to justify paying him.
Note: The Vikings traded their 2017 first round draft pick for Sam Bradford
Dalvin Cook, Runningback from Florida State (Round 2, Pick 41)
Dalvin Cook is a do-it-all runningback who compares favorably to Jamaal Charles. In his three collegiate seasons, he had 4464 rushing yards and 935 receiving yards with 48 total touchdowns. His issues are fumbling (he had 13 of them in his three seasons) and getting into trouble off of the field. He has been arrested several times and has had numerous other encounters with the law in his life.
Pat Elflein, Center from Ohio State (Round 3, Pick 70)
Elflein has experience playing every position on the offensive line, but projects to be a center in the NFL. Elflein does a great job getting down the field as a run blocker, but is less consistent in pass blocking. He was considered by many to be the top center in the draft this year.
Jaleel Johnson, Defensive Tackle from Iowa (Round 4, Pick 109)
Jaleel Johnson is a pass rushing 3-tech defensive tackle with a high motor. He struggles to have an impact in the run game, but does a great job of causing interior pressure on passing plays.
Ben Gedeon, Linebacker From Michigan (Round 4, Pick 120)
Gedeon projects to be a backup linebacker in the NFL, but has potential to be a special teams standout. He has physical limitations, such as not being very fast, but has the drive to make a big impact on special teams and as a backup.
Rodney Adams, Wide Receiver from South Florida (Round 5, Pick 170)
Rodney Adams is a quick slot receiver who can also return kickoffs. He will likely mostly see the field as a kick returner in his rookie year with the Vikings, but could see some time at wide receiver.
Danny Isidora, Guard From Miami (Round 5, Pick 180)
Isidora is a very good physical prospect for an offensive lineman: he has the size and the speed to play in the NFL. His issue has been holding up against the bull rushes of strong defensive linemen, which he will see every week in the NFL.
Buck Hodges, Tight End from Virginia Tech (Round 6, Pick 201)
Bucky Hodges was projected to go in the third or fourth round, so on paper getting him in the sixth looks like a steal. He is listed as a tight end, but projects as more of a receiver in the NFL, not dissimilar to Jimmy Graham or Jordan Reed. Hodges’ big issue is that he is very raw – he struggles with route running and drops.
Stacy Cole, Wide Receiver From Miami (Round 7, Pick 219)
Stacy Cole is a classic speedy deep threat type receiver. No one is doubting that he has the talent to make it in the NFL. What is in question is his passion for football, as many scouts claimed Cole does not love the game which could lead to his downfall.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, Defensive Lineman from Northwestern (Round 7, Pick 220)
Odenigbo is a versatile player who can play anywhere along the defensive line. He is extremely raw, but has shown promise rushing the passer with his power and spin moves.
Elijah Lee, Linebacker from Kansas State (Round 7, Pick 232)
Lee is an extremely raw linebacker, but he has high potential. He is very fast for a linebacker, so he has the ability to play virtually anywhere on the field. The issue is that he has developed a bad habit of playing completely upright, which limits his tackling ability.
Jack Tocho, Cornerback From N.C. State (Round 7, Pick 245)
Much like our of new cornerback Teez Tabor, Tocho is a player who had a solid college career, but has questions about whether or not he is fast enough to play in the NFL.
Did They Get Better Or Worse?
I don’t think there is any doubt that Minnesota got better this offseason. They signed two tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers who are not great players, but are a big upgrade over what they had. They made their offense much more explosive by adding running backs Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook. They drafted center Pat Elflein who could start immediately. On paper, they are absolutely a better team.
The issue is whether or not they are better enough. They added Reiff and Remmers on the offensive line, but by all accounts those two are both very mediocre players and the Vikings overpaid for them. The same could be said about running back Latavius Murray. Murray, Reiff and Remmers are better players than the Vikings had in 2016, but the question is whether or not they are better enough to justify the large contracts they received.
In 2017, I could see the Vikings finishing from anywhere between third and first in the NFC North.