Tuesday, July 26, 2016

adrian peterson

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Vikings 2016 Offseason Plan Part 1

[In part one of this three-part series, Austin Belisle and Brett Anderson team up to put together an in-depth offseason plan for the Minnesota Vikings.]

Blair Walsh lined up to kick a 27-yard field goal, a routine chip shot that would’ve won the Minnesota Vikings their first playoff game in nearly seven years. But the ball didn’t sail through the uprights; it veered left, and just like that, the team’s promising 2015 season was over. Visions of Mike Zimmer hoisting the Lombardi Trophy faded from memory as an exasperated fan base watched in disbelief. “How could he miss that kick?”

Lost in the heartbreak was the fact that the Vikings didn’t just exceed expectations in 2015 — they shattered them. Minnesota entered the year as a darkhorse playoff contender, a young team that flashed promise in 2014 and would only get better with the return of Adrian Peterson. They did, winning 11 games and snatching the NFC North title from the Green Bay Packers for the first time since 2009. With a mix of young talent and veteran leadership, the Vikings emerged as one of the league’s surprise teams last year.

Their success started in the offseason, where general manager Rick Spielman assembled one of the NFL’s deepest, most talented rosters. Rookies like Eric Kendricks and Stefon Diggs became immediate contributors, while second-year free agent acquisitions like Captain Munnerlyn and Linval Joseph elevated their respective games to new levels. In order to take the next step in 2016, the franchise will need to continue its steadfast approach in free agency and the annual NFL Draft.

But in order to do that, it’s critical the team establishes a clear vision. Every organization’s ultimate goal is the same — to claim a Super Bowl victory. Some, like the Vikings, may be closer than others like the Cleveland Browns or Tennessee Titans. Regardless, each begins a new season with a 0-0 record. It’s the path they take that separates them.

Bad first round picks for the Vikings
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The first round of the NFL Draft is a marquee of top prospects and college football’s best players. Over the past five years, the Minnesota Vikings have taken advantage of the talent pool, selecting nine players in the first round since 2011. And while most of those picks have been successful for general manager Rick Spielman, some failed to pan out. Names like Christian Ponder and Cordarrelle Patterson come to mind, if only because the price Spielman paid doesn’t match the return on investment.

Ponder was the 12th-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, while Patterson went 29th-overall in 2013 behind a trade that sent four Vikings draft picks to the New England Patriots. Minnesota can’t afford to make a similar mistake this year, especially when tantalizing names like Jaylon Smith and Josh Doctson may be available when the Vikings select 23rd-overall. But other, more trendy players may fall; players the Vikings shouldn’t draft in the first round. Who are they? Well, I asked the VT Team, and the answers may surprise you!

Who is one player you DO NOT want the Vikings to draft in the first round?

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Second only to the NFL Draft, the first week of the league’s free agency period is one of the most exciting parts of the NFL offseason each and every year. Sometimes it works out and other times it does not for a team and their expensive new player or players.

It is always fun for fans to hope that their team goes out and signs the top available free agents, but that is not always the best strategy for their favorite team. Some fans need to be more realistic when it comes to who they think their team could sign.

When the free agency period for this upcoming NFL year begins on March 9th, there will be a few players that could land with the Vikings. Who are some of the more realistic options in free agency that could fit with the team in Minnesota?

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Too much Peterson, not enough Bridgewater early

Vikings offense is predictable
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Starting fast in the NFL isn’t a new concept. Listen to players and coaches after games, and they’re likely to talk about “starting fast” and “finishing strong.” The idea is tried-and-true, and so are the results. According to Football Insiders, 83 percent of NFL teams that began the season 4-0 have gone on to make the playoffs since 1983.

On a macro level, it’s important to win multiple games early in the year. Not only does it cushion against later slumps, but helps teams gain an advantage on divisional opponents at the end of the season. The Minnesota Vikings enjoyed such success, winning seven of their first nine games in 2015. Although they lost three of their next four, Mike Zimmer’s team sat comfortably in the NFC playoff race because of the favorable win-loss differential.

But on a smaller scale, how did the Vikings start each of their 16 regular season games? Did they run the football with Adrian Peterson? Or, did offensive coordinator Norv Turner allow second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to get into a rhythm early? The first play of every game doesn’t necessarily reflect that contest’s outcome, but on a team with one of the league’s most predictable, run-heavy offenses, it’s intriguing to analyze the trends.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In what could just be one of many rumors to come out of Winter Park before the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Vikings are apparently interested in drafting former Alabama running back Derrick Henry. The info comes from Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com and he says Minnesota potentially feels that Henry could be their guy if he ends up still being available when the Vikings are on the clock with the 23rd overall pick.

The 6’3″, 242 pound Henry rushed for a total of 2,219 yards and scored 28 touchdowns for Alabama in 2015. These totals eventually lead to Henry being awarded with this season’s Heisman Trophy.

He has been projected by draft scouts to be selected as a late first or early second round pick. However, Henry was not included in the latest first round mock drafts compiled by USA Today, Draft Season, Draft Tek, or Bleacher Report.

While the selection of Henry by Minnesota would not be a horrible choice, it would come with a bit of surprise. Given that the Vikings are also the same team that the 2015 NFL rushing champion calls home.

If Henry were to be drafted by Minnesota, Adrian Peterson’s days as the Vikings’s running back could be coming to an end sooner than later. However, it could create a unique opportunity for Henry to come in as a rookie and learn from Peterson if both running backs end up becoming teammates next season.

With Peterson and Jerick McKinnon currently under contract for next season, Minnesota is not in dire need to draft a running back with one of their early round selections. It may be a better option for the Vikings to wait another year and use one of their draft picks in 2017 to find a replacement for Peterson.

Will Minnesota and general manager Rick Spielman make the splashy move and snag Henry if he is still on the board when it is their turn to draft? Now remember, this is the same guy who traded back into the first round in 2013 to select Cordarrelle Patterson so anything is possible.

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