Vikings Territory staffer Drew Mahowald introduces his weekly, brand-new segment for the 2017 season — The Skol Scale.
It’s so strange rooting for the Minnesota Vikings. It’s kind of like a roller-coaster ride with all kinds of ups, downs, turns, jerks, and twists. Just when it looks like nothing but sunny skies ahead, the ride suddenly steers you the opposite way in the blink of an eye.
Few examples of this phenomenon are better than the 2016 season. A blazing 5-0 start had the Vikings atop all significant NFL categories. They looked like a Super Bowl team, and it’s only normal that the Purple and Gold faithful started to behave like it.
Then, every offensive lineman and his dog tore an ACL and the rest is history. The Vikings limped their way to a deflating 8-8 record and left their fans with mixed emotions heading into 2017.
Was the 5-0 start legitimate, or was it a fluke? Did Minnesota add enough ammo to its offensive line in the offseason? How much of an impact will key departures such as Cordarrelle Patterson and Captain Munnerlyn have on the team?
At some point between the end of the 2016 season and now, you’ve probably asked yourself: How optimistic should I feel about the Vikings in 2017?
Now you have your answer — The Skol Scale.
It’s easy. The Skol Scale is a device with a scale from 1-10 that measures the level of optimism Vikings fans should feel on a week-to-week basis. The device takes into account all things pertaining to the team, from injuries to recent performances and upcoming opponents.
The device will weigh the good and the bad over the course of each week. Then, it will calculate a number on the 1-10 scale, with half numbers also a possible result.
The device’s first calculation will provide fans with a preliminary optimism measuremeunt before training camp kicks off in the next couple of weeks.
The Skol Scale has picked up on several positive factors weighing into its first measurement. They include:
- An improved offensive line: The additions of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency alleviate many worries at the offensive tackle positions. While neither will be mistaken for an impenetrable wall, they are each significant upgrades over TJ Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles, the team’s starting offensive tackles for much of last season. Additionally, third-round draft choice Pat Elflein figures to slide into the starting center role. Elflein was considered one of the most pro-ready linemen in the entire 2017 class and provides yet another upgrade along the offensive line.
- A stronger rushing attack: The Vikings made all kinds of moves to improve their league-worst rushing attack from the 2016 season. Both Reiff and Remmers are mauler-type linemen that should bolster the run game. Meanwhile, newly-acquired running back Latavius Murray found the end zone 12 times with the Raiders in 2016 and projects to be, at the very least, an enhanced version of Matt Asiata. Minnesota also spent a second-round draft pick on possibly the most talented running back in the 2017 draft class in Dalvin Cook. Between Murray, Cook and returning fourth-year man Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings have the ammo to vault upward from the cellar of NFL rushing ranks.
- A full offseason for Sam Bradford and Pat Shurmur: Journeyman starting quarterback Sam Bradford was thrown into the wildfire without a fire suit last season and managed to come away with only a few minor burns. In total, Bradford worked with three different offensive coordinators and still performed, at worst, at a league-average standard among starting quarterbacks. Instead of a couple of weeks to prepare and get acquainted with new teammates, Bradford has an entire offseason and training camp to build on the chemistry he has already built with his receivers. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will get the entire offseason period to input his offensive scheme, instead of the week-by-week transition project he oversaw in the middle of the 2016 season.
The Skol Scale has also included a few negative factors into its first measurement. They are:
- The departure of Captain Munnerlyn: The slot/nickel cornerback role is a vital piece in the complex Mike Zimmer defensive scheme. Minnesota spent two-thirds of its defensive snaps in a nickel package, which meant whoever filled that slot cornerback role had a tall task each week. Veteran Captain Munnerlyn spent three seasons there with a clean slate. Rarely was he the culprit of a big play by the offense. The Vikings must now replace his production prior to kickoff of the 2017 season. Will they trust second-year player Mackensie Alexander? One would think he has plenty to prove in Mankato come training camp.
- The weak-side linebacker spot: Chad Greenway’s retirement opened up a sizable hole at the starting weak linebacker spot. The Vikings rarely have three linebackers on the field at the same time, but opposing tight ends drilled Minnesota’s linebackers in coverage last season on a weekly basis. Nobody on the roster has shown starting-caliber play yet, and one of Emmanuel Lamur, Edmond Robinson, Elijah Lee or Ben Gedeon better do so before September 11.
- The run defense: For as much destruction as Minnesota’s defense has wreaked on offenses over the past couple of seasons, it has shown vulnerability — particularly on the ground. The Vikings allowed 4.2 yards per carry in 2016, good for just 16th in the NFL. In total, the Vikings surrendered 1,711 rushing yards last season, which was 19th in the NFL. Jaleel Johnson and Will Sutton both add a run-stopping presence to the defensive line. Is one of them the missing piece to vault the Vikings into the Top 10 in the run defense ranks?
The Skol Scale figure: 6.5
The device decided that its positive factors carry slightly more weight than its negative factors. The Vikings defense was mostly dominant throughout the 2016 season, despite the disappointing 8-8 mark. Minor issues in that stout group do not affect the device’s measurement all that much.
However, according to the device, the Vikings’ fate will ultimately be decided by the level of improvement shown by the offensive line and the ground game. A full offseason for Bradford and Shurmur should definitely help those issues, but how well the new acquisitions can perform from Week 1 will decide how much the Vikings compete in 2017.
And based on the additions made by general manager Rick Spielman to address those concerns, the Purple and Gold faithful have reason for cautious optimism. For now.