We know that the Minnesota Vikings are a young team on the rise in the National Football League, but how close are they to being a true championship contender? Well, as you might expect, the folks from Pro Football Focus have an answer, something they've shared on ESPN.
PFF took a look at all of the teams that played in conference championship games from 2007 to 2013, and looked at how they had the players from each team graded. They broke their ratings down into four categories: Elite, Good, Average, and Bad. They estimate that, based on their research, in order to be a Super Bowl contender a team has to have at least 40% of their qualifying players (players that played at least 250 snaps) fall into either the "Elite" or "Good" categories. They ranked the 30 teams that didn't make Super Bowl XLIX, and the Vikings rank. . .well, much lower than we'd probably like to see them.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings at #23 out of the 30-non Super Bowl teams, saying that they were 10 above-average players away. Some of the rankings are a bit dubious, I think. . .there's no way you're going to convince me that the Cleveland Browns or the New York Jets are closer to contender status than the Vikings are. . .but for the most part they seem pretty solid.
Of the 33 players that met the snap criteria for the Vikings, PFF ranked only four of them as "Elite" or "Good." Now, that may seem like a low number, but there's a silver lining to all of this. But first, the full listing of how each player rated.
|Elite (NFL Avg: 2)||Good (NFL Avg: 4.3)||Average (NFL Avg: 21)||Bad (NFL Avg: 5.8)|
|Shariff Floyd||Everson Griffen||Chase Ford||Brian Robison|
|Harrison Smith||Robert Blanton||John Sullivan||Corey Wootton|
|Anthony Barr||Chad Greenway|
|Xavier Rhodes||Matt Asiata|
|Gerald Hodges||Matt Kalil|
To contrast, the Dallas Cowboys. . .the top team on the list of non-Super Bowl teams and the only one listed with no "missing pieces". . .had 4 "Elite," 8 "Good," 16 "Average," and 2 "Bad" players among those that qualified from their roster.
Now, let's start with the bad stuff first. If you look at the "Bad" column for the Vikings, three of those guys (Greenway, Wootton, and Asiata) stand at least an above-average chance of not being with the team next year. Robison might be a bigger candidate to be released than I thought, and then there's Kalil. Kalil has been in, at the very least, the "Good" category before, and if his drop-off over the past couple of seasons can be attributed to things that are fixable, there's no reason that he can't get to that category again. Frankly, if Kalil's problems get fixed, that's going to make a whole lot of people on this offense a whole lot better.
Now, look at the "Average" column and, specifically, the youth that it contains. Guys like Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and, most importantly, Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was one of the highest-rated quarterbacks by any measure over the final few weeks of the 2014 season, and if that development continues, it would do wonders for the rest of the offense. It could even potentially move a couple of his receivers from the "average" category into a higher one.
Rhodes was playing cornerback at an elite level towards the end of the season, and was eventually being used to shadow the opponents' best receiver. . .with great success. Barr was showing plenty of promise before a knee injury derailed his rookie season as well. After an offseason to get more acclimated to the defensive scheme, there's little reason to think that the two of them won't be able to pick up where they left off in 2014.
If we continue along the "Average" list, we see a guy like Kyle Rudolph that had injury issues in 2014, and Linval Joseph, who at times appeared to have issues adjusting to the Vikings' new defensive scheme, but showed enough promise for the Vikings to sign him to a sizeable free agent deal last offseason. Now, I'm not saying that all the guys on the "average" list that I've mentioned to this point are going to be making the leap to the "good" or "elite" list in 2015, but it would be foolish to say that the potential isn't there.
Because he didn't reach 250 snaps this season before getting injured, right guard Brandon Fusco isn't even on the list. But he had impressed enough to get a long-term contract from the Vikings, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him continue to establish himself as a top-flight guard.
Oh, and if the Vikings get that one guy. . .what's his name. . .Peterson or something, I think. . .back at running back? I think we could safely put him in at least the "good" category until there's solid, performance-based evidence for us not to.
If the folks from Pro Football Focus make a similar list at the end of next season. . .well, hopefully the Vikings won't be on it at all, since they only rank the teams that didn't make it to the Super Bowl. But in the event that they are, given the composition of the roster and the number of players that could potentially be taking a step forward (to say nothing of players they might add in free agency or the 2015 NFL Draft), there's a very good chance that they'll be much, much closer to the top of it than to the bottom.