Drew Mahowald presents the 15th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ impressive Thanksgiving win over the Detroit Lions.
Undrafted NFL prospects aren’t supposed to be stars. They’re not even supposed to be starters. NFL prospects that go undrafted are supposed to work like heck to find a spot on a practice squad and enjoy a fine career riding the bottom of multiple NFL teams’ depth charts.
There’s something different about undrafted players that the Minnesota Vikings acquire, though. It’s as if the chip on their shoulders doubles in size. They’re like Michael Scott in his eternal pursuit of the love of his life, Holly Flax, on The Office (this is an absurd analogy, but please give it a chance). It didn’t matter how many people told him it wouldn’t happen or how many people tell him he isn’t good enough, Michael refused to let his dream die. Several opportunities to connect with Holly failed, and management even relocated Holly to keep them apart. Holly was even engaged to another man. But Michael is an undrafted success story. He kept grasping at chances to prove himself and finally snatched one — and never let it go. The rest is history.
The 2017 Vikings are full of Michael Scotts. It’s remarkable how many key roles are being filled by undrafted players on a team that currently owns the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Case Keenum and Adam Thielen, both undrafted players, are leading one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. C.J. Ham is busting open holes for a two-headed monster ground attack that has actually gotten better since the loss of Dalvin Cook. The revamped offensive line includes a trio of undrafted players in Nick Easton, Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill that has anchored Minnesota’s high-powered offensive line throughout the season.
Mike Zimmer’s vaunted defense has also received key contributions from undrafted players. Three-tech defensive tackle Tom Johnson has started each game and recorded two sacks this season. The safety position opposite Harrison Smith has been filled exceptionally by an undrafted player all season long, whether it be Andrew Sendejo or Anthony Harris. On special teams, Marcus Sherels has established himself as one of the most reliable punt return men in the game as an undrafted Minnesota Golden Gopher.
The Vikings aren’t just dominating week in and week out. They’re dominating week in and week out with six undrafted starters, including the quarterback and an All-Pro caliber receiver.
Minnesota is getting ridiculous production from players who aren’t supposed to be in the NFL. It speaks volumes about not just the men that have proved hundreds of thousands of doubters wrong, but also the Minnesota Vikings organization. There’s something special about this team that brings out the Michael Scott in so many undrafted players. I won’t pretend to know what it is. But it’s there. And it’s awesome.
Now onto this week’s Skol Scale.
Strong Case: That man Case Keenum continues to light it up. He has been simply phenomenal since the bye week, leading the Vikings to 38, 24 and 30 points against very respectable defenses. All season long, I’ve been on the “Keenum is the same quarterback he’s always been, he’s just in a better situation now” train. And while I’m still on that hill, Keenum’s accuracy has been dynamite since the bye week. I mean, for heavens sake, look at this touchdown toss to Kyle Rudolph.
♫ somebody bring me back some money please ♫ pic.twitter.com/2aA5CphkYL
— BJ Reidell (@RobertReidell) November 26, 2017
Barr None: Anthony Barr raised concerns throughout the 2016 season and many wondered if he would return to 2015 form. Well, he hasn’t returned to 2015 form. He has surpassed 2015 form. He’s better.
According to BJ Reidell’s coverage chart database, Barr is surrendering just 5.4 yards per attempt in his coverage this season. His range, instincts and sure tackling have allowed him to keep would-be big gains to minimal yardage. Watch Anthony Barr in Brian Baldinger’s breakdown below.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 27, 2017
Defensive Player of the Year?: Everson Griffen had quite a Thanksgiving celebration. He watched the birth of his third son, Sebastian Griffen, on FaceTime prior to kickoff. Then he gobbled up a routine pair of sacks on talented left tackle Taylor Decker to lead the Vikings defense to a win.
Kicking Game: That’s two weeks in a row now that the kicking game has raised concerns. Kai Forbath missed two field goal attempts against the Rams in Week 11. On Thanksgiving, Forbath and the kicking game dropped the ball on both an extra point and a field goal attempt. These kinks need to be fixed before a playoff run.
Rhodes Open: Xavier Rhodes had his worst game of the season on Thanksgiving matched up with Marvin Jones. Via BJ’s coverage chart database linked above, Rhodes allowed seven receptions on 11 targets for over 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sure, he came up with the game-ending interception — a sign of a player that has a fantastic mindset — but he is a large part of the reason the Lions were able to make that game close. Next up: Julio Jones.
Power Rankings: Power rankings are awful, this isn’t news. But ESPN’s power rankings this week are especially awful. Minnesota is ranked fifth, two spots behind the Los Angeles Rams. The Vikings literally destroyed the Rams not even two weeks ago. It’s pretty funny how much disrespect the Vikings get from national media. But hey, that’s fine, the Vikings don’t need national respect to keep winning.
The Skol Scale Figure: 9.5
This win was a mighty important one. It all but concludes the race for the NFC North and hands the Vikings at least one home playoff game come January, and that’s enough to raise the Skol Scale a half-point. Detroit’s remaining schedule is a cake walk and the Lions can legitimately run the table. Gaining a three-game lead plus a tiebreaker nearly puts the division away.
Minnesota can now turn its attention to the top two seeds in the NFC and earn a first-round bye. The Vikings currently have a firm grasp on that position, but road games at Atlanta (7-4) and at Carolina (8-3) stand in their way. Needless to say, both games will go a long way to determining the NFC playoff picture.
The Falcons are one of the most puzzling teams in the NFL this season. Outside of an uncharacteristic three-week stretch, Atlanta has been absolutely dominant and looked like the NFC champions from 2016. Earning a win at the Falcons’ brand new shiny stadium may be the Vikings’ most daunting task of the season so far.
We know the Vikings are good. We know the Vikings are dominant at home. But can they go on the road against dominant teams and win? We’ll find out the next two weeks, starting with Sunday’s matchup against the Falcons.
More Skol Scale Figures
I was going to give them an 8 but the refs took it and gave it to the Lions.
— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) November 29, 2017
10. Ready to get hurt
— Luke Braun (@spokenflow22) November 29, 2017
18. Because that is the number you get when 29 cancels out 11. I also have a brilliant theory for the outcome. The Falcons driving late to set up a game winning field goal. The announcers mention 1999 AND ATLANTA MISSES THE KICK WIDE LEFT!
Vikings 24, Falcons 23
— Seth Toupal (@sethtoups) November 29, 2017
9. This team is the second best I've seen. Better than 2009. 98 was silly. Both teams should have easily gone to super bowl. As should this team. Clearly played a tougher schedule than Philly with much more dominant wins overall. Atlanta will need some luck Sunday
— jack neuman (@jackviking) November 29, 2017
9. We are (probably) the only contender *not* an injury at QB away from completely falling apart. Our D is an absolute force to be reckoned with. The offensive line is hitting on all cylinders. Diggs and Thielen are legitimate stars.
— MB (@matty_b_MPLS) November 29, 2017
Be sure to tune in to Episode 138 of the About the Labor podcast!