Last year the Vikings went 13-3 with the second playoff berth in three seasons, which was their best record since 1998 (15-1). Mike Zimmer will run the franchise for the fifth year. He has a career 39-25 record with two playoff appearances. Over the previous six seasons, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals.
Minnesota finished with the best defense in the NFL in yards allowed and points (252). They allowed 55 fewer points than 2016 (307). George Edwards returns for a fifth year to run the defense. He held the same job title with the Dolphins for a couple of seasons. Overall, Edwards has 18 seasons of NFL experience.
Over the first three years with Zimmer as head coach, Minnesota ranked 28th, 29th, and 27th in offensive yards. Last year the Vikings jumped to 11th in offensive yards and tenth in points scored (382). They scored 45 points more than 2016 (327). John DeFilippo takes over as the offensive coordinator after spending the last two seasons as the quarterback’s coach for the Eagles. DeFilippo has 11 years of coaching experience in the NFL.
The top move in the offseason with the signing of QB Kirk Cousins while releasing QB Sam Bradford, QB Case Keenum, and QB Teddy Bridgewater. Cousins brings plus accuracy to the QB position with a skill set that ranks higher than a game manager. Sam Bradford played the best ball of his career with the Vikings, but a knee injury led to only one full game in 2017. Keenum also had the most success of his career last year for Minnesota, which bolds well for Cousins in 2018.
RB Jerick McKinnon signed with the 49ers after a good season with Minnesota. McKinnon was the top pass-catching RB on the roster last year.
The Vikings WR Kendall Wright for depth at WR while releasing WR Jarius Wright and WR Michael Floyd. Wright has a possession skill set.
G Joe Berger retired. G Nick Easton and G Jeremiah Sirles headed to the free agent pool with G Tom Compton signed with Minnesota. Easton and Sirles struggled in all areas last year. Compton doesn’t project to be a player of value with more risk than reward on his NFL resume.
The only other signing was DT Sheldon Richardson who played at a high level in all five seasons in the NFL. He projects to play well against the run with sack ability. He’ll be another sturdy piece to the Vikings while replacing DT Tim Johnson on the roster.
The only other move was the release of CB Brock Tramaine.
In the first round, Minnesota selected CB Mike Hughes. Despite his shortfall in size (5’10” and 189 lbs.), Hughes plays with a physical style. His best value will come in press coverage while also projecting as an asset in the return game. Mike will have risk in the deep passing game due to his speed (4.53), but his short area quickness gives him an edge early off the line of scrimmage. His next step is an improvement in his technique plus adding more experience to his short career in football.
Minnesota added two offensive linemen in the 2018 NFL Draft – T Brian O’Neill (2nd) and G Colby Gossett (6th).
O’Neill has the base skill set to start at left tackle once he adds more strength to handle power rushers. He’s athletic with more speed (4.82) than quickness. Brian loses his foundation technique at times with questions about his base. His hands need improvement as well. O’Neill works the best in a quick hitting run game.
Gossett brings to the table a power skill set with his best asset being his strength. His range looks limited leading to possible risk early in his career in pass protection. Colby went to a small school (Appalachian St.) pointing to a significant step in competition in the NFL.
The Vikings drafted three players to help the depth of their defense – DE Jalyn Holmes (4th), DE Ade Aruna (6th), and LB Devante Downs (7th).
Holmes has the foundation to be a mover on the interior of a defensive line with some added bulk and strength. His quickness won’t create an edge off the snap while lacking the base technique to earn a full-time job early in his career. For now, a passing down pass rusher with more upside.
The Vikings hope Aruna develops into a pass rushing specialist. He needs to get stronger with improvement in his hands to defeat the best offensive linemen in the league. His first step and initial quickness won’t offer an edge after the snap.
Downs slid in the draft after suffering a knee injury in 2017. He projects as a downhill defender with a good feel for the game. His biggest weakness will be his ability to stay healthy.
Minnesota picked up K Daniel Carlson in the fifth round. He has a big leg with questions about his accuracy.
Their other pick in fifth round went to TE Tyler Conklin. His hands grade well with a chance to offer growth in his route running. Overall, his game doesn’t project high enough to be a factor on all three downs in the Fantasy market.
The Vikings finished 7th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,957) thanks to game score and 31.3 attempts per game. Even with success on the ground, ball carriers gained only 3.9 yards per rush with 15 TDs and 15 runs over 20 yards.
Minnesota had the 11th most passing yards (3,753) with 25 TDs and eight Ints. Their offensive line allowed 27 sacks and 87 QB hits.
