2017 NFL Offseason: Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings (Last Year: 8-8)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Case Keenum, RB Latavius Murray, WR Michael Floyd, OT Riley Reiff, OT Mike Remmers, DE Datone Jones.
Early Draft Picks:
RB Dalvin Cook, C Pat Elflein, DT Jaleel Johnson, LB Ben Gedeon. Vikings Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Adrian Peterson, RB Matt Asiata, FB Zach Line, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Rhett Ellison, OT Matt Kalil, G Brandon Fusco, G Mike Harris, OLB Chad Greenway, ILB Audie Cole, CB Captain Munnerlyn, P Jeff Locke.

2017 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
The Vikings were projected to go 11-5 in this space last year, but that was with Teddy Bridgewater as the quarterback. Bridgewater, of course, suffered a gruesome knee injury that knocked him out for all of 2016, prompting the front office to trade a first-round pick for Sam Bradford. Bridgewater will likely miss some or all of 2017 as well, as Mike Zimmer told the media that his quarterback still has a “long way to go.”

Bradford will once again be the starter, which is not good news for the Vikings. If the term “below-average quarterback” were found in the dictionary, Bradford’s picture would be found right next to it. Bradford is as pedestrian as they come, as he is injury-prone and far too reliant on dinking and dunking. He actually set the single-season completion percentage record in 2016, but that happened because he was too hesitant to take shots downfield, settling for safe, ineffective throws instead.

It wasn’t completely Bradford’s fault that he had to play it safe, however, as the offensive line didn’t do him any favors. The blocking was absolutely terrible, so Minnesota had to make some changes to it this offseason. The Vikings did so, but it’s unclear how much of an upgrade it was. For instance, they signed Riley Reiff over from the Lions to play left tackle. The problem is that Reiff was just a mediocre right tackle in Detroit after failing as a blind-side protector prior to Taylor Decker’s arrival. It’s unclear why Minnesota believes Reiff will suddenly start playing well at left tackle. Meanwhile, Mike Remmers was signed over from Carolina. Remmers was also sub par, getting Cam Newton killed on occasion, so there’s no logical reason as to why he would improve in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s interior blocking is at least better. That said, there are some concerns. Center Joe Berger had an excellent 2016 campaign, but he just turned 35, so he could regress. Berger, for whatever reason, has been practicing at guard this offseason, as either Nick Easton or third-round rookie Pat Elflein will start at center. Minnesota better hope that it’s Elflein because Easton is awful. The other guard position will be manned by Alex Boone, who didn’t perform as well last year as anticipated because of a hip injury. Boone should be better in 2017.

With such poor blocking, the Vikings struggled to run the ball this past season, as none of their prominent running backs averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry. It didn’t help that Adrian Peterson was either out or injured, but he’s gone anyway. Replacing Peterson will be the duo of Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook. Murray is a big name because of fantasy football, but he gained just 4.0 yards per rush last year behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. The Raiders’ coaching staff didn’t like Murray very much, and the team didn’t make much of an attempt to retain him. Cook, meanwhile, has much more upside. He fell to the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft because he tested extremely poorly at the combine, plus character concerns didn’t help either. However, Cook has excellent vision, which is one of the most important traits for running backs. It could be difficult for him to see holes that aren’t there, but he should be a terrific producer for the Vikings once they fix their blocking woes.

While there was an overhaul at running back, the Minnesota receiving corps remains largely the same. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen will reprise their roles as Bradford’s top two receivers. Diggs will look to rebound from an injury-prone 2016 campaign, while Thielen will continue to benefit from Bradford’s conservative passing style. The same could be said for Kyle Rudolph, who was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs from this past season. The one difference in this area is Michael Floyd, who was signed after the draft. The Vikings once signed a very troubled, but talented receiver, and he turned into a Hall of Famer. Michael Floyd is also very troubled, but talented, and Zimmer expressed optimism about the former Cardinal, citing how the Vikings have a great support system for him. Meanwhile, 2016 first-rounder Laquon Treadwell will need to improve, as he caught only one pass as a rookie.

2017 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
With so many question marks on offense, Minnesota’s defense will have to carry the team to the playoffs. It appeared as though that was going to be the case last season when the Vikings began 5-0, but they wilted down the stretch, thanks to some injuries on this side of the ball.

