2019 NFL Offseason: Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings (Last Year: 8-7-1)

2019 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
G Josh Kline, DT Shamar Stephen.
Early Draft Picks:
C/G Garrett Bradbury, TE Irv Smith Jr., RB Alexander Mattison, G Dru Samia, LB Cameron Smith. Vikings Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Latavius Murray, DT Sheldon Richardson, S Andrew Sendejo, S George Iloka.

2019 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
The Vikings gave Kirk Cousins an unprecedented fully guaranteed contract last spring, yet once the 2018 season had finished, they didn’t even have a playoff appearance to show for it. Minnesota finished with a worse record than it did with Case Keenum, leading many to blame Cousins for the team’s disappointing result. Cousins wasn’t completely at fault, but he certainly did not perform up to par in big games. In a must-win battle versus the Bears in Week 17, Cousins was just 20-of-33 for 132 yards and a touchdown. Not only was he terrible, but he and Adam Thielen got into a shouting match on the sideline.

While Cousins choked versus tough opponents, it could be argued that he would have performed on a higher level if his offensive line did a better job of protecting him. Minnesota’s blocking unit was atrocious last season, prompting the front office to spend its first-round pick on some help in that regard. The Vikings picked Garrett Bradbury to fill a huge hole they had at center. The incumbent player at the position, Pat Elflein, was arguably the worst center in the NFL last year, so it’s almost impossible for Bradbury not to be an upgrade. Elflein figures to move over to guard, where he should play better. The other guard, Josh Kline, did not perform very well for the Titans this past season, but has been solid in the past, so perhaps he could have a rebound campaign.

Minnesota’s interior offensive line will be better because of Bradbury and perhaps Kline, but the tackle play is still a problem. Blind-side protector Riley Reiff is just mediocre, while right tackle Brian O’Neill will remain a liability.

Though the Vikings will block better in 2019, it’s unclear how much they’ll improve their 30th ranking in run blocking efficiency. Dalvin Cook had no lanes to burst through last season, which would explain why he failed to rush for 100 or more yards in all but one game in 2018. Excluding the victory over the inept Dolphins in Week 15, Cook rushed for just 479 yards. His numbers will improve in 2019, especially with Latavius Murray gone, but the run blocking just won’t be there.

As for the passing attack, it’ll function very well unless Cousins is choking against a tough opponent. Cousins will still have the luxury of throwing to a pair of dynamic receivers, Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Vikings lack a capable third wide receiver, but Cousins will instead be able to utilize a pair of talented tight ends, Kyle Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith Jr.

2019 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
While Kirk Cousins struggled to score in big games, the defense also deserves some of the blame for failing to appear in the playoffs. The stop unit surrendered just 17.4 points in 2017, but saw that figure rise to 21.3 this past season.

There were a couple of reasons for this decline. First was Everson Griffen’s mental health. When 100 percent, Griffen is one of the top defensive ends in the NFL, but he missed five games because he had mental problems and had to take some time off. Griffen was not quite himself in his return, notching just 5.5 sacks in 2018 after logging 13 sacks the year before. Griffen turns 32 during the 2019 campaign, and it’s not yet clear if he’s over his issues, so it’s fair to be skeptical about his ability to perform up to expectations. Griffen will at least start across from Danielle Hunter, who is coming off a monstrous season in which he racked up 14.5 sacks.

Another reason why the Vikings regressed on this side of the ball was Xavier Rhodes’ health. Rhodes missed just two games in 2018, but was banged up and didn’t perform nearly as well as he usually does, prompting head coach Mike Zimmer to call him out this offseason. Rhodes is still young enough (29) to rebound in 2019, so there’s definitely reason to be optimistic about him, unlike Griffen. Rhodes will play across from Trae Waynes, who tends to struggle in coverage. Meanwhile, Mackensie Alexander vastly improved this past season after not living up to expectations as a second-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft.

While the Vikings have concerns at cornerback, they’re stout at safety. Harrison Smith is one of the top players at his position in the NFL, while Anthony Harris was exceptional in relief of an injured Andrew Sendejo. Harris was so good that Minnesota was willing to release Sendejo, despite the fact that he was a long-time Viking who still was playing at a high level prior to his injury.

