5 Questions Heading into Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Ahhhh, can you smell it? Football is in the air and NFL training camps are already beginning. The Minnesota Vikings training camp recently began by bringing in their new rookies on Monday, July 24th, while the everyone else joined a couple days later. The Vikings have some new faces on both offense and defense, so we will be looking into positional battles that might happen in training camp this year. The Vikings will be looking to redeem their 2016 collapse after starting 6-0 at the beginning of the season. Camp battles will be fierce, and every spot on the final roster will need to be earned. That being said, let’s take a look at 5 questions about the Vikings heading into camp.
1. How will Dalvin Cook change the look of the Offense?
Since Adrian Peterson injured his meniscus last season, the Vikings run game has been a shadow of what it once was. The tandem of plodder Matt Asiata and pass-catcher Jerrick McKinnon couldn’t really get much going. The Vikings also suffered massive offensive line injuries last season, but we’ll talk about them next. It wasn’t a pretty sight for a Vikings fan like myself. Enter this guy…
Dalvin Cook, RB FSU. Dalvin is known for being a versatile runningback with insane playmaking ability. The Vikings traded up 7 spots in the early 2nd round of the 2017 NFL draft to snag this kid. They really like his potential.
So where does that leave the backfield? Well first things first, the Vikings are now operating under new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur. Shurmur put Norv Turner’s game plan back in the antique shop where it belongs and transitioned the team into a West Coast style offense. Latavius Murray also signed with the Vikings this offseason as a free agent and looks to be the short yardage and goal line back. That being said, I expect Dalvin Cook to receive the majority of the touches in this backfield. Last year McKinnon had 35 receptions since Shurmur took over for the remaining 9 games of the season. That’s a 62 reception pace for an entire season. And since McKinnon is firmly in the backseat behind Cook, expect a serious amount of passes coming from 2016’s most accurate passer, Sam Bradford. Latavius was also recently placed on Active/PUP list for the beginning of training camp, but he can come off that any time during camp and still play week 1. Watch this backfield, but I expect Cook to be the lead dog here.
2. What is the deal with that Offensive Line?
Ugh. That hurts to watch. Honestly, 2016 was a mess for these guys. The Vikings offensive line unit suffer massive injuries, more than any team by a large margin. They lost Andre Smith, Matt Kalil, Mike Harris, and Jake Long at various points in the season. And on top of that, a few of the remaining guys were out 1-2 games a piece during the season. So the Vikings will have some camp battles for a few positions on the O-line this summer. Newcomers Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers are both experienced NFL linemen and the Vikings also invested a 3rd round pick into C/G Pat Elflein. As of right now, the line looks like this:
- LT: Reiff
- LG: Boone
- C: Elflein
- RG: Berger
- RT: Remmers
Which at face value doesn’t look like a half bad O-line. Young guys like Jerimiah Sirles (RG) and Nick Easton (C) might be able to push the leaders at their position as well. During the craziness that was the 2016 Vikings O-line, these guys actually showed promise. Also, 5th round pick Danny Isidora will work behind Boone at LG and TJ Clemmings has made an appropriate position shift from LT to RG. So it seems like the Vikings have bolstered their line some as insurance against future injuries. The Vikings offensive line improved greatly from last season and should foster a fantasy-relevant RB just fine.
3. Target Shares and Possible Emergence of Treadwell?
The Vikings receiver corps is a decent one, but it remains difficult to predict. Last season Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph were the top three targets for Sam Bradford (112, 92 and 132 targets, respectively). However, none of them were 1000 yard receivers and Rudolph was the team leader for receiving TDs with 7. Not much to get excited about. So that leads us to the 2017 season. Many people are still holding out hope that first round caliber talent Laquon Treadwell will emerge on this offense. In order for this to happen, there’s gonna need to be more targets. And as luck would have it, Bradford averaged 5.4 more passing attempts per game under new OC Pat Shurmur. So bringing a 4th fantasy “relevant” wide receiver into the fold might have some merit.
Other guys that are fighting for that role are Michael Floyd (will serve a four game suspension for Arizona DUI), Jarius Wright, rookie Rodney Adams (who will likely play special teams), and an outside shot for UDFA Cayleb Jones and German sensation Moritz Böhringer. Though the last two guys are still long shots.
Bottom line here is that the receiving corps is essentially the same as 2016, but giving Sam Bradford an entire offseason to build rapport with his receivers gives me hope. Partner that with a new OC who throws more and we could see Treadwell garner somewhere around 75-80 targets this year.
4. Speaking of Quarterback, Where is Teddy?!
It’s looking like it’s going to be one more year of Bradford, not that that’s a bad thing. Sam Bradford was the NFL’s most accurate passer in 2016. And they weren’t all dink-n-dunk style passes either. Yes, the Vikings passing game was mostly short yardage, but Bradford was able to maintain his accuracy in throws that were 20+ yards. His completion percentage in that range was 59.1%, good for third place in the NFL. Provided the re-worked offensive line gives him more time to throw the ball, we should see that long ball in action more often this season.
As for Teddy Bridgewater, there have been reports that he will open up training camp on the Active/PUP list. This was expected, but the question remains will he play at all in the 2017 season? Odds are likely not. There is a clause in all rookie contracts that if they are on the PUP for an entire season, then their contract tolls one year past. This means that the Vikings could basically save the fourth year of his contract for next year. The Vikings have already declined the fifth-year option on Teddy’s contract. This is because that option is fully guaranteed for injury, and could cost the Vikings millions of dollars if Teddy can’t play next year either.
So as for this coming season, Sam Bradford is the man. Next offseason, on the other hand, will be an interesting one as the Vikings will need to make a choice between the two quarterbacks.
5. Will the Defense Return to Form?
The Vikings defense was the #1 scoring fantasy defense in most scoring formats last season. However, late in the 2016 season they showed some inconsistent play and let some people down during their fantasy playoffs. Right now the Vikings ADP has them as the 7th DST off the board and in my (slightly homer) eyes is madness. This defense is every bit as good as last season and has some talented young guys ready to grow into a powerhouse Zimmer defense. Solid players like Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and many more are all returning to this defensive squad. Up-and-coming potential superstar Danielle Hunter will likely usurp Brian Robison completely as the left-side defensive end. Hunter has accumulated 18.5 sacks in his two years in the NFL, 12.5 of which came last year despite playing at a 57.8% snap count rate. That is absolutely absurd. Hunter will cement his role on the defense in training camp and will be a bonafide starter at DE this coming season. The rest of that defensive line is no joke either. They had 41 sacks last year, which is good for 5th best in the league.
One interesting position to keep an eye on is the linebacker situation. Chad Greenway retired and that leaves a gap at the weak-side linebacker role. Emmanuel Lamur is will likely open camp filling that role, but there are a number of talented guys like Edmond Robinson, Kentrell Brothers and Elijah Lee who will all push Lamur for the job. I expect a bit of a carousel during pre-season, so keep an eye on who does well there.
For more updates news, notes, and analysis on the Patriots training camp, check out http://Vikings.com and follow the TFA team writers as they break down the above issues and many others.