The biggest player to miss action – literally, that is – was Sharrif Floyd, who was on the field for just one game. The Vikings really missed his dominant presence in the interior, but Floyd could never make it back from his knee injury. There’s no guarantee he’ll return for 2017, however, as Mike Zimmer told the media he wasn’t sure if Floyd would be available, as there are still complications from last year’s meniscus surgery. The Vikings spent a fourth-round pick on Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson because of this development. Either Jaleel Johnson or the mediocre Tom Johnson will start next to Linval Joseph, who was a very effective player in 2016.

The rest of Minnesota’s defensive front is at least effective, as the team has two strong pass rushers and a couple of decent rotational players. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter combined for 20.5 sacks this past season. Brian Robison started across from Griffen last year, but would probably be better off serving as a backup behind Hunter. Meanwhile, Datone Jones was acquired in free agency. The former Packer will provide solid depth.

Harrison Smith, meanwhile, didn’t miss nearly as much time as Floyd, but his absence was felt in a crucial December contest against the Colts in which Andrew Luck threw all over the Vikings’ secondary. Smith is one of the top safeties in the NFL, so his presence would have made a huge difference. Andrew Sendejo, who will start next to Smith once again, also missed two contests. He’s obviously not nearly as good as Smith, but he’s still a solid player. It was clear that the Vikings had no depth at safety because there was such a sharp decline when either player was out of the lineup. Nothing was done to fix this, so Minnesota will have to hope that both Smith and Sendejo remain healthy in 2017.

Xavier Rhodes also missed a couple of contests, but the Vikings won those affairs early in the season. Where the injury factored in was when Rhodes was knocked out in the second half in a tight game against the Redskins in Week 10. Minnesota blew a lead after Rhodes left the field, which wasn’t surprising in the slightest. Rhodes is an excellent cornerback, so the Vikings need him in the lineup, especially in the wake of Captain Munnerlyn’s departure. Rhodes will start across from Terence Newman, who almost certainly has to begin regressing soon, given that he’ll turn 39 in September. If so, the Vikings have a couple of young cornerbacks who can take over in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.

Injuries didn’t really claim anyone in Minnesota’s linebacking corps, though the excellent Eric Kendricks was also knocked out early in the aforementioned Redskins contest. Kendricks performed on a high level otherwise, though the same can’t be said about Anthony Barr, who took a major step backward this past season. Barr was terrific in 2015, so it’s unclear why he was so terrible last year. Perhaps he’ll rebound, but if he doesn’t, the Vikings have a couple of young linebackers – Ben Gedeon, Elijah Lee – ready to challenge him.

2017 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
Blair Walsh was cut during the middle of the season. The Vikings replaced him with Kai Forbath, who was a pefect 15-of-15. However, he missed three of his 14 extra points.

Jeff Locke is one of the league’s worst punters, ranking 30th in net yardage in 2015, and 25th this past season.

The Vikings scored three touchdowns on special teams last year, surrendering one in the process. However, Cordarrelle Patterson is gone, so they’ll be worse on kickoffs.

Much like last season, Minnesota will have a chance to get off to a hot start, as the team has just two road games prior to Week 10. However, a three-game road trip between Weeks 12 and 14 could eventually crush the Vikings.

2017 Minnesota Vikings Rookies:
Go here for the Vikings Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 Minnesota Vikings Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: The Vikings have some great defensive pieces, and they’ll be a very competitive team as a result. However, their offense has way too many holes, ranging from the pedestrian quarterback, to the poor offensive line, to the questionable running game. As a result, Minnesota will likely miss the playoffs once again.

Projection: 8-8 (2nd in NFC North)

2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 8-8.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Vikings signed two tackles in free agency, yet they still need a couple of offensive linemen to shore up their horrible pass protection. They also need some other offensive pieces, such as a running back and a receiver. Not much is required on defense, fortunately.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Vikings didn’t have a Thursday night pick, so they weren’t able to partake in the first-round trading frenzy. That didn’t stop them from making significant moves on Day 2, however. Minnesota started by moving up to No. 41, where it selected Dalvin Cook. This might go down as one of the best selections in the 2017 NFL Draft. Cook has top-10 talent, but fell because of a combination of questionable character concerns and poor testing at the combine. Cook has elite vision, however, and he was amazing at Florida State. It would be surprising if he failed to put together a terrific pro career, especially now that he has a giant chip on his shoulder.