LT Riley Reiff signed a massive five-year contract ($58.75 million) in March of 2017 despite being only a league average player for the Lions over the last five years. Detroit selected him in the first round in 2012. Over 15 games last year, Reiff was a liability in all areas leading to his worst season in the NFL.
LG Brian O’Neill may not be ready to be an impact player in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round, but he’s probably better than most of the have-nots currently on the roster. O’Neill might even be better than Riley Reiff who may be pushed to another position in 2018. Either way, Brian should find his way quickly into the Vikings starting lineup where he’ll have the most value against the run. Minnesota hopes he develops into a possible upside option at tackle.
C Pat Elflein is a power player with value in both run and pass blocking. His foot speed does limit his blocking window, but he works hard with a high motor. He struggled in both run and pass blocking last year. Pat has a lot to prove in his sophomore season in the NFL.
RG Danny Isidora will offer the most value in run blocking early in his career until he improves his technique in pass protection. His biggest weakness comes vs. power players while needing to develop a better plan after the snap. Isidora saw minimal playing time in his rookie season after getting drafted in the fifth round.
RT Mike Remmers signed a big contract in 2017 ($30 million for five years), but he failed to be an asset for the second straight season. He’s never been a league average player in his five seasons in the NFL, but he did look closer to league average in 2014 and 2015. Last season he missed five games with a back injury.
The offensive line in Minnesota looks loaded with failure risk, which may lead to a spike in sacks and even fewer yards per rush in 2018. I don’t see one position of strength, which points a bottom tier ranking this year.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Vikings have a neutral schedule for their rushing offense. Their two poor games (PHI and ARI) come over the first third of the season. Over the last ten weeks of the year, each game grades close to the league average. Their best two games look to be in Week 3 and Week 4 vs. the Bills and the Rams.
Minnesota has one favorable game (NE) for their passing offense plus four other games (GB X 2 and DET X 2) that project to be better than the league average. Their toughest two games look to be against the Bears.
The defensive play helped the Vikings have the most offensive plays in the NFL in 2017. They ran the ball 48.8 percent of the time while coming under the league average in passing attempts per game (32.9). Minnesota would like to have a balanced offense while playing well on defense. They have talent at QB and WR, which may lead to a jump in scoring in 2018 if the offensive line can do their job.
QB Kirk Cousins – Over three seasons as a starter for the Redskins, Kirk went 24-23-1 while averaging 4,392 passing yards and 27 passing TDs per year. Cousins adds value with rushing TDs (13 over the last three years) despite minimal upside in rushing yards. He did set career highs in rushing attempts (49) and rushing yards (179) in 2017. In 2015, Kirk led the NFL in completion rate (69.9) with strength in 2016 (67.0). Last year the receiving talent in Washington was a step below his previous season leading to a regression in his completion rate (64.4). Cousins will make plenty of plays downfield, which led to 7.8 yards per pass attempt over the last three seasons. In 2017, Kirk had five games with over 300 yards passing and six games with three TDs. The talent at the receiving positions in Minnesota has more upside while setting a high level in completion rate in 2016 (70.4) and 2017 (67.7), which bodes well for Cousins in 2018. I don’t like his offensive line, but they did allow only 24 sacks last year. I expect 4,500 combined yards with 30+ TDs while being a steady backend QB1 in the Fantasy market.
Other Options: Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter, Peter Pujals
RB Dalvin Cook – There’s a lot to like in Cook’s resume at Florida State. He rushed for 4,464 yards on 687 carries over three seasons while scoring 48 TDs. Dalvin even chipped in with 79 catches for 935 yards. His looked more explosive rushing the ball in 2015 (7.4 yards per rush), but he gained an amazing 14.8 yards per catch last season. His running style has something in common with Devonta Freeman who also went to FSU. The key for his upside will breaking free at the second level of the defense where his vision and his open field quickness will create huge plays. Cook will make plenty of yards after contact due to his strength and ability to break arms tackles. Dalvin will be a massive threat in the passing game, but he needs to improve his technique and toughness in pass protection. In 2017, Cook blew out his ACL in his left knee. I’m never a fan of a player coming off an injury as too much could go wrong in his recovery. Last season the Vikings’ RBs finished with 457 rushes for 1,803 yards and 14 TDs plus 84 catches for another 681 yards and two more TDs. With repeated success, Minnesota will once again have a special run game, but their offensive line will rank at the backend of the league. Of all the backs on the Vikings in 2017, Cook was by far the most dynamic with three down value. In his four games, he had 95 touches for 444 yards with two TDs and 11 catches. His skill set points to 50+ catches at the minimum with a floor of 275 rushes. Possible 1,300+ yards with six to eight TDs and 40+ catches with the best value coming late in the season.
