With free agency and the NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, the Minnesota Vikings have likely completed their retooling process and are now shifting their attention towards preparing for the 2017 regular season. With Super Bowl LII taking place in their own back yard at U.S. Bank Stadium, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there may not be a team with more motivation to win than the Vikings.
They spent the offseason focused on building their offense to better complement their elite defense, that too often had to carry the team on its back. With a rebuilt offensive line and additions to each of the skill positions — running back, wide receiver, and tight end — could the Vikings have the makings of a dark horse Super Bowl contender this season?
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Upgrades at Offensive Line
If this offense does turn things around, the offensive line will be the main reason for it. Minnesota’s front-five has been the achilles heal of the Vikings for the past two seasons. General manager, Rick Spielman, has invested heavily into this group, both through free agency and the draft. If these moves pay off, it could lead to a vastly improved offensive group.
A High-powered Offense
The Vikings have talent at each of the skill positions, the most it’s had in years. With the recent addition of running backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, and wide receiver Michael Floyd, joining the Vikings’ established pass catchers Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen, Minnesota’s offense has the potential to be a group capable of running-up the scoreboard.
This group will greatly benefit if the offense clicks and handles their end of things. The Vikings’ defense played at an elite level for three-quarters of the season before collapsing during the final month; likely from carrying the heavy load of this team as the offense and special teams struggled for much of the year. Minnesota returns 10 of 11 starters on defense from 2016, with two of them likely heading to the bench to make room for ascending players. With most of these guys in their prime or just entering it, the Vikings’ defense can continue to build on the success of each of the past two seasons.
Despite a disappointing 8-8 record last season, the Vikings did witness several players make considerable leaps forward in their development. Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes all showed exceptional talent in 2016. If 2017 is to be their year, these players, along with a host of others, could play key roles this season.
Sam Bradford Capitalizes on Upgrades
With the offensive line addressed, the skill positions loaded with talent and the defense among the best in the league, Bradford has never had so much talent around him in his NFL career. It’s time to produce; there are no more excuses. Looking at what Bradford managed to accomplish last season, despite having almost no protection or running game, defensive coordinators could struggle to gameplan against him if he is able to capitalize on all the upgraded talent surrounding him this year.
Five Reasons why 2017 “is not” the Vikings’ Year
This has been a big problem for the Vikings over recent years, particularly along the offensive line. A freak non-contact injury to Teddy Bridgewater is why they had to trade away their 2017 first-round pick for Sam Bradford, who has his own experiences with injuries. If the Vikings are plagued by injuries again this season, they could find themselves on the sidelines watching and the Super Bowl from the stands.
Tough 2017 Schedule
With games against the NFC South and AFC North divisions in 2017, things do not look easy for the Vikings’ schedule. With the probable exception of the Cleveland Browns, the other seven teams could pose formidable challenges to the purple and gold. They also face six difficult matchups against their divisional foes, in addition to contests with the upstart Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams. Winning 10 or more games is possible for the Vikings in 2017, but it will not be an easy task.
Despite a very productive 2016 season, the jury is still out on Bradford. He has never finished a season with a winning record and has never led a team to the playoffs. In his defense, he has never really been surrounded by much talent until last season. If the Vikings miss out on the postseason in 2017, there is little question that much of the blame will fall squarely on Bradford’s shoulders. Minnesota has too much talent to fail and with the exception of injuries, no excuse to fail to make a playoff run this season.
Offensive Line Woes Continue
The Vikings made several moves throughout the offseason to fix a porous offensive front that could neither protect the quarterback or create open running lanes for the ground game. That being said, the team decided to break open the piggy bank to sign tackles Riley Rieff and Mike Remmers, who, at best, have be described as average. Minnesota also drafted center, Pat Elflein, in the third round of this year’s draft, bumping last season’s starter, Joe Berger, to right guard. Though this looks to be a much improved group compared to 2016’s, will it be enough to turn their fortunes around in 2017?
Special Teams Losses
Heading into 2016, the Vikings’ special teams unit included kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, punt return-man Marcus Sherels, kicker Blair Walsh and punter Jeff Locke. As of this writing, only Sherels remains from that group and that very well could change by the end of training camp. Walsh was cut mid season in 2016, while Patterson and Locke signed elsewhere during free agency. With almost no continuity, this group could go from a one-time competitive advantage, to a potential struggling weakness.
The Last Word
With training camp still a couple of months away, it’s much too early to gauge which way this team will be heading in 2017. The Vikings entered the offseason with a laundry list of needs to address and made every effort to fill those positions during free agency and the draft. Fans will eagerly be waiting for the end of July to get their initial sight of the Vikings’ offseason moves and first taste of what is to come this season.