The Vikings moved up for Pat Elflein in the third round as well. I wasn’t as big of a fan because I didn’t rate Elflein as a third-round prospect. However, given all of Minnesota’s offensive line woes recently, I can understand why the team chose him. I just don’t think the Vikings needed to surrender resources for Elflein.

Outside of the two receiver picks, I like what the Vikings did on Day 3. Some great value picks they obtained were Danny Isidora, who will provide more help on the offensive line, and Bucky Hodges, who has great athleticism and upside to perhaps one day be a productive tight end.

Despite not having a first-round pick, the Vikings did well in the 2017 NFL Draft. My one main gripe is the trade for Elflein, but they were still able to come away with a solid class.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

41. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida Stae: A+ Grade
This might end up being the best pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The fact that Dalvin Cook fell this far is ridiculous. I know he tested very poorly at the combine, but his vision, which isn’t taken into account via the analytics, is excellent. It’s an extremely important trait for a running back. The Vikings signed Latavius Murray, but no one really considers him to be a viable starter. Cook can be, and he’s a top-15 talent to boot. Great job by Minnesota with this selection.

70. Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State: C Grade
I loved Minnesota’s first pick. This one? Not so much. The Vikings moved up in the third round to select a fourth-round prospect, so I don’t really like this move. I don’t hate it though, as there aren’t very many good offensive linemen, and Minnesota is desperate. Pat Elflein can start at guard right away and eventually move to center in a couple of years.

109. Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa: B+ Grade
Make that two solid picks to start off the fourth round. The Vikings had to address defensive tackle with Sharrif Floyd’s future in question. Jaleel Johnson is a solid 4-3 nose tackle who can stuff the run very well. I had him going later in the fourth round, so the range is right.

120. Ben Gedeon, LB, Michigan: B- Grade
It’s no surprise the Vikings are selecting a linebacker, as they needed a replacement for Chad Greenway. Ben Gedeon is not indestructible as one might think, but he was productive at Michigan, albeit in 14 starts. He’s an average athlete, so he projects as a potential solid backup or low-end starter.

170. Rodney Adams, WR, South Florida: C- Grade
Rodney Adams was a fringe draftable prospect, so this is way too early for him. Adams was very productive at South Florida, but he dropped way too many passes and also had issues with fumbling. The Vikings needed a receiver to challenge Laquon Treadwell, but I don’t think Adams can do that.

180. Danny Isidora, G, Miami: A- Grade
I had Danny Isidora off the board 36 picks earlier than this, so I really like the value the Vikings are getting with him. Isidora tested poorly at the combine, but has some very good tape from his time at Miami. The Vikings needed an interior lineman, so Isidora could potentially start at some point for them.

201. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech: A+ Grade
I love this pick in the sixth round, even though the Vikings didn’t need a tight end. Hodges is still learning how to play the position, but he has major potential because of his excellent athleticism. The Vikings are swinging for the fences here, as Hodges could be a solid starter at some point. He could also do nothing, but getting someone who could’ve snuck into the second day this late seems like a great move.

219. Stacy Coley, WR, Miami: C- Grade
Stacy Coley was productive at Miami, but teams questioned his effort and passion for football. I wouldn’t have wanted to draft someone like that at any point. This might end up being the worst pick in the seventh round for that reason.

220. Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern: B+ Grade
This Minnesota selection is much better. Ifeadi Odenigbo displayed terrific athleticism in pre-draft workouts, and he also happened to be productive at Northwestern. It wouldn’t surprise me if he became a solid contributor at some point for the Vikings.

232. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State: A- Grade
Elijah Lee is a bit undersized (6-3, 229), and he’ll be a liability against the run, but he projects as a solid coverage linebacker in sub packages. I had him going in the fifth round, so I like the value the Vikings are getting in the final frame.

245. Jack Tocho, CB, N.C. State: B- Grade
I didn’t have Jack Tocho in my mock draft, but I considered him when I generated my seventh round. You can never have enough cornerback depth, and the Vikings are getting a player with leadership skills who happens to fit their scheme.

