The Vikings: I’m Guardedly Optimistic

So the 2015 draft is over. The bulk of the pre-camp free agency seems to be over. We had another solid draft, we scored some interesting talent in free agency (Mike Wallace, Terrence Newman), and Adrian Peterson is still with the team. Combine those items with a defense that jumped from near-last in the league to 10th, and a young QB who was 2014 Rookie of the Year, and I think we’ve got an interesting season lined up.

What Could Go Wrong on Offense?

I think there’s three things (outside of the usual injury concerns) that could cause the whole season to go completely tits-up at this point.

1. Adrian Peterson loses his fucking mind…like in a way that makes the Twitter screed of late May 2015 look like a footnote in the long and storied history of Crazytown. He’s saddled with a fucking nutjob of an agent. Dogra talks Adrian into sitting out without pay. The emotional and operational turmoil caused by this completely derails the Vikings offense. And regardless of the quality of our coaching staff, this team would crumple.

2. Bridgewater plateaus or regresses. I don’t see this happening, honestly, but with every quarterback, their sophomore season should be cause for concerns. Last year, Teddy showed us some interesting stuff, especially down the stretch into the offseason. A sophomore season tends to be the marker for a QB’s career. A shitty first season happens (see also: Peyton Manning, others), but if the second season is equally shitty or worse, a QB is unlikely to be a long-term solution in the NFL.1

3. Matt Kalil shits the bed. This I can see as being more of a possibility than the two items above. After last season, in which he was horrific, and the season before in which he was mediocre, I can see Matt taking a big ol’ steaming dump on grandma’s heirloom comforter with a big Eeyore shrug…just before he locks those dopey ol’ eyes on you and says, “I’m only here by virtue of the depth chart. Oh bother.” Kalil doesn’t show up and Teddy is going to shitting through a second, freshly-torn asshole all season.

What Could Go Right on Offense?

1. Kyle Rudolph stays healthy. Based on his history, this doesn’t seem to be the most likely of outcomes. If Rudolph stays healthy, that’s a nice outlet valve for Teddy to dump off to, or to help pick up the blitz. Hey wait. Can we sub Rudolph for Kalil? Because Kyle can block yo.

2. Teddy continues to grow. This is, I think, the big question mark. Are we going to see the Teddy as he was a the end of last season, where he was frequently sharp, not making the same mistakes over and over, and was clearly advancing in skill from week to week? I think so. I think that with his accolades, he’s probably ready to step it up even further. Is there a possibility he sat around on his ass in the offseason? Sure. But I doubt it.

3. Our wide receiving corps thrives with AP back in the game. I think this is the most-probably of all the potential situations. With AP and Mike Wallace, you’ve already occupied two cheating safeties — one over the top for Wallace and one in the box for AP. Leave one of those guys in single coverage and it’s fucking game over. I’m thinking Charles Johnson is going to be a revelation this year, and that Patterson is going to bounce back from his sophomore slump. Who’re WR5 and WR6? I think Adam Thielen (also a good special teams guy) and Jarius Wright end up in the final group. And if the ball is getting passed around a lot, I expect to see two 1000-yard receivers this year.

What Could Go Wrong on Defense?

Honestly, with the way Coach Zimmerman overhauled our defense last year, I think that it’s likely that there’s only a few things that could hinder their performance.

1. Trae Waynes isn’t ready on Day One. This is a possibility. Cornerback seems to be one of the hardest transitions to make from college to the pros, and while I think Waynes is a good solution in the long-term, he may not be ready to start on Day One. This, actually, doesn’t scare me as much as the next two items do, given that even with last year’s roster, the Vikings ranked 7th overall against the pass.

2. Anthony Barr regresses during his sophomore season. Given Barr’s level of experience this is a possibility, and it would definitely hurt us, but I also don’t think it’ll happen. Coach Zimmerman is a defensive genius and took a 1st-round pick that everyone called an “overreach” and turned him into a fucking monster out there — he ranked 4th in tackles, had 4 sacks, and forced 2 fumbles. Even a slight regression in those stats and we’d be okay.

