When the Minnesota Vikings convene in Eagan (it’s going to be weird to not say ‘Mankato’ when talking about the Vikings training camp for a few years) it will begin a season of high expectations. They are considered by most experts to be on a very short list of legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and for good reason. They went to the NFC Championship last year, everyone of significance is returning, and they’ve actually upgraded at a couple of key positions.
But there is also reason for concern. Some positions might not have been addressed as urgently as they could have, new faces in critical positions could make for a rough transition, and the looming schedule is no cakewalk. Let’s take a look at what’s to like and what to watch out for with training camp right around the corner.
What’s To Like: Kirk Cousins is an upgrade at the position, and should finally...FINALLY...give the Vikings both quality and stability at the most important position on offense. He brings legit, big time talent and he has a bevy of weapons to distribute the ball to, whether it’s throwing or handing off. Cousins put up pretty decent to really good numbers in Washington with a pretty average running game and set of receivers. Barring the one season he had DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, the Redskins skill players remind me in a lot of ways of the talent the Vikes had in the mid to late 2000’s, when guys like Devin Aroshamodu, Bobby Wade, and Travis Taylor were primary targets. With the addition of new offensive coordinator John DiFilippo, a guy a lot of people regard as one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, the Vikings offense looks like it might explode on the rest of the NFL, semi-1998 style. it sounds like a half-joking reference, but it’s not too far off the mark. The last time the Vikings had two wide receivers, a running back, quarterback, tight end, and offensive line this good was back then. I don’t think they’ll put up 556 points, but they’re going to be tough to stop if everyone remains healthy.
What Concerns Me: There’s always been this ‘yeah, but he’s not that good...’ vibe with Cousins. I don’t know why, because he has good numbers, and has 12 4th quarter comebacks in his career, which surprisingly is one more than Aaron Rodgers. Was it the teams he’s played for, both in college (Michigan State) and in the NFL, that just gave off a ‘meh’ vibe, even though some of his Spartan teams were pretty good? Is it that he has a 26-30-1 record as a starter (RAWR RAWR QB WINZZZ RAWR RAWR)? I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s this rather undefinable...thing...about Cousins that gives people pause about him running the Vikings offense. It’s weird, and it’s mostly warrantless, but it’s there. Add in the new team, new coordinator, and new offense, and there’s this lingering doubt in the back of my mind that won’t go away until the offense proves it on the field.
What’s To Like: Dalvin Cook is coming back healthy, and that’s a lot to like. He was right in the middle of the Offensive Rookie Of The Year conversation before he tore his ACL in week four. Hats off to Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon for stepping into the void Cook’s injury created, as the running game barely skipped a beat. But Cook adds a dimension, both in running and receiving, that is hard to replicate. A fully healthy Cook, along with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and a big armed QB that can make some great throws and doesn’t turn it over a lot? Giggity.
What Concerns Me: This seems minor, but do you guys remember back in 2010, when super duper third down back Chester Taylor left after the 2009 season, and the Vikes tried to replace him with Toby Gerhart? Yeah, turns out a good third down running back was pretty important. It’s kind of an apples and oranges comparison between then and now, I understand that, because I think Murray is a lot better than Gerhart. My point is that after Cook and Murray, there’s a bit of a void to fill the McKinnon role, and I don’t know that there is anyone capable of doing that. Granted, if both Cook and Murray are healthy all season, this will be a really minor point. But Jet was a really solid role player for the Vikes, and any significant injury to Murray or Cook could expose a potential problem.
What’s To Like: Four of five guys return from last year’s vastly improved line, and two guys that were hurt late in the season, Nick Easton and Pat Elflein, will be ready to roll when training camp starts—
/starts dreaming of John Sullivan ‘back spasms’ and ‘Phil Loadholt will be ready for camp’ stories
/wakes up in cold sweat, screaming
Regardless, I don’t think the overall line issues are as pressing as a lot of folks think. They have some pretty good players to build around, there is versatility regarding their starting five, and I wrote about why I feel okay about this group in depth last week, if you really want to get in the weeds with this group.
What Concerns Me: Although the Vikings addressed needs and depth here both in free agency (Tom Compton) and the draft (Brian O’Neill, Colby Gossett), there’s not a sure fire answer yet to replace Berger, and the depth is mostly inexperienced. The Vikings could go in two different directions for the line this year, and they still have to decide which way they’re going. They could go, from L-R, Riley Reiff, Easton, Elflein, Danny Isidora, and Mike Remmers. Or, they could go Reiff-Easton-Elflein-Remmers-Rashod Hill, who got some extensive playing time last year at both tackle positions. Hill has really been focusing on getting a starting job over the winter, and looks poised to be the guy that has the inside track to grab a starting job when camp opens.