Season Summary:
It’s hard to believe the Vikings started 5-0. Unfortunately for them, that’s when the injuries started happening. Minnesota collapsed down the stretch, and to make matters worse, it doesn’t appear as though Teddy Bridgewater will be able to play in 2017.

Offseason Moves:
  • Vikings sign WR Michael Floyd
  • Vikings announce retirement of OT Jake Long
  • Vikings sign QB Case Keenum
  • Vikings sign CB Terence Newman
  • Vikings sign DE Datone Jones
  • Vikings sign OT Mike Remmers
  • Vikings sign OT Riley Reiff
  • Vikings announce retirement of OLB Chad Greenway
  • Vikings cut G Mike Harris
  • Vikings cut G Brandon Fusco

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Offensive Tackles: There’s no question that the Vikings need to upgrade their offensive tackles. Their blocking on the edge has been anemic over the years, and it’s even worse now because of injuries. Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are free agents, but that doesn’t matter because they haven’t played well. Signed Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff

    2. Guard: The Vikings have an excellent guard in Alex Boone, but Brandon Fusco needs to be upgraded. This is the third of three offensive line positions that must be improved.

    3. Outside Linebacker: Chad Greenway is likely to retire, but he needs to be replaced anyway after playing poorly the past two seasons.

    4. Center: Joe Berger played well at center this past season, but he’s an impending free agent, so he’ll need to be re-signed.

    5. Defensive Tackle Depth: Sharrif Floyd was a major disappointment in 2016, as he suffered what appeared to be a minor injury at the beginning of the year and never returned. The Vikings may not be able to count on Floyd, so they should find another capable interior defender.

    6. Running Back: Adrian Peterson doesn’t have much time remaining in the NFL, so the Vikings need to find a successor, perhaps with one of their four second-day selections in the 2017 NFL Draft. Update: Peterson’s option wasn’t picked up, making him a free agent. Signed Latavius Murray

    7. Safety Depth: The Vikings had major problems covering when either Harrison Smith or Andrew Sendejo happened to be out of the lineup. A better backup safety is needed.

    8. Cornerback Depth: Minnesota has young corners to replace impending free agents Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn, but depth should still be added if neither is retained. Re-signed Terence Newman

    9. Wide Receiver Depth: The Vikings probably need to add a receiver, as Laquon Treadwell was a non-factor as a rookie. They’ll obviously give Treadwell another chance next year, however. Signed Michael Floyd

    10. Punter: Jeff Locke is a free agent, but he wasn’t a good punter anyway.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Datone Jones, DE, Packers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Vikings

      Datone Jones was drafted to be a five-technique, but was moved to outside linebacker. He did well there in 2015, but regressed a bit in 2016. He still has a ton of talent as a former first-round pick, however, and perhaps he’ll improve once his role becomes fully defined.

    2. Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders. Age: 27.
      Signed with Vikings

      Latavius Murray was one of the worst starting running backs in the NFL this past season. He somehow scored 12 touchdowns, but he averaged only 4.0 yards per carry despite running behind one of the top offensive lines in the league. No wonder Oakland’s coaching staff didn’t even give him 200 attempts.

    3. Riley Reiff, OT, Lions. Age: 28.
      Signed with Vikings

      Riley Reiff was moved to right tackle this season after the Lions spent their 2016 first-round pick on Taylor Decker. Reiff has been a pretty average blocker throughout his career despite being a former first-round selection himself.

    4. Michael Floyd, WR, Patriots. Age: 27.
      Signed with Vikings

      Michael Floyd has way more talent than a two-star free agent, but he comes with off-the-field issues and lethargy concerns.

    5. Mike Remmers, OT, Panthers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Vikings (5 years, $30 million)

      Mike Remmers has plenty of starting experience, which is his best attribute. Remmers shouldn’t be a starter, but he could serve well as a top backup swing tackle.