Update: 7/27/18 > Dalvin Cook looked locked and loaded for a full go in training camp, which is more fuel to his rising draft value. Fantasy owners have enough respect in his recovery from a major knee injury to draft him in the first round in some drafts in the FFWC. Even with a full bill of health, I would drive my 2018 draft feelings carefully as the Vikings may still limit his touches early in the year.
RB Latavius Murray – After having a minimal role over the first four games (46 combined yards and two catches on 16 touches) with Dalvin Cook as the lead back, Murray turned into the top early back in Minnesota over the last ten games of the season. He averaged 18.5 touches per game over this span with 818 combined yards with eight TDs and ten catches. On the year, Latavius gained 3.9 yards per rush compared to 4.8 by Cook. The Vikings will give him a more significant share of the offense especially early in the year. Minnesota should give him eight to ten touches per game leading to 600+ yards with a handful of TDs. Murray is a must handcuff for Dalvin Cook owners.
Other Options: Mark Brown, Roc Thomas, Mike Boone
WR Adam Thielen – Some Fantasy owners may look at Thielen as fool’s gold in the Fantasy market. After breaking through in 2016 (69/967/5) in 2016, Adam added follow through to his resume last year. He caught 91 of his 142 targets (9th in the NFL) for 1,276 yards and four TDs. Late in the season, Thielen played through a back injury that led four short games (4/51, 3/30, 2/24, and 6/61) over his last five starts, which led to some stats being left on the table. He played almost the whole season with a backup QB who overachieved his skill set, which is a testament to the upside and talent of Adam. He runs good routes with extra hands (75 percent catch rate in 2016 and 64 percent in 2017). His next step is adding more TDs to his resume. Thielen doesn’t have name value, which may lead to him being discounted on draft day. With Kirk Cousins added to the roster, he’ll be positioned to take another step forward. I’ll take the same catches (91) and yards (1,276) while hoping for a handful more TDs in a developing Vikings’ offense.
WR Stefon Diggs – Over his first three years in the NFL, Diggs missed eight games while flashing impact value in many games. Last year he had two thrilling games (7/93/2 and 8/173/2) over the first three weeks of the year, but he lost his explosiveness over the last 12 games of the season which included two missed games with a groin issue. Stefon caught 41 of 59 targets over the last nine games of the season for 454 yards and four TDs while failing to gain over 80 yards in any game. With Adam Thielen banged up late in the year and the playoffs, Diggs caught 36 passes in his last six starts with one impact game (6/137/1) vs. the Saints in the playoffs. He’s ranked 47th, 31st, and 19th in WR scoring in PPR leagues over his first three years in the league while leaving 20 percent of possible stats on the table due to injuries. I like his game, and he has 90+ catch upside with a full season of games. The change at QB should be positive, and he could be considered the WR1A on the Vikings.
WR Kendall Wright – After a notable second year in the NFL (94/1079/2 on 139 targets), Wright has been unable to repeat his success over the last four seasons. Last year he caught 59 passes for 614 yards and one TD on 91 targets for the Bears’ weak passing attack. Kendall has 57 catches or more in four of his six seasons in the NFL, but he scored 19 TDs in 82 career games. In Week 14, Wright had ten catches for 107 yards vs. the Bengals. Possession type WR who works best in the slot, which is an area Adam Thielen excelled at in 2017. Possible 50+ catches, but Minnesota may turn to Laquon Treadwell as the WR3.
WR Laquon Treadwell – Over three years at Mississippi, Treadwell caught 202 passes for 2,393 yards and 21 TDs. His breakthrough season came in his junior year in 2015 when Laquon caught 82 balls for 1,153 yards and 11 TDs. He even completed three passes for 134 yards and a TD. His speed (4.65) is well below league average for his position, but he more than makes up for it in his size (6’2″ and 221 lbs.) and power. Treadwell will add scoring value in the red zone. Laquon has excellent hands where he will win many jumps balls even with a defender in his hip pocket. His route running and feel for defensive positioning will be an asset at the next level. In his second year in the NFL, Treadwell caught 20 of his 35 targets for 200 yards. His size should lead to the best opportunity of his career in 2018, but he has a lot to prove based on his snail’s path over the first two years in the league.
