As we get this show on the road, a confession: Before the season began, I firmly believed the Vikings were a playoff team, for a couple of reasons:
1) In 2013, the Vikings lost or tied five games literally in the last minute because of a hideous defense. That defense, I felt, was going to be at least league average thanks to Mike Zimmer's influence, and they would not lose five games like that again. Maybe one, but that meant they'd win four more.
2) Quarterback play was going to be better, whether it was Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater. Why? because honestly, it couldn't really be much worse.
3) The Vikings had the best running back in football.
So, yeah, about number three. The whole 'Vikings are a playoff team' vibe got flushed down the toilet as soon as Peterson was deactivated/reactivated for like 12 minutes/put on the Commissioner's Exempt List/suspended for the rest of the season. When you build an offense around a guy, then said guy can't play, you need to do one of two things. Either re-adjust to get the ball to your other electric playmakers, or roll with what you have and hope for the best.
The Vikings went with the latter, because, well...there's really not another electric playmaker you can build an offense around, at least not to the level of Adrian Peterson. And to get the ball to that talent, the Vikings were going to have to become a pass heavy team, something neither Cassel or bright eyed rookie Bridgewater were capable of doing in week 2.
And then when the play of the offensive line went South, well, my calibrations were one of 'let's get to .500 and go from there.' Yes, I still wrote about the playoffs, because I always want my team in the post season, but deep down, I knew it was a real long shot.
Yet, when you look at everything that happened, in totality, it's hard to call a 7-9 season a complete failure. The defense was vastly improved, the Vikings found a long term answer at quarterback, and unlike past seasons, there seem to be more answers than questions heading in to the off season. For everything Mike Zimmer had to contend with that isn't in the 'Coaching 101' manual, he, along with his staff, did a hell of a job getting the Vikings ready to compete every week while staring at a talent deficiency due to suspensions and a rash of injuries. And of the three things I thought at the beginning of the season, two of them were right. So, two out of three ain't bad. Is it, Mr. Meat Loaf?
I poured it on and I poured it out
I tried to show you just how much I care
I'm tired of words and I'm too hoarse to shout
But you've been cold to me so long
I'm crying icicles instead of tears
And all I can do is keep on telling you
I want you
I need you
But there ain't no way
I'm ever gonna love you
Now don't be sad
'Cause two out of three ain't bad
Now don't be sad
'Cause two out of three ain't bad
The season in review SMR that hopes for a Coupe DeVille at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box follows. First off, if you missed any SMR, you can find them all right here. And how I'm going to do this is tally up who had the most blue chips, solid investments, etc. Then I'll just do some closing thoughts in the buy/sell section, cool? Cool.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Teddy Bridgewater (6): Bridgewater was a blue chip six times this year, and it was fun watching him grow and get better with each game. He was tentative and kind of nervous in his first outing, a relief appearance in New Orleans, but threw for over 300 yards in his first start the next week against the Falcons. Bridgewater finished with respectable numbers (2919 yards, 14 TD's, 12 picks), but a full one third of those interceptions were a direct result of a receiver bobbling what was originally a very catchable ball. I'm not going to do a comparison between him and other QB's in their rookie year; Arif has done that and you can see the numbers for yourself.
At the end of most seasons in recent years, I had to talk myself into the Vikings being a contender the next season. It was always 'well, if they can get this, do that, and sign him, maybe they're a fringe playoff team. But it all depends on Quarterback X.' I'm a simple minded guy, and I don't know a whole lot about a whole lot, but I do know this--Teddy Bridgewater is the answer at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings that everyone since Daunte Culpepper has not been, and because of him, I believe the Vikings are finally on the cusp of being serious contenders, year in and year out.
Everson Griffen (4): At the end of 2013, the Vikings had a choice to make at defensive end. Keep Jared Allen, or keep Everson Griffen. The no brainer decision, at least to most Vikings fans, was to keep Griffen and let Allen walk. Griffen didn't have the numbers Allen did, obviously, but he is a lot younger, and flashed a lot of talent as Allen's backup for a couple of seasons. The Vikings rewarded him with a 5 year, $42.5 contract, with $20 of that guaranteed. The deal was widely panned at the time by multiple outlets, yet Griffen proved the doubters wrong, blossoming into one of the premier defensive ends in the NFL in 2014.
