If you’re anything like ESPN, you may have forgotten the Minnesota Vikings are actually the returning NFC North champions from 2015. But the Vikings are indeed champions, and although they may have lost in the first round of the playoffs (in absolutely heartbreaking fashion — don’t click that Vikings fans), they remain one of the biggest threats in the NFC.
To say the Detroit Lions struggled against the Vikings last year would be an understatement. In the first matchup, Matthew Stafford was tossed around by the Minnesota defense, and the second game wasn’t much closer. Can the Lions turn the fortune in their favor this year or are the Vikings destined for something greater? Check out the Daily Norseman’s preview of the 2016 Minnesota Vikings:
2015 record: 11-5, lost to Seahawks in Wild Card Weekend
Matchup with Lions: Week 9 in Minnesota, Week 12 in Detroit (Thanksgiving)
Lines: Week 9: Vikings by 6.5; Week 12: Vikings by 2.5
Last meeting: 28-19 Vikings
Notable free agent additions: G Alex Boone, OT Andre Smith, LB Emmanuel Lamur
Notable free agent departures: WR Mike Wallace (entirely dependent on one’s definition of "notable")
Trades: Did not make any notable trades involving players this offseason; acquired two 2017 draft choices (third-round and conditional fourth-round) from Miami during the 2016 draft
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: WR Laquon Treadwell - All the quibbling about his 40-yard dash time aside, Treadwell projects to be the sort of big-bodied receiver the Vikings have been missing for a very long time. He should immediately become the go-to target for Teddy Bridgewater in the red zone.
CB Mackensie Alexander - Alexander was slotted by many to go in the tail end of Round 1, but the Vikings got him with the 54th pick (second round). He projects as a slot corner in the NFL, and with Captain Munnerlyn playing in a contract year, the Vikings may be anxious to see what they have in the Clemson product. . .or, they could do much the same as they did with last year’s first round pick, Trae Waynes, and give him a season to adjust to the NFL game before throwing him out there.
TE David Morgan - Rhett Ellison, the Vikings’ regular "blocking" tight end, tore his patellar tendon in the regular season finale, and though he’s stated he’ll be ready for Training Camp, there’s a very good chance that he will start the season on the PUP list. That’s where Morgan should come in. The first player from noted football powerhouse Texas-San Antonio to be drafted into the NFL, the Vikings said after the draft that Morgan was the best blocking tight end available in this year’s class. With the Vikings’ love for multiple tight end sets, Morgan could see himself making an early contribution to the Minnesota offense.
Biggest offseason addition: It has to be Boone... or, at least, the Vikings better hope that it’s Boone. He figures to slot in at left guard after Brandon Fusco’s shift from the right side in 2015 turned out to be a disaster. He’s shown the ability to play at a high level, and hopefully he’ll be teaming with Matt Kalil to improve Bridgewater’s blind-side protection and clear holes for the defending NFL rushing champion, Adrian Peterson.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: The competition along the offensive line. The offensive line was the biggest weak spot on the Minnesota roster by a considerable margin in 2015, and with Tony Sparano now coaching the offensive line, the Vikings went out and gave him plenty of able bodies to grade during camp. The Vikings currently have nine offensive lineman on the roster that have each started for a full 16-game season in the NFL (Kalil, Boone, John Sullivan, Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Andre Smith, Mike Harris, T.J. Clemmings), and they also have some young players that they thought highly enough of to trade draft picks and/or players for. Outside of Boone, nobody. . .not even Kalil. . .appears to be guaranteed a starting spot on the offensive line at this point, and hopefully the competition will lead to a much better unit than the team had in 2015.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Adrian Peterson’s role in the offense. Yes, Peterson is still the best pure rusher in the National Football League, but he still has the same limitations in his tenth season that he had when he came into the league in 2007. He can’t run out of the shotgun, he can’t (or won’t) pass block, and he’s not that great a threat as a receiver. Those things place severe limitations on the Vikings offense, making them among the most predictable in the league. The Vikings have a dynamic, athletic young understudy for Peterson in third-year man Jerick McKinnon, and with Peterson due to see an outrageous amount of money in 2017 ($18 million), the Vikings could look to expand McKinnon’s role in the offense to see if the former option quarterback can be the man in the backfield going forward. It would probably be best for the Vikings’ offense if they did.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: A few players that finished last season with nagging injuries, notably linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, were held out of portions of OTAs and minicamp as a precaution. Mike Zimmer said that he fully expects them to be ready for the start of camp. The other significant injury is Ellison’s knee issue that we mentioned earlier, with the tight end likely to start the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform List.