Well Rubes, we’re just 20 days until the Vikings return to break our hearts once again. Last season, well last season was nothing short of a roller coaster ride. The Vikes started out hot going 5-0 before heading into the bye. The team looked nearly unbeatable behind one of the best defenses to grace Minneapolis since the Purple People Eaters. But we know what happened after the bye. Everything fell apart and fell apart in a hurry.
But 2017 is a new year and a new season. It’s a new season that could make or break the careers of many Vikings personnel both on and off the field. With the new season just around the corner, it’s time to break down each position and find out who may be on the hot seat heading into the season or who has their position locked down.
The most important position on the roster and it’s both a question and non-question. There’s little question that Sam Bradford is the guy in 2017. He set an NFL record in completion percentage during the 2016 season but we all know those passes weren’t 15-20 yard darts on an out route to receivers.
Granted, you need to have a competent offensive line to be able to throw down field but at the same time, you need to be able to stretch the field to sustain drives and to play from behind. Bradford failed to do that even when he had time in the pocket. It’s going to have to improve. It’s a big year for Bradford. He’s had about a year in a Vikings uniform and has had an entire off-season to work with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
With Teddy looming in the background, 2017 is a make or break year for Bradford. Is he going to prove he’s the franchise quarterback and get his contract extension or will the Vikings have to look at Teddy or in the NFL draft for that guy?
Running back is certainly a position with no question marks. Second round draft pick Dalvin Cook has already looked more than capable of being the next star running back of the Minnesota Vikings. While he may not quite be the runner Adrian Peterson was, Cook is certainly a lot more well-rounded than the future Hall of Famer. Being a triple threat in terms of carrying the ball, catching the ball, and pass blocking will certainly mean in a season or two, Cook will be a three down back and a potential superstar.
Behind Cook is free agent signing Latavius Murray. Not a flashy runner or pass catcher, Murray will more than likely be the guy called upon inside the five yard line to get the ball into the end zone. With 12 rushing touchdowns in 2016 with the Oakland Raiders, Murray has a nose for the end zone. He will also be the main guy behind Cook to get some carries when the rookie is off the field.
2016 was a breakout season for tight end Kyle Rudolph. Failing to break the 500 yard mark in his first five season in the NFL, Rudolph posted 840 yards along with seven touchdowns in 2016. He seemed to be a favorite of quarterback Sam Bradford’s and there’s no reason that chemistry can’t continue making Rudolph a threat to put up near 900 yards and double digit touchdowns.
Behind Rudolph is a bit of a position battle between David Morgan, Kyle Carter, and rookie Bucky Hodges. Coming out of the second preseason game, it seemed Hodges may be a favorite to lock down the #2 spot or at least get his fair share of playing time. He’s 6’6, runs a 4.57 40-yard dash, and has decent hands but the question mark for the young tight end will be how he fairs blocking on the line.
As every Vikings fan may know, offensive line is once again the biggest question mark of the roster. The pre-season hasn’t done a lot to show the o-line has improved but there’s always a sliver of hope beings that free agent signing and starting left tackle Riley Reiff has yet to take the field and starting left guard Alex Boone also missed the second game. Game three in shaping up to be the game where we’ll see the presumed offensive line play together for the first time in 2017.
Inside an offensive line that has yet to play together are a couple position battles for the starting center spot and right guard spot. Veteran Nick Easton and rookie Zach Elfline are battling to be named the starting center and former traffic cone/left tackle T.J. Clemmings and Joe Berger will be battling for the starting right guard. While there’s little doubt Elfline is the planned long term center, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see him start week one with Clemmings to his immediate right.
Another area where the Vikings are pretty well set is the defensive line. It’s pretty obvious the Vikings will head into week one with a starting four of Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson, and Everson Griffen. However, the strong suit of the line is the depth. With Brian Robison and Datone Jones getting their fair share of reps, the defensive line can bring many different looks with different personnel.
The man to watch on the defensive line is easily Danielle Hunter. An exciting pass rusher off the edge, Hunter posted 12.5 sacks while sharing snaps with the veteran Robison. With Robison nearing the end of his career, Hunter, who is just 22 years old, will start to get the bulk of the snaps and could rise to become one of the best pass rushers in the league.
For the first time since 2006, the Vikings won’t be trotting out fan favorite Chad Greenway. With a position battle between favorite Edmond Robinson and underdog Emmanuel Lamur taking place for Greenway’s spot, another area of concern for Vikings fans looms for the Vikings.
Anthony Barr, who many Vikings fans felt was poised to be an absolute superstar in the NFL, took a drastic step back in 2016. Some attributed to him having a slightly different role in the defense but regardless, Barr didn’t look like the same linebacker of years past. He himself said that his effort level wasn’t where it needed to be in 2016 and that is very concerning as a potentially good Vikings’ linebacker corps could take a step forward or step backward on the shoulders of Anthony Barr. Of course, Eric Kendricks will play a role in that as well but Barr could make or break the linebackers.
In the defensive backfield lays a couple of key position battles. You have a battle for the nickleback spot with second year playerMackensie Alexander battling veteran Terrence Newman. With the newly paid Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes filling the outside cornerback spots, the loser of the nickleback spot will seemingly take a smaller role with the team.
Another spot for battle is the right to line up next to Harrison Smith. While the strong safety spot has been Andrew Sendajo’s spot for a few seasons, he hasn’t done a lot to show that it’s 100 percent his spot. With Jayron Kearse breathing down his neck, the strong safety spot is Sendejo’s to lose.
Regardless of who wins the two position battles, the state of the secondary lies within the hands of Trae Waynes. He showed both promise and woefulness in 2016 and it will be a huge year for the third year cornerback. If he steps up and lives up to his draft position, the Vikings could have a very dangerous secondary.
With both kicking spots open for competition this pre-season, there’s a lot of intrigue to the typically boring kicking and punting spots. Battling to kick field goals is the man who took Blair Walsh’s spot when he was cut in the middle of 2016, Kai Forthbath, and second year place kicker Marshall Koehn. With Forbath not doing much to lose the kicking job, he’s the favorite to stay on the roster. Over at punter is a battle of Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank. Quigley has the inside edge of being the opening week starter in this battle.
Even though the Vikings veteran punter returner Marcus Sherels will be fielding punts, the Vikings have a bit of a hole at the kick returner spot due to the departure of Cordarrelle Patterson who went to Oakland via free agency. Rookie receiver Rodey Adams has been taking most of the kick offs in the pre-season and it looks like he will get the chance to do it in the regular season as well.
After the nose dive to finish of a once promising 2016 campaign, it’s pretty safe to say that this is a huge make or break year for head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff. After reports of Zimmer struggling to keep order in the locker room and offensive coordinator Norv Turner up and quitting in the middle of the season, there may be some strife at Winter Park.
Heading into his 4th season as Vikings head coach, it will be a giant test. If the team fails to get off to a decent start or finishes out of the playoffs, it’s a fair bet that Zimmer may lose his job. If Zimmer goes, you can bet on a complete overhaul of the coaching staff. It could also mean the end of the Rick Spielman era as general manager of the Vikings. Spielman has a long list of draft failures (including Christian Ponder) and has long ignored the offensive line until it was already in bad shape. It may be time for Spielman to go as well if 2017 doesn’t go well for the Minnesota Vikings.