Jerick McKinnon (3): Unless you are a complete draft junkie, you didn't know a lot about McKinnon when the Vikings drafted him. If you were like me, you went 'who, from where?' But McKinnon made a great first impression in training camp, and when everything with Adrian Peterson hit the fan, he was thrust into a more prominent role than anyone could have imagined him handling. And he handled it very well, all things considered. He ended up second on the team in rushing, and led all Vikings running backs with a 4.8 yards per carry average. When the Vikings were dealt a hand of lemons with Peterson, they ended up with a fairly decent glass of lemonade in McKinnon. He's still got to prove he can hang for a 16 game schedule, but he also looks to become an integral part of the offense for quite awhile.
Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Jarius Wright (2): So there's some good news and bad news with the Vikings receivers. The good news is that we see three young receivers that earned multiple 'blue chips' this year. The bad news is that's because one guy we thought was going to be a stud wasn't (more on him later). Because of that, the Vikings had to plug and play multiple guys on the outside, and by the end of the year, Adam Thielen and Charles Johnson were seeing the field quite a bit. Johnson really made a lot of strides, and by the end of the season was the Vikings number one receiver, and Thielen was a special teams stud that scored the Vikings final touchdown of the season. Thielen, Wright, and Johnson helped fill a void that Cordarrelle Patterson created, and they provided the Vikings with relatively solid, but somewhat inconsistent depth.
On defense, Anthony Barr was the most overlooked first round pick in Vikings history, thanks to the QB drama that unfolded on draft night, and all he did was turn in a stellar rookie season. Xavier Rhodes went from tentative rookie last year to shutdown corner, and by the end of the season was regularly matched up on the opponent's top receiver. And not only was he matched up on him, he shut them down.
Greg Jennings (7): The number of solid investments Jennings got was the most surprising find while doing this retrospective. But then I thought about it, and it made sense. I mean, what do you think of when you think of a guy like Greg Jennings? You think of a solid, sure handed receiver. He's not going to stretch the field much, but he'll get open, catch what's thrown to him, get some yards in decent chunks, move the chains, and be a threat in the red zone. He quietly led the Vikings in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TD's, and was a reliable target for a rookie quarterback learning the ropes. If that's not the epitome of solid investment, I'm not sure what is.
Matt Asiata (5): Matt Asiata is a guy I'm always going to root for, but he's never going to be a guy you can build an offense around. He's a bruiser that can usually get the tough two or four yards to keep the chains moving, and can punch it in down on the goal line. Still, he's not a guy that's going to ever be taken very seriously as an offensive threat between the 20's, and because of that and McKinnon's durability questions I think the Vikings will be in the market for a running back come free agency and the draft. Still, Asiata has a definite role on this team, and it's an important one. Just don't run him east and west, okay Norv?
Kyle Rudolph (3): This was probably the second most surprising number, after Jennings. Considering how much time Rudolph missed due to injuries, seeing Rudolph make the list was surprising, but it's also a testament to what he can do if he can stay healthy. Late in the season at Detroit, Rudolph had 7 grabs for 69 yards and I called it a prototypical TE performance in a Norv Turner offense. If he can stay healthy, the Vikings offense has a chance to be lethal in 2015. Lethal.
Matt Kalil (5, plus a bankruptcy rating by Eric, ouch): Yes, it got so bad for Kalil at one point, that guest financial analyst Eric Thompson gave Kalil the first ever bankruptcy rating in the SMR, and it was well deserved. And let's not forget the hat flipping incident with a fan that was heckling him after a game, too. Still...Kalil played well, or at least league average, the last four games of the season, and at the end of the year he revealed he was dealing with a troublesome knee for most of the season. When he finally got that healthy, he seemed to regain his old form. So, I'm willing to see how he looks heading into next year, because for one thing, the Vikings aren't going to find a quality LT in free agency--teams simply don't let those guys walk. Secondly, he's still on his rookie contract, and I think the Vikes would be reticent to let him go and waste a draft pick and start over, if in fact the knee was a significant contributor to his poor performance. I think that you need to accept the fact Matt Kalil isn't going anywhere, and will be the LT for the Minnesota Vikings in 2015, barring injury.
Cordarrelle Patterson (5): For all the disappointments we saw in 2014, Patterson had to rank right up there as the biggest. From a guy that was supposed to be Percy Harvin with none of the drama, by the end of the year he was riding the pine, behind a 7th round pick and an undrafted free agent, and both of those guys spent 2013 on practice squads. It was a rapid, and stunning, fall from grace, especially after he had 100 yards rushing in a week one win against the Rams. Still, the Vikings aren't giving up on him, and Mike Zimmer said he has a plan for Patterson for the off-season. The ball seems to be in Patterson's court, now. We'll see what happens.
Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke (2): There were a bunch of guys that had two junk bond ratings, but Locke and Walsh stood out, simply because the special teams, other than double blocked punt/scoop/score against Carolina, was pretty sub par all season. Kickoff return yardage was down, punt return yardage was down, they had the ridiculous blocked punt for a safety to lose at Miami, and Walsh had a really poor effort in a close loss at Detroit. Locke was better, but still had serious consistency issues. Heck, long snapper Colin Loeffler even got a junk bond in the Miami game, because his worm burner snap directly led to Locke's punt being blocked against the Dolphins. The Vikings aren't at the level where they can afford serious breakdowns like we saw in special teams and still expect to win a lot of games. If they are going to take the next step in 2015, special teams play will need to improve in all areas.
Buy: The coaching staff wants Adrian Peterson back. In his season ending press conference, Mike Zimmer once again spoke highly of Adrian Peterson, and I believe if he had his way, he'd be back in purple in 2015. And you can understand why--he's still the best RB in football, and when Zimmer and Norv Turner were hired, it was with the intent to develop an offense around Peterson. That was taken away suddenly and without warning, basically, and the Vikings scrambled to develop an alternate plan. A showcase back in this offense with good QB play would be a pretty cool thing to watch, not gonna lie.
Sell: Adrian Peterson will be back. All of that said, I'm having a hard time seeing Peterson back in the fold in 2015. Even though Rodger Goodell botched the whole Peterson case to the point that he actually made AP into a somewhat sympathetic figure, it appears the Vikings were working with the NFL to keep him off the field. And forgive me for being realistic, but I can't see how the general counsel for the team...who works directly for the Wilfs...went 'rogue' and did this on his own without at least tacit approval from the Wilf's to do so. I mean yeah, I guess it's possible he did without the WIlf's knowing until after the fact, but if that was the case, I would think the general counsel would have been somehow reprimanded or fired, and that hasn't happened. So even if the rest of the front office, the coaching staff, and the team wants him back, and the owners don't...he won't be coming back.
Buy: The Vikings as a playoff team in 2015. Think about how much went wrong for this team in 2014--Peterson was gone after one game, Cassel and RG Brandon Fusco after three, Phil Loadholt after six or seven. Kyle Rudolph missed half the season, Cordarrelle Patterson went from making appearances in the end zone to being on a milk carton, and big free agent Captain Munnerlyn was inconsistent all year. Yet still, this team fought, scratched, and clawed their way to respectability, and the defense...oh man, did the defense get turned around. They still need a couple pieces, namely interior line, o-line depth, and another linebacker and safety, but this team is on the rise, and they're right there.
Sell: The Vikings as a serious Super Bowl threat in 2015. But they're not 2009 right there, not yet. The defense is legit, but if they're going to be a Super Bowl contender, they need another running back, wide receiver, and offensive line help. Can they get all of that taken care of in the off season? I do, but they'll have a lot of youth at those positions. Still, I like the mix of youth and experience on this team, and I think they're going to be good for a long time, and I'm excited as Hell about it.
Buy: The Vikings need some offensive line help. We've already talked about Matt Kalil and how I feel he'll be back, but the Vikings need some help at LG and overall depth. David Yankey was a big disappointment in 2014, only being active for the last one or two games, and I would expect him to be in contention for the starting LG job next season. Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt returning will help immensely, but there's still the question of depth. Vlad Ducasse was not the veteran sub we were hoping for, and I'm thinking the Vikings will have addressing the o-line depth as a top priority as they head into the offseason. At least it should be.
Sell: They need offensive line help early in the draft. So what's the best way to address the depth issue? I don't believe it should be through the draft, at least in the early rounds, unless somebody that's a projected first rounder slips. Right now, I have their top needs as safety, MLB, and WR, in that order. Coming into camp next year, I see the line being, from left to right--Kalil, Yankey, Sully, Fusco, and Loadholt, with Ducasse gone and the Vikings getting two solid depth guys in free agency.I'm not opposed to another couple o-line picks, just not early on.
So, let's get ready for the draft and free agency. Skol Vikings!