Minnesota’s struggles to cover downfield were a surprise, as it was difficult to predict the injuries to Rhodes and Alexander. The Vikings’ inability to cover the middle of the field, however, was rather predictable. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are both stout in run support, but are liabilities when it comes to defending against tight ends and pass-catching running backs. It’s unlikely that the Vikings will improve in this regard next season.

Barr and Kendricks weren’t the only reasons why the Vikings were solid against the run. Minnesota boasted a pair of stellar defensive tackles in Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson. The latter, however, is no longer with the team, as he departed in free agency. Shamar Stephen figures to take over for Richardson. He’s not a bad player, but he’s not nearly as talented as his predecessor.

2019 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
The Vikings have endured kicking issues for years. Things aren’t different now, as current kicker Dan Bailey was 21-of-28 in 2018.

Matt Wile fared much better as Minnesota’s punter, ranking 10th in net average.

The Vikings lost Cordarrelle Patterson a couple of offseasons ago, yet were still able to outgain the opposition in both facets of special teams.

Minnesota has a balanced schedule in 2018. The team will play the NFC East and AFC West, so for every Chiefs and Eagles the Vikings have on the schedule, they get to battle a team like the Giants and Raiders.

2019 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.

2019 Minnesota Vikings Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2019 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: The Vikings failed to reach the playoffs the year after they battled the Eagles in the NFC Championship. It seems as though 2019 will be another disappointing campaign. The Vikings still have problems with their offensive line, and there are questions about their defensive front, given Everson Griffen’s mental condition and Sheldon Richardson’s departure. Furthermore, Kirk Cousins has proven to be a liability in big games. If Minnesota must win in Week 17 again, can it really count on Cousins to come through in the clutch?

Projection: 7-9 (3rd in NFC North)

2018 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 8-7-1.
2017 Projection: 8-8. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3.
2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 8-8.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: The Vikings made a big mistake by paying Kirk Cousins so much guaranteed money. They then compounded that error by failing to protect Cousins. They can’t do anything about Cousins’ contract for a while, but they can at least make sure that he’s shielded well for a change. Multiple selections must be used on blockers. Meanwhile, the linebacking corps and defensive line should be addressed as well.

2019 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It was hardly a surprise that the Vikings used two of their initial four selections on offensive linemen. Garrett Bradbury figures to provide a big upgrade at center, while guard Dru Samia was obtained for good value early in the fourth round. Tackle wasn’t addressed until late, but the Vikings at least made what looks like two quality upgrades on the blocking unit.

Minnesota’s highest-graded selection came in between the two offensive linemen picks. That was the second-rounder used on tight end Irv Smith Jr. Kyle Rudolph is heading for free agency soon, and Smith offered great value at pick No. 50. I also liked some of the Vikings’ late choices, particularly defensive tackle Armon Watts and cornerback Kris Boyd.

The Vikings made some mistakes on draft weekened, notably reaching for running back Alexander Mattison and taking a redundant player in Cameron Smith, who won’t solve any problems. However, this was a positive draft for Minnesota overall. The team didn’t come away with a great class, but it looks to be a solid group that could potentially get the Vikings back over the playoff hump.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

18. Garrett Bradbury, C/G, N.C. State B+ Grade
I’ve slotted Garrett Bradbury to the Vikings for several weeks, so I wouldn’t have been surprised by this pick heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. However, I expected them to choose Andre Dillard when he slipped to them. Minnesota apparently wanted to stick to the plan and upgrade the middle of the offensive line. Pat Elflein was the worst center in the NFL last year, so he absolutely needed to be upgraded. Elflein will now move to guard, where he should perform better, meaning the Vikings are getting two upgrades with one pick. This is a good choice, as the Vikings absolutely had to bolster Kirk Cousins’ protection.

50. Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama A Grade
I thought Irv Smith Jr. would be chosen earlier than this, so I like the value. But what about the need? The Vikings have Kyle Rudolph on the roster right now, but he’s an impending free agent after this season. Smith can develop for a year behind Rudolph and then become a nice weapon for Kirk Cousins in 2020 and beyond.

102. Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State C Grade
Alexander Mattison was pegged as a fifth-round prospect, so this is a bit of a reach. It’s not an egregious one, so this isn’t a bad choice. Mattison is a solid runner who catches passes well. However, he’s not explosive and doesn’t possess much upside. The Vikings needed to find a capable backup behind Dalvin Cook, and Mattison could develop into a fine No. 2 back.

114. Dru Samia, G, Oklahoma B+ Grade
Dru Samia is someone who could have been chosen a bit earlier than this. I had him slotted at the end of the third round. He doesn’t have good athleticism, but he’s a rock-solid guard who should be able to emerge into the starting lineup at some point in the near future.

162. Cameron Smith, LB, USC C Grade
I don’t understand this pick. The Vikings have struggled to cover in space for quite some time, so they needed to find a linebacker who could help them solve that problem. Instead, they drafted a player who struggles to cover in space. Cameron Smith is a tough run defender who can play well on the first two downs of a game, but he doesn’t solve any of Minnesota’s issues.

190. Armon Watts, DT, Arkansas A- Grade
Armon Watts was a solid producer at Akrnasas, but tested poorly at the combine. I thought he would be chosen earlier than this – I had him at No. 143 overall – so I like the value the Vikings are getting, as they had to bolster the depth on their defensive front.

191. Marcus Epps, S, Wyoming D Grade
Marcus Epps was projected to be a UDFA target. I don’t think the Vikings should’ve wasted a sixth-round pick on him. With all of the extra selections in Rounds 6 and 7, I was hoping they would turn them into 2020 choices. That’s what should’ve happened here.

193. Oli Udoh, OT, Elon A- Grade
The Vikings predictably continued to address their offensive line. They needed a tackle, and Oli Udoh has ridiculous upside. He’s a massive tackle (6-6, 323) and he tested very well at the combine. He’s a project, as he’s a raw player right now, but if coached up, he could become a starter at some point.

217. Kris Boyd, CB, Texas A Grade
Kris Boyd offers more value than the other two picks of the seventh round. Boyd could’ve gone as high as the fourth round without any criticism, so this is a nice bargain for the Vikings. Boyd is a project, as he lacks discipline and good technique, but he has great upside because of his athleticism. Boyd may not pan out – it’s the seventh round, after all – but I love how high his ceiling is.

239. Dillon Mitchell, WR, Oregon B+ Grade
Dillon Mitchell lacks strength, route-running ability and sure hands, but he’s quick and athletic enough to develop into a viable receiver in the NFL. He was highly productive last year, but still needs to be coached up. It’s possible that Mitchell evolves into a No. 3 receiver for the Vikings, but he has a long road ahead of him. The upside is there to warrant a seventh-round pick, however.

247. Olabisi Johnson, WR, Colorado State B Grade
Olabisi Johnson is a hard worker who has overachieved in his career thus far. We’ll see if that will continue in the pros. Johnson has some separation questions heading into the NFL, but he tested well at the combine, so perhaps there shouldn’t be much concern in that regard.

250. Austin Cutting, LS, Air Force C Grade
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t look into long snappers at all. Players who snap the ball farther than other players can be found anywhere. I’d normally criticize a team for wasting a pick on a long snapper, but not really this late in the draft.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Vikings were one of the Super Bowl favorites entering 2018 after signing Kirk Cousins. Those who really paid attention to Cousins’ failures in Washington knew that this would cause the Vikings to be overrated, and that’s exactly what happened. Minnesota failed to make the playoffs and now has to move forward, all while dealing with Cousins’ albatross of a contract.

Offseason Moves:
  • Vikings sign G Josh Kline
  • Vikings sign DT Shamar Stephen

    Team Needs:
    1. Left Tackle: It was irresponsible of the Vikings to give Kirk Cousins so much money without providing him with great protection. They absolutely must bolster their offensive line this offseason, beginning with left tackle. Incumbent Riley Reiff would be best served at right tackle.

