With the 2017 season just around the corner, the Minnesota Vikings have put an injury riddled and disappointing 2016 campaign behind them, and look to contend for the NFC North division this season. To do that, they made several moves in free agency and the draft to address needs and fill holes in the roster, but was it enough?
Personally, I thought they had a decent to above average off-season, yet questions still linger as Mankato looms. Let’s take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding the Vikes and their ability to make a playoff run.
5. How will the running back situation shake out?
Next to the offensive line, this was the biggest position group makeover in the off-season. Gone are Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata, in are Latavius Murray and rookie Dalvin Cook. I don’t think anyone will seriously try to argue that Murray, Cook, or McKinnon are better than Adrian Peterson on an individual basis, but overall, as a position group, this is a very talented unit, even without Peterson. It’s tough to say who will play what roles just yet, as Cook, although exciting in college, is still an unknown quantity at the NFL level. I fully expect the running game to be a lot more productive this season, with well defined roles established early in the season.
4. What about the nickel back?
The biggest hole on defense is the nickel back position, and who will fill it. Last year’s primary nickel, Captain Munnerlyn, wanted to return to the Carolina Panthers, and although there were one or two options available in free agency to replace Munnerlyn, the Vikings stood pat. If the off-season OTA’s and minicamps are any indication, it looks like the starting CB’s on the outside will be Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. That means the nickel will be Terence Newman, the ageless wonder, or Macensie Alexander, the second year pro who was inconsistent during his rookie season last year. Or possibly a combination of both. No matter what direction the Vikings go here, it’s the one unknown on a defense that should be among the NFL’s best.
3. Do the Vikings have more than just Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to throw to at wide receiver?
This is a position group that has a lot of questions outside the two top guys, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Diggs and Thielen make a pretty good duo, and both went over 900 yards receiving last year. But after that, there’s a lot of mystery, both on and off the field. Rumors are now out that last year’s first round pick, Laquon Treadwell, was a lot more hurt than the team let on, and actually asked to be put on IR but was denied by the team. If he’s healthy, and can get back to his pre-injury Ole’ Miss days, the Vikings should have a pretty good receiver at their disposal. But are his injuries behind him, and does the staff have faith in him?
Off-season addition Michael Floyd is embroiled in the Kombucha/DUI penalty controversy, and it would be surprising if he isn’t suspended for at least two games to begin the season. He also seems to be on somewhat thin ice with Mike Zimmer. Jarius Wright is still there, and still overlooked by the coaching staff, for whatever reason. Rookie Rodney Adams seems to be an early favorite to compete for one of both of the special teams return jobs, but will that translate into playing time as a WR? Personally, I like the trio of Diggs-Thielen-Treadwell in a 3 WR set, but after that the depth chart seems to be wide open.
2. Can Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff stabilize the line?
On one hand, last year’s 8-8 finish was a huge disappointment for a team that had come off an 11-5, a division title, and a shanked field goal from at least one playoff win. On the other hand, when you look at the historic level of injuries the Vikings suffered, along with the ensuing 426 offensive line combinations they had to use last year, winning 8 games was borderline incredible. The Vikings really went to work in the off-season to upgrade both the frontline talent and down roster depth, and I thought they did a decent to pretty good job. The key will be the two big free agent acquisitions, tackles Reiff and Remmers. If they can play at their 2015 levels, which is the last time they both played their natural tackle positions (Remmers on the right, Reiff on the left), and can stay healthy, the Vikings offensive line, and consequently the offense as a whole, will be in business. They also addressed depth by drafting interior linemen Pat Elflein and Danny Isidora, and have a few promising guys already on the roster, like Nick Easton and Rashod Hill. The only real training camp battle for a starting job will be between Elflein and Nick Easton, as vet Joe Berger has kicked back out to RG and is projected to start there, and Alex Boone returns as the starting LG.
1. What happens at quarterback?
Of everything surrounding this team, once again the quarterback position takes center stage. Only this time, it’s not hoping for good play, like it has so many times in recent seasons. This time the Vikings have, I think, two starting caliber quarterbacks on the roster, and that’s very much a good news/bad news thing. The good news is that the position has depth once Teddy Bridgewater returns from injury.
That bad news is also that the position has depth once Teddy Bridgewater returns from injury. The key question is—when will Teddy return? We sort of walked through the potential scenarios with this last month, and I don’t want to start another Teddy or Sam fight. I’m certain of two things regarding the Vikings QB in 2017. For one, it should be pretty good, whoever it is. And two, whoever it isn’t won’t be on the Vikings this time next year.