What’s To Like: For starters, what is arguably the best WR1-WR2 combo in the NFL in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both emerged as legit number one targets last year, and both provide matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. The only thing that might prevent this duo from becoming dominant for a long time is the NFL isn’t opposing secondaries, but the NFL salary cap rules.
What Concerns Me: Depth, for a couple reasons. For one, Diggs has a hard time making it through a 16 game schedule healthy, having missed eight games in three years. And when he’s not at his best physically, he isn’t nearly the weapon he is when healthy. Secondly, WR3 is very much up in the air. Cousins has a history of using his third wideout, and the guy that’s held that spot for the last couple seasons, Jarius Wright, is now in Carolina. Former first round pick Laquon Treadwell and free agent signing Kendall Wright look to pick up the slack, but that’s going to be another camp battle to keep an eye on. If one of those guys do step up, though, and Diggs-Thielen remain the brilliant tandem they are...my goodness.
What’s To Like: There’s an awful lot to like here, as they are as talented and deep a group as any in the NFL. With the addition of Sheldon Richardson next to Linval Joseph, offenses are going to have a hard time keeping the pocket from collapsing in front of the QB’s face, and with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen waiting on the outside...mercy. This group will set the tone for the defense this year.
What Concerns Me: Everson Griffen, kinda. On the last play of the Cleveland game last year, Griff hurt his foot. At that point in the season, exactly eight games in, Griffen had registered at least one sack in each game, and had 10 on the season. The second half of the year, he only got home three times, and had only one sack in the last five games. He’s now at the dreaded 30 years old Line Of Demarcation, and if he comes back healthy, the Vikes pass rush should be fine. If that foot injury lingers and hampers Griff in 2018, however, it could pose a problem all season long.
What’s To Like: The amount of raw talent at the CB position is borderline absurd. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, and Terence Newman are former first round picks, while Mackensie Alexander is a second round pick. Rhodes has developed into one of the best cover corners in the NFL, and Waynes stepped up last year and had his best season as a pro. Newman is ageless, and will be playing in the NFL 32 years from now.
What Concerns Me: Can Alexander and Hughes contribute early and often? I don’t know when the Terence Newman Deal With The Devil For Aging will expire (won’t be in 32 years), but if it happens this year and Alexander and/or Hughes can’t step up, it will expose an Achilles Heel that opposing offenses will be able to exploit.
What’s To Like: So...uh...yeah. There’s competition, maybe? Although I don’t know that you draft a kicker higher in a real draft than most folks would in a fantasy football draft and then declare a competition in training camp. But, yanno, that’s just me.
What Concerns Me: Extra points aside, Kai Forbath was pretty good, making 47 of 53 field goals since he’s been here. I mean the dude has missed more extra points (eight) than actual field goals, which has to be some kind of anomaly. And Forbath was nails in the playoffs, hitting a 49 and a 53 yarder in the fourth quarter of the divisional playoff game, when everyone else was literally pooping razor blades. Yet, it feels like the Vikes are going to hand over the kicking game to the rookie Daniel Carlson, and see if he can not only make field goals consistently, but extra points, too. Mr. Carlson, if you read this, this isn’t a knock on you as much as it’s a knock on me and my issues with the Vikings kicking game since Gary Anderson went wide left a generation ago.
It’s not you, it’s me. Just make your kicks, and your extra points, and all this angst that lives inside millions of us goes away. No pressure.
What’s To Like: The home game slate sets up really nice. Besides the divisional opponents in Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit, I like the matchups the Vikes will have at home. New Orleans and the San Francisco Jimmy G’ers will be the toughest games besides the Packers and the Lions (the Vikes have never beaten the Lions at US Bank Stadium, so I give them the respect they deserve here), but the way things stand today I see Minnesota being favored at home every week.
What Concerns Me: They’ve pulled a tough road schedule, with games on the road against the Rams, Jets (they’ve never beat the Jets on the road), Eagles, Seahawks, Patriots, and Packers. One thing that makes me think the Vikes will at least weather the storm on the road and play at least .500 football is because the defense is built to win on the road, in any condition. And a schedule that looks daunting in July rarely looks as daunting in October.