    2. Two Guards: The interior of Minnesota’s offensive line must be fixed. The team struggles to pass protect and run block, and both aspects would be improved with two new superior guards. Signed Josh Kline

    3. Two Linebackers: The Vikings’ top priority on defense is at linebacker. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks play well versus the run, but struggle to cover in space. Barr is an impending free agent, so if he leaves, two new linebackers will be needed. Re-signed Anthony Barr

    4. Defensive Tackle: Sheldon Richardson is an impending free agent who must be re-signed. The Vikings may have trouble affording him, however. Signed Shamar Stephen

    5. Defensive End Depth: Everson Griffen missed some time with mental issues. This has to be a concern going forward, as it’s unknown if Griffen could just walk away from the game without a moment’s notice.

    6. Wide Receiver: Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both studs, but the Vikings could use a better third receiver.

    7. Backup Quarterback: Trevor Siemian is an impending free agent. The Vikings should pick up a young quarterback to perhaps eventually take over for Cousins.

    8. Kicker: Perhaps this will be the offseason that the Vikings finally fix their kicking woes. Re-signed Dan Bailey

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2019 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Josh Kline, G, Titans. Age: 29.
      Signed with Vikings (3 years, $15.75 million)

      The Titans claimed Josh Kline off waivers from the Patriots three years ago, and the move paid off. Kline had been a solid starter for the Titans prior to 2018. Last offseason, he signed a 4-year, $26 million contract. Perhaps that money got to his head because his play fell off a cliff in 2018.

    2. Shamar Stephen, DT, Seahawks. Age: 28. — Signed with Vikings (3 years)

    Minnesota Vikings Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Vikings. Age: 28.
      Signed with Browns (3 years, $36 million)

      Sheldon Richardson is an extremely talented defensive lineman, playing very strongly in the pass rush and run defense. He can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4, so he should garner tons of interest if he gets to the open market.

    2. Anthony Harris (RFA), S, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Tendered by Vikings (2 years)

      Anthony Harris was a bright spot during the Vikings’ disappointing 2018 season. Taking over for the injured Andrew Sendejo, Harris played on a Pro Bowl level. It remains to be seen if the long-time reserve can continue this for an extended period of time, but it’s a shame that he won’t be able to get a big contract until next spring.

    3. Anthony Barr, OLB, Vikings. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Vikings

      Anthony Barr is an excellent run-stopping linebacker, but he is a liability in coverage. He’s still young, but perhaps he should be a two-down player.

    4. Andrew Sendejo, S, Vikings. Age: 32.
      Signed with Eagles

      Andrew Sendejo has been a solid safety for the Vikings for years, but wasn’t needed anymore with younger, cheaper players at the position stepping up in the wake of his injuries. Sendejo should still be able to play well, but he turns 32 in September, so regression is coming soon.

    5. Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Signed with Saints (4 years, $14.4 million)

      Latavius Murray turns 29 this offseason, but he doesn’t have lots of mileage on his body, as he’s carried the ball 200-plus times just twice in his career. Murray is a decent runner who can be an effective receiver out of the backfield.

    6. George Iloka, S, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Signed with Cowboys

      George Iloka was cut for salary reasons. He’s not a great safety by any means, but he’s a solid player. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none, as he’s not a liability in any regard.

    7. Dan Bailey, K, Vikings. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Vikings (1 year, $1 million)

      Dan Bailey used to be one of the top kickers in the NFL, but he has since suffered some sort of psychological breakdown. He’s only a 75-percent kicker at this time.

    8. Tom Johnson, DT, Vikings. Age: 35.
    9. Mike Remmers, OT, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Giants
    10. Trevor Siemian, QB, Vikings. Age: 27. — Signed with Jets (1 year, $2 million)
    11. Marcus Sherels, CB/KR, Vikings. Age: 31. — Signed with Saints (1 year)
    12. Rashod Hill (RFA), OT, Vikings. Age: 27. — Tendered by Vikings (original)
    13. Tom Compton, G/OT, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Jets
    14. Aldrick Robinson, WR, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers
    15. Brett Jones, C, Vikings. Age: 28.
    16. Nick Easton, C, Vikings. Age: 27. — Signed with Saints (4 years, $24 million)

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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