Other Options: Tavarres King, Stacy Coley, Brandon Zylstra, Korey Robertson, Jake Wieneke
TE Kyle Rudolph – After a breakout Fantasy season in 2016 (83/84/7 on 132 targets) with Sam Bradford behind center, Rudolph had a dull 2017 (57/532) except his eight TDs. His targets (81) dropped by 38 percent. Kyle only had ten catches for 109 yards and one TDs on 15 targets over his first four games. Over his next six games, Rudolph caught 32 of his 46 targets for 257 yards and two TDs before fading again over his last six games (15/166/5 on 20 targets). A late-season ankle injury required surgery after the season. Kirk Cousins like to throw to the TE position, but Kyle will only be the third option in the passing game behind the top two WRs. I’ll set his bar at 65 catches for 650+ yards and respectable TDs, which paints him as a back-end TE1 in PPR leagues.
Other Options: Tyler Conklin, David Morgan, Blake Bell, Josiah Price, Tyler Hoppes
K Daniel Carlson – Over four seasons at Auburn, Carlson made all 198 extra point chances plus 92 of 114 field goals (80.7 percent). This season he’ll compete with Kai Forbath for the starting kicking job in Minnesota. Last year the Vikings scored 41 TDs while creating 38 field goal chances. Minnesota has talent at RB, and they did score 15 rushing TDs in 2017, but their offensive line may create minimal holes in the red zone. Viable shot as a top 12 kicker with matchup value, but his first step is winning the starting job.
The Vikings face four teams (ARI, MIA, and DET X 2) that struggled to run the ball last year while the Cardinals will be much better with David Johnson in the starting lineup. They have three games (LAR, PHI, and NO) vs. teams that have upside running the ball.
On the passing side, Minnesota has three games (BUF and CHI X 2) against teams that have weakness throwing the ball plus another vs. the Jets who struggle to throw the ball. The Vikings have four games (NO, NE and DET X 2) against high-level passing games.
Minnesota ranked 2nd in rushing yards (1,337) with ten TDs and only six runs over 20 yards. They allowed 3.7 yards per rush with only 22.8 carries per game.
They finished second in the league in passing yards allowed (3,078) with 13 TDs and 14 Ints, QBs gained only 6.0 yards per pass attempts while being sacked 37 times.
DT Sheldon Richardson will upgrade the run defense while ranking highly over his five seasons in the NFL. Richardson had 44 tackles with only one sack. In 2014 and 2015, Sheldon did produce 13 combined sacks. He’s a former first-round draft pick (2013). DT Linval Joseph has been one of the top interior linemen over the last three seasons with strength against the run plus corresponding value in sacks. Last year he had 68 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
DE Everson Griffin delivered a career high in sacks (13) in 2017 while picking up 45 tackles. His game ranked highly over the last four years while offering a slight edge against the run. Griffin battled plantar fascia in the middle of last season, which hurt his explosiveness over the second half of the year. Heading into June, Everson has a knee injury as well. DE Danielle Hunter exploded for 12.5 sacks in his second year in the NFL in 2016, but he only delivered seven sacks last year with 45 tackles. He showed growth against the run and in his overall skill set in 2017.
LB Eric Kendricks has over 100 tackles in each of his last two seasons with one sack, six defended passes, one Int, and one TD in 2017. Even with success in stats, Kendrick had some risk vs. the run with minimal value in sacks. The Vikings thought enough of him to sign him to a $50 million contract in the offseason for five years. LB Anthony Barr is a former first-round draft pick (2014) who played his best ball in 2015 when he was one of the best players at his position. Last year Barr struggled against the run with only one sack. Ben Gedeon looks like the favorite to win the other starting job at linebacker. With minimal playing time last year, Gedeon held his own against the run with no sacks.
Harrison Smith was the best safety in the league in 2017 and over the last four years. He had 78 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 12 defended passes, and five Ints with strength against the run. S Andrew Sendejo played at a high level as well last year. He had 80 tackles, seven defended passes and two Ints. His best value came against the run and in coverage. In three of his previous four years, Sendejo was a league average player.
CB Xavier Rhodes ranked well against the run and vs. the pass in 2017. He posted 56 tackles with ten defended passes and two Ints. The Vikings drafted him in the first round in 2013. CB Trae Waynes improved against the run while being league average in coverage. He finished with 65 tackles, one sack, 11 defended passes, and two Ints. He is another first-round draft pick (2015). The Vikings a couple of young high raking draft picks on their bench as well at cornerback.
The Vikings have top talent at all levels of their defense with multiple first-round draft picks in the starting lineup. Their run defense played great in 2017, and it should be even better with Sheldon Richardson added to the roster. They only have one weak link in the starting lineup, which is at linebacker. Last year Minnesota played well defensively, but they didn’t produce impact sacks, turnovers, or TDs. I expect the return game to better this year with Mike Hughes being the reason. Top five Fantasy defense with a chance to be the best defense in the land with an improved pass rush and a bump in defensive scoring.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks