As we conclude another dismal season for the Vikings, most of us have started looking to the future for hope. This is my plan for getting the Vikings turned around.
Step 1. Hire a Head Coach with a strong defensive pedigree. My first choice would be Mike Zimmer*. Zimmer has a proven track record of successfully running a 4-3 defense. His defenses are physical and aggressive and he's shown a knack for turning "troubled talent" (i.e. Pacman, Vontaze Burfict) into very productive players within his scheme. While many point to the poor QB play we've recently endured as our team's biggest issue, the Vikings rank 12th in points scored this season which is ahead of New Orleans and 1 spot behind Detroit. Our defense on the other hand ranks dead last in points allowed. Unless we're able to clone Peyton Manning, we're not going to win a lot of games if we have to score 32 points just to have a chance.
*My hope is that Mike Zimmer would bring Hue Jackson to be our OC.
Step 2. Rebuild the defensive line. There was a time when it was unheard of for a team to rush for over 100 yards against the Vikings D. This year our rush defense ranks 18th in the league and we give up 113.6 yards per game. I attribute the majority of these struggles to our lack of talent on the interior of the defensive line and the lack of a true nose tackle on the roster. Kevin Williams is currently the biggest d-lineman on the roster at 311 lbs per Vikings.com. He's our most talented DT. Unfortunately, he is also our oldest DT and is a player in decline. In my plan, I would keep Floyd, Evans, and Williams on the roster and I would target a NT aggressively in free agency. Linval Joseph would be the number one target with Paul Soliai and Terrence Cody also being potential targets.
Our pass rush has also be anemic which is a huge factor in the VIkings' fall to last place in passing yards against. We're currently giving up 294.4 passing yards per game to our opponents. Jared Allen was once a dominant player but it's time for he and the Vikings to part ways. He no longer commands double teams and he isn't able to generate consistent pressure anymore. Brian Robison is a solid contributor, but he's also not a dominant force on the d-line. Everson Griffen has flashed immense potential and I think it's time for the Vikings to see what he can do as a full-time starter. After resigning Griffen, I would also like to see the Vikings actively pursue another DE in free agency with Lamarr Houston and Michael Bennett being my preferred targets.
Step 3. Upgrade the depth and athleticism in our LB corp and secondary. Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes look to be cornerstone piece around which a solid secondary can be built, but other than those 2 players I cannot think of another indispensable piece in our LB corp or secondary. Chris Cook can't be relied upon to stay on the field and when he's on the field, he can't be relied upon to make a play on the football. Chad Greenway appears to be a player in rapid decline as it seems he's missed more tackles this season than the rest of his career combined. Josh Robinson was miscast as a slot corner though he had zero experience playing the position coming into the season. Sherels, Sendejo, Sanford, Blanton, Henderson, Prater, and the rest are OK players who've been asked too often to play above the level of their abilities.
Since they'll be relatively inexpensive, I would bring Cook, Sherels, and Prater back at least for training camp, but I think the Vikings need to make a big investment in the secondary this offseason. It's been noted in many fanposts that Alterraun Verner should be our number one target. I would also be happy with DRC or Vontae Davis. Overthecap.com lists Antrel Rolle as a potential salary cap casualty this offseason and I think he'd make a great addition opposite Harrison Smith if the price was right. As for the LB corp, our biggest upgrades could already be on the roster as Mauti and Hodges are still waiting to contribute. With that said, I'd still look to bring in a player like Wesley Woodyard. He'd provide an immediate upgrade and shouldn't be too costly.
Step 4. Replace Charlie Johnson. Not much to say here. Charlie Johnson should not be starting and he needs to be replaced.
Step 5. Sign a veteran QB. We'll likely be sitting in the 8th spot come draft time and the best QB prospects will likely be off the board. This team has too many holes on defense to reach for another QB. While I know the prevailing wisdom is that the Vikings must find their QBOTF in the first round of the upcoming draft, I'd like all of you think back on the Christian Ponder era to be reminded of all the reasons reaching for a QB in the first round is a terrible idea. Sign a veteran, draft a developmental QB, and give the prospect time to learn before throwing him to the wolves.
Step 6. The draft. For the purposes of this draft, I'll assume we signed Davis, Bennett, Woodyard, and Soliai.
8. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama - Mosley should provide the immediate upgrade we need at LB.
40. Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State - Playmaker with experience playing slot corner, outside corner, and safety.
72. Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State - Enormous guard to secure the left side with Kalil.
95. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois - Developmental QB prospect with great upside.
104. Anthony Johnson, DT, Louisiana State - Unrefined player who wins with power, speed, and size.
136. Terrance West, RB, Towson - Exciting prospect setting the FCS world on fire.
168. Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech - Experience playing safety and CB. Great talent but coming off an injury.
200. Ben Gardner DE Sr Stanford - Productive player at Stanford; coming off a pectoral injury.
Turning the Vikings into a team which can contend consistently will require more than one off-season. This plan would be my first step towards moving the Vikings to relevance before they move into their new stadium. Build a strong defense and then find or develop a QB is how I think they should get it done.
What do you think?
Please comment with your thoughts and suggestions.