    6. Case Keenum, QB, Rams. Age: 29. — Signed with Vikings

    Minnesota Vikings Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $24.4M.
    1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings. Age: 32.
      Signed with Saints

      Adrian Peterson’s $18 million option wasn’t picked up, meaning he’ll be a free agent on March 9. Peterson looked extremely worn down last year, especially when returning from his injury; he gained just 1.9 yards per carry. However, Peterson was hurt while playing behind an anemic offensive line. He’ll be better in 2017, and even though he’ll turn 32 in March, he can’t be counted out because he’s made miraculous comebacks before. It’s possible that Peterson could have two strong seasons remaining in the tank, though it’s also possible that he could be close to done.

    2. Adam Thielen (RFA), WR, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Vikings (3 years, $17 million)

      If Adam Thielen were on the Patriots, he would be producing monstrous fantasy numbers, much like Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, etc. Thielen is a very crafty slot receiver who came close to reaching 1,000 receiving yards in 2016.

    3. Joe Berger, C, Vikings. Age: 35.
      Joe Berger was one of the NFL’s best centers in 2016. This was remarkable, as Berger was just a journeyman backup prior to 2014. Unfortunately, Berger turns 35 in May.

    4. Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Signed with Panthers

      Captain Munnerlyn has been a quality slot cornerback for quite some time now. Munnerlyn actually had a bit of a down year in 2016, but he’s only 29, so he could bounce back next season and play well into 2019.

    5. Zach Line, FB, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Don’t blame Zach Line for Minnesota’s poor running game, as Line is a quality blocking fullback.

    6. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR, Vikings. Age: 26.
      Signed with Raiders

      It’s difficult to grade Cordarrelle Patterson. On one hand, he’s been an absolute failure as a receiver. He was a first-round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, and he just set a career-high in receptions with only 52. On the other hand, Patterson, just 26, still has tons of potential, and he’s also a dynamic kick returner.

    7. Terence Newman, CB, Vikings. Age: 38.
      Re-signed with Vikings

      Terence Newman has been a great cornerback for a very long time, which is why it was surprising when he staged a mutiny against Mike Zimmer in Week 16. Newman turns 39 in September, and has told the media that he has contemplated retirement.

    8. Matt Kalil, OT, Vikings. Age: 28.
      Signed with Panthers

      Matt Kalil has dealt with numerous injuries over the past few years, and he’s regressed as a consequence. He’s performed on a replacement level recently. Perhaps Kalil will get healthy, but the Vikings can’t trust him anymore.

    9. Mike Harris, G, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Mike Harris had never been a full-time starter before 2015. He took advantage of the opportunity and ran (blocked?) with it. The Vikings slid him inside to guard after he was stationed at tackle for the first three years of his career, and he was exceptional in all regards. Unfortunately, he missed all of 2016 with some sort of undisclosed illness, so we’ll see if he can even play in 2017 and beyond.

    10. Andre Smith, OT, Vikings. Age: 30.
      Signed with Vikings

      Andre Smith used to be a terrific right tackle. It’s unclear what happened to him, but perhaps the lethargy concerns teams had with him going into the 2009 NFL Draft can explain it. Smith has been awful the past two seasons, but it’s difficult to ignore his talent level. Hopefully someone can motivate him.

    11. Brandon Fusco, G, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Brandon Fusco was once a solid guard, and the Vikings thought highly enough of him to give him a $25 million contract over five years. Fusco has been awful the past two seasons, so it’s not a surprise that he was released. Fusco turns only 29 in July, so perhaps he can get back to playing well for a new team.

    12. Chad Greenway, OLB, Vikings. Age: 34.
      Announced retirement

      Chad Greenway should be a 1.5-star player, but I’m doing a write-up for him because he has been a long-time great linebacker for the Vikings. Unfortunately, his career is coming to an end, as he’s no longer an effective defender.

    13. Matt Asiata, RB, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Lions
    14. Jeff Locke, P, Vikings. Age: 27. — Signed with Colts
    15. Rhett Ellison, TE, Vikings. Age: 28. — Signed with Giants (4 years, $18 million)
    16. Charles Johnson (RFA), WR, Vikings. Age: 28. — Signed with Panthers
    17. Shaun Hill, QB, Vikings. Age: 37.
    18. Audie Cole, ILB, Vikings. Age: 28. — Signed with Jaguars
    19. Justin Trattou, DE, Vikings. Age: 29.
    20. Jake Long, OT, Vikings. Age: 32. — Announced retirement


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