Tyler Forness \ Aug 10th, 2019
For the first time in many years, the Minnesota Vikings had a relatively uneventful offseason. There were no major injuries, no internal drama, and, outside of the Anthony Barr signing, nothing shocking when it came to free agency. The Vikings are returning nineteen starters from last season, only replacing two offensive linemen and the three-technique defensive tackle.
Continuity will be the biggest positive going into the 2019 season for the Minnesota Vikings. Anthony Barr spurning the New York Jets to re-sign for approximately one and half million dollars less per season exemplifies the culture and continuity that the Vikings have built during the Mike Zimmer era. The defense has mostly been together since 2015 and year two under Kirk Cousins should see some growth, but how much they grow will determine how successful the 2019 season is.
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OffenseEmbed from Getty Images
Which Kirk Cousins will we see this season?
Kirk is one of the more fascinating players in the National Football League. There are games where he looks like one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league and others when he barely looks like a journeyman backup. John DeFillipo wasn’t calling plays for the success of the team last year and it showed with the Vikings finishing with an 8-8 record. New offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who has been with the team since 2009, will be calling the plays with the help of Gary Kubiak, whose running game has been the centerpiece of three Super Bowl championship teams.
With the additions of Garrett Bradbury, Dru Samia, and Josh Kline, the offensive line looks to be much improved over last season. In 2018, Kirk Cousins was the fifth most pressured quarterback in the league, having a pocket to throw from on only 61.1 percent of his dropbacks, posting a seventh-best quarterback rating at 83.1 and a league-best completion percentage at 64.0 percent(per Pro Football Focus). These numbers are quite impressive considering how often Cousins was under pressure last season. With an improved offensive line and a commitment to both running the football and utilizing play-action regularly, Kirk should be able to have a bounce-back season throwing to the likes of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and 2019 second-round pick Irv Smith Jr.
DefenseEmbed from Getty Images
The Mike Zimmer led defense can be described in one word: Continuity.
The core of this defense has been playing together for five seasons and it shows pre-snap with their communications and audibles. Having ten starters returning, along with 2014 seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen rejoining the team, the Vikings were able to spend all off-season addressing their biggest issue: self-scouting.
One game per season, the Vikings defense fails to show up. Whether it be against the Indianapolis Colts in 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017 or the Buffalo Bills in 2018, they always seem to have one dud per season. With all-pro talent Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes on the team, being able to fix their issues with self-scouting could solve their one dud per season and become the Super Bowl contender that we all thought they would be last season.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
QB (3): Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Jake Browning
With Kirk entrenched as the starter for at least this season, they will carry both Mannion and Browning as his backups. The Vikings will pick Mannion over Sloter as the backup due to his experience in the league. They will also keep Browning because he has looked excellent so far in camp and will be a solid developmental quarterback
RB (5): Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham
These names should come as no surprise to Vikings fans. Cook is the entrenched starter, Mattison was the team’s third-round pick, Abdullah will be a good third-down back and return man, and Boone had the second-highest SPARQ rating, only behind Saquon Barkley, in last years draft class, which is something that is highly valued by Rick Spielman and the front office. C.J. Ham is entrenched as the team’s fullback and is a lock to make the team barring injury.
WR (6): Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Dillon Mitchell
After Thielen, Diggs, and Beebe, the last 3 spots are up for grabs. Spielman has a tough time giving up on high picks, so Treadwell is a borderline lock to make the roster. Jordan Taylor has flashed in camp and is well known by Kubiak from their time in Denver. Dillon Mitchell was a steal in round seven and I think makes the team over fellow seventh-round pick Olabisi Johnson with his speed and return ability.
TE (4): Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr, Tyler Conklin, David Morgan
This is pretty much a lock with the two-tight end focus coming with Gary Kubiak.
OL (9): Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline, Brian O’Neill, Dru Samia, Rashod Hill, Brett Jones, Olli Udoh
The starting five is a lock, but the depth pieces are the biggest question marks. Samia should make the team barring a Willie Beavers like camp performance. Rashod Hill is nothing special but is a functional swing tackle. Udoh should make the team as a developmental player and Jones will be the backup center.
DL (9): Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Hercules Mata’afa
The top 7 are virtual locks based on contracts and performance, but the last two will earn a spot based on performance in both camp and the preseason. Hercules is going to be intriguing one of the bunch as a 250-pound three-technique who is explosive off the ball.
LB (5): Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Eric Wilson, Devante Downs
Pretty standard here. The Vikings will only keep 5 because they will use Jayron Kearse as the big nickel backer quite frequently.
CB (5): Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd, Holton Hill (Suspended List)
Bene Benwikere was just signed and could easily make the list, but I think they will keep seventh-round pick Kris Boyd, who is a really good player but had some consistency issues at Texas. With Hill Suspended for the first 8 games, it gives the Vikings the flexibility to keep a guy like Boyd.
SAF (4): Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, Marcus Epps
The top three are locks, with Marcus Epps getting the last spot. With the current depth on the roster, I think they will lean towards keeping the sixth-round pick.
ST (3): Dan Bailey, Matt Wile, Austin Cutting
With no competition for the kicker and punter spots, the only real question is the long snapper. With Austin Cutting being a seventh-round pick, he will get the nod over long-time snapper and resident tough guy Kevin McDermott.
2019 OutlookEmbed from Getty Images
At the end of the day, this is a make or break year for the entire organization. While Rick Spielman is a top-five general manager and Mike Zimmer is a well-respected head coach if they underperform again, the coaching staff and front office could be overhauled. However, I don’t think that will be necessary, as installing Gary Kubiak’s offense will be the perfect remedy to Kirk Cousins and the offense’s inconsistency. While they perhaps are the biggest wild card of any team in the National Football League, I believe they will be consistent enough to, not only win the division but be a Super Bowl contender.
Season Prediction: 12-4. Division Title and Possible Super Bowl Birth
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