2016 was a very strange year for fans of the Minnesota Vikings, after finishing the 2015 season with an 11-5 record (albeit culminating with an agonising play off defeat to the Seattle Seahawks) hopes were high that the Vikings would carry on in the same vein and get back to the play offs as a minimum. The start could not have been better as the Vikings went 5-0 which included impressive wins against the Green Bay Packers and on the road in Carolina against a Panthers team who had appeared in the previous seasons Super Bowl…
The rest of 2016 did not go well however, as everything that could conceivably go wrong seemed to, which included – injuries to starters right across the already weak offensive line, injury to star running back Adrian Peterson in week 2, poor production from that year’s draft picks and of course season ending injury in training camp to starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. All of these factors contributed to a disappointing season and the Vikings finishing with an 8-8 record, 3rd in the NFC North and out of the play offs.
Minnesota were as good on the defensive side of the ball as they were bad on offense and creating a more balanced football team had to be the main priority for them this off-season and they got to work quickly, signing tackles Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff in free agency to bolster an offensive line which in 2016 was one of the league’s worst, they also added running back Latavius Murray.
The team were never going to take up the $18m option on Adrian Peterson’s contract but the question remained whether he would stay on reduced terms, this was not to be and for the first time since 2006, the Vikings are entering a season where #28 is not the face of the franchise and while his place is secure as one of the teams greatest ever players the move was a much needed one. The last 2 seasons of Peterson’s Vikings career were hampered by his suspension and injury but in addition to running the ball, Pat Shurmur’s Vikings offense would benefit from a more rounded back who is able to drop in to pass protection and also catch the ball out of the backfield – neither of which are particular strengths of Peterson. Other notable players to leave in free agency were Matt Kalil, Captain Munnerlyn and Cordarelle Patterson.
Two notable additions in the 2017 draft were running back Dalvin Cook and center Pat Elflein. Cook should provide the Vikings with the more rounded game out of the backfield talked about earlier, projected to go in the first round Cook slipped into the 2nd, allowing the Vikings to take a first round talent, handy having lost their first round pick in last year’s trade for Sam Bradford. Elflein at center should also prove a great value pick in the 3rd round, allowing the flexibility to move last season’s center Joe Berger to guard.
Fans will be hoping the shake up in the off season will lead the team back to the play offs, they will need to maintain a defensive performance which saw them ranked 3rd in the NFL only allowing 5038 yards which was the 3rd best in the league, only behind Houston and Arizona, while also improving on the poor 5041 total yards achieved by the offense (28th in the NFL.) A lot will depend on a completely new look offensive line and how rookie running back Dalvin Cook can improve a run game which was ranked dead last in the league a year ago. If those things can be addressed even to a point where the Vikings are just average on offense, they will have a big chance to go back to the play offs which would be most fans’ minimum expectations for the team. Indeed if they do not make the play offs in 2017 head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman could find themselves on the hot seat.