As Vikings fans and writers we sometimes fall victim to the echo and hive-mindedness that comes with only/mostly working with other fans of the Vikings, reading articles written by Vikings writers and so on. While that does give us great insight into the team itself and the zeitgeist that surrounds it, it’s sometimes nice to take a step back and see what others who aren’t inherently biased (at least towards the purple) think about our favorite team.
With that in mind, we’ve tasked some national sports writers to chime in from time to time about what they think about the Vikings and their chances this upcoming season. So, let’s take a look as to what our second ‘Views from the Outside’ author thinks about the 2019 season and the Vikings chances!
The Vikings can look back optimistically on a decent season. They finished the 2018 season second in NFC North, with a record of eight wins, seven losses and a frustrating tie against their arch enemies the Packers. The season was a gigantic let down after a 13-3 year and a massive investment in the quarterback position. So, there’s obviously room for improvement in 2019, more so in the results than the roster as the Vikings objectively have one of the most top-to-bottom stacked rosters in the entirety of the NFL.
In fact, it’s that roster that make some believe that the Vikings are a dark horse candidate to make a Super Bowl run in 2019, even with the bad taste that 2018 left still being fresh in the minds and mouths of many that follow the NFL for a living. While 2018 was a let down there were flashes of brilliance from time to time, namely in regards to the early season chemistry between new (at the time) quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Adam Thielen. Beyond their record breaking start to the 2018 season, both Cousins and Thielen delighted anyone who selected them on their fantasy football team, earning 19.7 and 21 fantasy points per game respectively. Both played 16 games as well. The idea of Cousins having a new (and improved system) and an entire season/off-season to build more chemistry with Thielen and his BFF Stefon Diggs, has to be very exciting for Vikings fans.
Beyond Cousins and Thielen, below are three players that will play a crucial part in the team’s fortunes:
Young running back Dalvin Cook is injury prone. The 2017 NFL draftee and Florida State University standout has missed 17 games in the first two seasons of his professional career.— But, when Cook is healthy he’s a frightening prospect. Last season, he only started in 10 games, and was still able to catch 40 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. Just think what he might be able to do if starts every game for the Vikings? Especially considering the assumed improvements to the run game after the Vikings (finally) invested some high picks on interior offensive lineman and essentially completely overhauled the position.
Despite being dogged by injury, Cook looks reasonably solid. He holds an average of 9.5 yards after the catch in his first two seasons, which ties eleventh among the 87 backs who have targets of 25 or more in the last two years. He also ranks second in forced missed tackles per reception among backs who have 30 receptions or more in 2017 (0.43).
There’s also his actual running game to consider. The Vikings have chosen Kevin Stefanski as their offensive coach this offseason, and Stefanski is likely to want to make more use of Cook. And by Stefanski, we, of course, mean Gary Kubiak (and Rick Dennison). While Stefanski’s appointment late in 2018 (after DeFilippo crashed and burned) did provide a temporary boost to the team’s offensive play, things seemingly fell back to earth, especially when the games really mattered. Still, Stefanski was at least attempting to establish a run game and so it’s not surprising that Cook’s two rushing touchdowns were under him as offensive coordinator.
Stefanski will want to create balance within the offensive play, so fans can expect to see a lot more touchdowns from Cook especially when you throw in the combination of Gary Kubiak and his run-game guru in Rick Dennison (who have turned far less talented offenses fortunes around in a single off-season before). With that in mind, it’s not hard to see why people are looking at Cook as a potential NFL rushing leader in 2019.
Drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, tight end Kyle Rudolph has just extended his contract with the Vikings. The club pulled out all the stops to retain the veteran, and, according to him, this ‘embodies the all-in mentality’ of the club. They want to go out there and win.
The fact is, the Vikings have big plans offensively and they can’t achieve them without Rudolph. The use of more than one tight end — the other being 2019 draftee Irv. Smith Jr — makes it much harder for teams to defend against the Vikings’ offense. The two players work as a unit; you can’t have one without the other. Fans will be watching to see if the money was well spent — and if Irv. Smith Jr can handle the pressure that Rudolph’s extension places on him.
And it’s a lot of pressure. Rudolph has been consistent throughout his career and has excelled where it counts: late down and red zone receptions. He had his best season on late downs in 2018 and produced a passer rating of 124.8 when targeted. Last season, he also had a superb catch rate of 84.2% and a single drop. Over the last three seasons, he has produced a passer rating of 111.9 when targeted in the red zone. It’s this kind of reliability which has made him so valuable to the Vikings.
This year, the Vikings drafted Garret Bradbury to improve their offensive line and their offense as a whole. Normally, the club/Mike Zimmer doesn’t involve rookies as heavily in the first team for a couple of seasons while they learn the ropes, but the Vikings are taking a different approach with Bradbury. They have named him as their starting center, so he’ll be seeing plenty of regular season action and will be expected to adapt to the team’s playstyle on the fly.
Bradbury is agile and has experience starting at left guard and center, so he can fit into multiple roles in the offensive line as well. This versatility and experience will allow him to concentrate on being the best center he can be. He’s no stranger to blocking and helped the North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Reggie Gallaspy II rush for 1,091 yards and 18 touches last season.
Bradbury also offers superb protection for passers. From more than 900 snaps, he didn’t allow a single sack of quarterback Ryan Findley in 2018. During the regular season, he was guilty of allowing a mere two pressures on 457 pass attempts. He played a major role in an offensive line that enabled Findley to accumulate 3,783 passing yards, and receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers both made it past the 1,000 yards mark with Bradbury on the line. Lining up alongside Bradbury will provide his teammates some serious comfort.
His selection also allowed now former center Pat Elflein to move to left guard, a position he feels more comfortable playing. So, the pick of Bradbury in the first round essentially improved two huge positions of need for the Vikings in one fell swoop. Throw in free agent acquisition Josh Kline or fellow rookie Dru Samia and the interior of the Vikings offensive line is completely different from last season. Which, as anyone who watched the Vikings combo of Tom Compton-Pat Elflein-Mike Remmers knows is easily the most important change this off-season.
The 2019 NFL season is set to be a blinder, with lots to watch out for from the Vikings. In various ways, the club has taken some gambles by taking on players with massive potential, such as Garrett Bradbury and Dalvin Cook, but not quite knowing how they’ll perform during the season; and by extending Kyle Rudolph’s contract, who is a veteran but is getting older. This could be the time for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl and finish first in the NFL North, and these are the players that could deliver for the team and help them to lift the Lombardi trophy and take that top spot.
The pressure is on, and therein lies the excitement. These daring decisions could be just what it takes for the team to achieve greatness in 2019 and I personally feel like the Vikings have as good a shot as any “elite” team to actually do that.