2018 NFL Season Preview: Can the Minnesota Vikings separate themselves from the rest of the pack?

2018 Season Preview, NFL

Offense

Quarterback

Names to know: Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins was the most sought after player to hit free agency in the NFL since Peyton Manning in 2012. With suitors all over the league vying for his services, Cousins decided to join a Vikings team where he had legitimate potential to win now. He signed a three year contract worth a fully guaranteed $84 million to take the reigns of Minnesota’s offense.

Cousins is a talented player. While he is not the most athletic or physically imposing quarterback he has all the mental tools to succeed at QB. The former Redskin is a great decision maker and rarely misses shorter routine passes.

He struggles under pressure, though. Cousins often throws balls into trouble when the pass rush begins to breathe down his neck. Teams usually send more pass rushers on key passing downs in the red zone, and Cousins did not have the speed or athleticism to escape pressure and instead made bad decisions with the ball. This led to Cousins throwing 3 interceptions within the red zone last season, second only to Deshone Kizer.

At 29 the Cousins should be nearing his prime, if he is not already there. He is not an elite quarterback and is probably the third best at his position within the NFC North. Paired with the great offensive talent the Vikings have placed around him Cousins should be enough to give the Vikings a potentially elite offense this year.

Running Back

Names to know: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mack Brown

The Vikings run game was middling last season. It ranked 19th in DVOA and averaged just under 4 yards per carry. Latavius Murray was the teams leading rusher last season, breaking the 800 yard mark and finding the end zone 8 times. Jerrick McKinnon was the teams second leading rusher and their most valuable receiving option out of the backfield. McKinnon went to San Francisco in free agency, though.

His absence will be replaced for and then some by second year running back Dalvin Cook. Cook tore his ACL during an early season match up against the Detroit Lions, but in the four games he did play he was a revelation for the Vikings. He averaged nearly 5 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns in under four games played last season. Cook was a useful receiving option out of the backfield as well and can realistically play all three downs.

Mack Brown was claimed off of waivers from the Washington Redskins last season. Brown won’t get many carries and will be more of a depth piece than anything. He does provide utility on special teams, though.

The Vikings run game can be great this year. Cook has potential to be one of the leagues elite running backs if he makes a full recovery from his knee injury. Murray is only two years removed from being the feature back in Oakland and proved last year that he can still carry a huge work load if called upon. Depth might be an issue if either gets injured, but their duo of running backs have the ability to take them far.

Wide Receiver

Names to know: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kendall Wright, Laquon Treadwell, Tavarres King

Minnesota’s receiving corps took the next step in 2017. Stefon Diggs started his career primarily as a slot receiver but began to take more snaps outside last season. He strived in that role catching 64 passes for 849 yards. While Diggs raw stats were a bit lower than the year before, he was more efficient than ever. The Maryland product has been compared to Antonio Brown and has dominated highlight reels with a few incredible grabs.

The man who replaced him in the slot, Adam Thielen, emerged as an elite receiver himself. The former UDFA netted over 1,200 receiving yards and placed himself in the top five in receiving yards last season.

Week 1 2017: Stefon Diggs is still a threat outside of the slot

Diggs and Thielen were great last year and their receiving prowess helped Keenum adjust to his role as a starter. With Cousins under center now they should excel with an even better quarterback. Thielen was a crutch for Keenum last season on shorter intermediate routes. With Cousins now in the mix expect Diggs to take on a bigger role in the offense that Thielen, and their numbers should even out for the most part.

Kendall Wright was a valuable piece of a beat up Chicago Bears receiving corps last season and will serve a role as a third option in Minnesota. The speedster will most likely operate as a deep threat receiver lined up split wide alongside Diggs.

Laquon Treadwell still has not lived up to expectations as a first round pick in 2016. He still has some utility on special teams and may have a chance to thrive with a new quarterback in town. Tavarres King is not a lock to make the roster but the former Giant played a major role in New York’s offense last season after they lost Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall to injury.

The Vikings have one of the best receiving corps in the league. With Diggs and Thielen in town and a few youngsters with potential to contribute, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be one of the leagues elite groups for years to come.

Tight End

Names to know: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin, Blake Bell

While the Vikings may not have the star power at tight end that they have at the other offensive skill positions they have still put together a strong unit. Kyle Rudolph is the most important tight end on the roster. The long time Viking has been reliable as both a receiver and a blocker in Minnesota and was Keenum’s favorite guy in the red zone last season. Rudolph had over 500 receiving yards last season, more than anyone on the roster other than Diggs or Thielen.

Both David Morgan and Blake Bell had limited roles on the Vikings offense last season. Neither provided much to the team in the passing game but were decent as blockers on the edge. They provided great depth for Minnesota last season, but there may not be room for both of them on the team’s final roster.

The Vikings selected Tyler Conklin out of Central Michigan in the fifth round of the draft. Conklin is a big bodied tight end that has the physical tools necessary to box out defenders and be a useful red zone target. He really excels as a blocker, though, and is a versatile player that the Vikings should be excited to have.

Minnesota is solid at tight end and has nothing to really worry about entering this season. They have decent depth on the roster and younger developmental pieces to work with for the future.

Offensive Line

Names to Know: Riley Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Tom Compton, Mike Remmers, Brian O’Neill, Danny Isidora

The Vikings offensive line cost them everything in 2016 and they invested a lot into retooling it in 2017. The added Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency and drafted Pat Elflein in the third round. Midway through the season they traded for Nick Easton from the San Francisco 49ers. The rework seemed to be a success. The Vikings only allowed 27 sacks last season and their great protection was crucial to the Vikings having an NFL best third down conversion rate last season.

Guard Joe Berger, arguably the best player on their line last season, retired and left a vacancy on the interior of the offensive line. Remmers has experience playing at guard and may shift inside. Danny Isidora, a late round pick in 2017, may finally get a chance to start as well. The Vikings selected tackle Brian O’Neill in the second round of the draft. O’Neill will most likely not start in 2018, but if Remmers moves inside he has an opportunity to compete for a starting role in his rookie season.

The offensive line should be great again but there are some question marks for them entering the new season. They are relying on a few younger players and for players to adjust well to a shift in position. Cousins is not great at maneuvering in the pocket and struggles under pressure. If the changes the Vikings will have to make to their line do not work out than their can yet again be disastrous consequences.

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