It’s nice to hear people say nice things about the Minnesota Vikings, and when you’re to the point of the offseason where basically nothing’s happening, it gives us something to talk about.
Peter King of the Monday Morning Quarterback over at Sports Illustrated has put together his early Power Rankings, and he has the purple sneaking into the top half of the rankings at #16. Much of what King has to say about the team isn’t terribly surprising, but there is one tidbit at the end of what he has to say that might raise a few eyebrows.
Additions: Two big ones, and both running backs: Latavius Murray (free agency, Oakland) and Dalvin Cook (second round, Florida State) will modernize the running game with young, and in Cook’s case, provide more versatililty than the Vikings fielded out of the backfield … Two new starting tackles arrived: LT Riley Reiff from Detroit, RT Mike Remmers from Carolina … Backup quarterback Case Keenum’s a slight upgrade from Shaun Hill.
Subtractions: One of the great running backs of the modern game, Adrian Peterson, left for New Orleans … LB Chad Greenway retired, and OTs Matt Kalil (Minnesota) and the declining Andre Smith (Cincinnati) left in free agency.
Key coaching/front-office moves: Pretty quiet after Pat Shurmur replaced offensive coordinator Norv Turner during the 2016 season. New running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu comes from college football and will have a significant role in smoothing Cook’s transition to the pro game.
Decisive schedule span: Four of five on the road as the season winds down in Weeks 12 through 16 (at Detroit, at Atlanta, at Carolina, Cincinnati, at Green Bay). Not only are the Vikes on the road; they’re on the road against four contenders.
Why I have the Vikings 16th: Classic team that could go in either direction. If Sam Bradford flourishes in Pat Shurmur’s system, if Cook confirms his high first-round talent with an impact year, if the Vikings can build up a strong playoff résumé entering a brutal post-Thanksgiving stretch, and if young defensive stalwarts like Danielle Hunter can continue their ascension, this will be a playoff team. Big ifs, but all certainly possible. One look in the rear-view mirror here. Kudos to GM Rick Spielman for making the tough call last Labor Day weekend and trading a 2017 first-round pick for Bradford. With the short- and long-term uncertainty surrounding Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury (to this day), Spielman gave up what became the 14th pick in 2017 for short- and long-term insurance. Bradford delivered in up-and-down fashion, typical of his career, but there was no passer in this draft putting up numbers like Bradford’s in 2016: 71.6 percent accuracy, 20 touchdowns to five interceptions, 99.3 rating. Having a quarterback is why the Vikings will contend.
Most important factor to this team this year: Building the kind of running game Peterson gave the Vikings for years—but had been missing two of the last three season. Cook and Murray should do that.
Vikings prediction in 10 words or less: By Halloween, Cook will be a top-five NFL back.
King is right when it comes to the prospect of Bradford replacing Bridgewater in the offense, both last season and this season. But we’ve pretty much beaten that horse to death at this point. He’s also right in his assessment that this team could go either direction.
But it’s the last thing that King says, that rookie Dalvin Cook will be a Top 5 running back in the National Football League by Halloween, that is quite significant. . .and, based on what he says earlier in the piece, would definitely push the Vikings into contender status.
Right now, I’m not sure who I’d put on a list of the top five running backs in the NFL. I’m guessing it would be some combination of Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, LeSean McCoy, and DeMarco Murray (though your mileage may vary and I’m sure I left someone important out). If Cook could find his way into that sort of company early on in the season, it would be several things.
- It would mean the Vikings are set at running back for years to come.
- It would mean that the offensive line has improved markedly from last season.
- It would mean that the offense would be much more balanced and dynamic than last season.
All of those things would be huge for the Vikings, not to mention the fact that an improved offense would take a lot of pressure off of a defense that appeared to wear down a bit towards the end of last season. Again, another positive for Mike Zimmer and company.
I’m not sure if Dalvin Cook is going to be a Top 5 NFL running back as a rookie. But Peter King certainly seems to be.