3. Chad Greenway didn’t hang up his pads earlier. I’ve had concerns about Chad for the last two seasons. In 2013, he frequently seemed out of position and playing “catch up” on the play as it evolved. In 2014, he had visibly lost a step. Somehow, he still managed to be 3rd on the team in tackles. He’ll be in the starting lineup again this year, and I’m terrified that he’s going to be the band-aid that’s just barely hanging onto your skin because you were dumb enough to leave it on forever. And the festering wound under there is a gaping hole in our LB depth chart. (Christ what a shitty analogy.)

What Could Go Right on Defense?

The defense is where I see the most opportunity for the Vikings to improve — last year they jumped from 28th against the pass to 7th, and they stayed at 14th against the run. That’s nothing to scoff at. I can see this team improving in both categories if everything goes right.

1. The UCLA Tandem goes nuclear. In the draft, the Vikings snagged Eric Kendricks (UCLA, ILB) in the second round, and it was a great grab. He and Barr are close friends and spent a lot of time together at UCLA. If Kendricks benefits from Barr’s tutoring along with the coaching, having these two on the field at the same time could absolutely stifle running defenses. If this happens, holy shit.

2. Brian Robison surges and Everson Griffin benefits. Robison has always been something of a bit player — he’s not flashy, he’s not a monster, he gets a few sacks per season. When we had the riches of Griffin and Jared Allen, Robison was a great guy to have come off the bench to disrupt things. It’d be nice to see Robison start performing like his 2012-2013 seasons where he was knocking on the door of double-digit sacks. I’m not sure that’s possible, though. However, with the Vikings having drafted another raw, unpolished player in Danielle Hunter (LSU) who is a monster athlete, I think there’s some possibilities in the DE equation.

3. Trae Waynes is ready to go. If we have Waynes kicking ass alongside Rhodes at the corners and Harrison Smith having his usual awesome season, I think our defensive backfield is going to get us into the top 5 in passing defense. If that comes to pass and our defensive ends are killing it, we could easily make the top three in pass defense.

Overall, What I Think Happens

For starters, Vegas has us at 7½ wins for the season. I find that somewhat laughable, considering where the Bears are on defense and how the Lions seem to be losing every star they’ve drafted (same as always). I think the Vikings are solidly a nine-win team, and maybe more if some magic happens. That’s the record. But how does it all shake out?

The Vikings offense is going to be fucking scary this year, even if Bridgewater performs at the same level and doesn’t improve. I fully expect Adrian Peterson to be running with a gigantic chip on his shoulder, which means opposing defenses are going to have to dump at least one safety in the box on run support, and if Mike Wallace is having a monster season, they have to think about covering him over the top with a safety. Having them both on the field is going to really expose the weaknesses in the opposing defense, and that’s when Patterson, Wright and Johnson can shine. Where it all hangs together is on the offensive line. Can we make it work? Maybe.

I see AP running hard, Mike Wallace proving he was no fluke, and Bridgewater improving over his rookie campaign (though by how much, I can’t say). Where I worry is the offensive line. We’ve been so porous for so long and haven’t really had any big-name signings that I can remember, that I don’t see things improving a ton this year. Unless Kalil’s double knee surgery took and he somehow finds his mean streak/spine again.

On the defensive side of the ball, I’m guessing that Waynes is going to start, but will be a slightly above-average CB his first season. And I think that Barr and Kendricks are going to feed off one another, which will be offset by Chad Greenway operating slowly enough where he’ll find the bench mid-season, which is a really sad way to go out. I think Griffin has a 12-15 sack season, given that our defensive backs are going to be laying good coverage on opposing receivers. I think at years’ end we sit at 4th overall in pass defense, and we move up from 14th to about 10th in run defense.

So yeah. Definitely a nine-win team, should we not lose any of a key contributors. If things really turn the right way, maybe ten wins.

Footnotes:

  1. I don’t have solid data on this, it’s just a hunch. Further, I don’t have access to a good NFL stats repository. Someone want to delve into this?