Ultimately, NFL football, like most sports, is a game of numbers. Score the most points in a game and you win. Do it over a whole season and you are champs. Of course, not all numbers are created equally (to be sure, none are more important than points scored). But the other numbers matter and contribute to the success or failure of a season (just ask any of the multitude of analytics crunching numbers for a professional team, or for a profession team blog, such as LBVikings).
But today’s topic is a different number crunching exercise. We aren’t necessarily grinding out new analytics to consider, rather we want to look at other more straightforward numbers and assess their value regarding the Vikings’ upcoming season. In fact, I propose that if the Vikings live up (or don’t) to the following numbers, it will impact their season—in a good way or poorly. (There, that vague statement should sufficiently CYA myself in this little venture.)
It’s July 4th, so we gave Luke Braun the day “free” of number crunching, and put it on my capable (or incapable) shoulders. Let me know what you think. Here are the 2017 Minnesota Vikings—By the Big Numbers.
39—The age of the Vikings cornerback Terence Newman, who is long past the age when NFL cornerbacks typically hit the wall. Last season, Newman had a great year as a 38-year-old starting cornerback (helping the Vikings take their time in bringing Trae Waynes up to speed), but at some point he will not be able to keep up the younger, faster receivers. He might be moved inside to slot corner to fill the spot vacated by Captain Munnerlyn while the Vikings bring along Mackenzie Alexander. But can a penchant for red wine (Newman’s personal age-defying remedy) continue to work forever?
21—The highest number of touchdown passes thrown by Sam Bradford in a year in his career. Will he surpass it? Last season, Bradford threw 20 touchdown passes and the Vikings missed the playoffs. Certainly, an underachieving offensive line prevented him from throwing more and contributed mightily to the team going 8-8, but the line should be improved. The offense should be more pass centric this season with the specter of Adrian Peterson gone and several pass-catching running backs in the stable. So, more will be expected of Bradford—let’s say in the 25-30 range of TD passes for a start. The offense has to have it.
20—Can Danielle Hunter hit this number in sacks? Last season, while still a backup, Hunter had 12.5, which was double the number (6) he had as a rookie the year before. He is going to be the starter this coming season; so conventional wisdom would say his numbers will go up (can he double it again?!) But that is only on paper. He will be battling his starter on the other side of the line (Everson Griffen) for sacks and there may be only so many to go around. And the more tape that opponents get on Hunter, the more he will be chipped and doubled and focused upon. Sure, that is an aggressive number (the all-time NFL record is 22.5), but 20 would be a nice number—and if half of them could come against Aaron Rodgers, all the better.
22—That is the jersey number of the Vikings’ defensive leader, safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings defense needs to see a lot of that number on the field this season, as he is one of big the keys to its top-10 success. Smith is not injury prone, per se, but his “Harry the Hitman” style is occasionally going to cause pain/injury and he has missed 13 games in the past four seasons. The Vikings defense is simply better with him in the lineup. Smith is the elder statesman (if you don’t count the aforementioned Newman) in the secondary that could include first-time starters in Waynes and Alexander. Having 22 healthy all season will be a big boon on the defensive side of the ball.
3rd—As in the third linebacker—who will be starting? Chad Greenway is gone, and Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are both solid starters. Reliance on the third linebacker has lessoned in this day-and-age of the pass-happy NFL with nickel and dime defenses, but you still need a guy out there who can stop the run and not be a liability in coverage. Right now, the roster contains these folks listed at linebacker: Kentrell Brothers, Ben Gedeon, Emmanuel Lamur, Elijah Lee, Edmond Robinson, Shaan Washington and Eric Wilson. Brothers and Robinson will get the best opportunity to either move Kendricks out of the middle to the outside on early downs or grab the outside spot themselves. The team needs someone to step up, as the 3rd LB/nickel back position on the field is going to have some new faces in 2017.
1,350—The number of yards from scrimmage for rookie running back Dalvin Cook to shoot for this season. That is a tall order, what with Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray vying for their own snaps/yards. But as a rookie in Purple, Adrian Peterson put up 1,609 yards from scrimmage in2007, and while Cook is no AP (yet), he is almost certainly going to surpass Peterson’s rookie receiving yards of 268. Let’s say Cook rushes for 925 yards and gets 425 receiving yards, he has it. His number may ultimately be closer to 1,175, but it’s fun to dream.
1,000—We should be familiar with this one since both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were trying to hit that magic number of receiving yards late last season. Neither got it (Diggs had 903 and Thielen had 967) and having two wideouts coming close was nice, but someone needs to break this drought (which is intact since Sidney Rice in 2009). Both receivers missed some playing time due to injury last season, so chances are good one of them will break through this year. Maybe even both.
Why not? During a period of 1994-2000, the Vikings had seven seasons with two wideouts hitting the mark (Cris Carter/Jake Reed and then Carter/Randy Moss). And with Michael Floyd on the squad, why not bring back the days of Three Deep all over again. Okay, okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. But while we’re on the subject, here is another number to consider: who will be 1st in pass receptions? It might not even be a wide receiver.
8, 9, 10, infinity??—When it came to the number of starting offensive line combinations on the Vikings last season, I lost count. This is one number the Vikings don’t want to surpass this season—in fact, they don’t even want to come close—one would be sufficient, thank you. The team went from a squad that had the only line in the league that used the same five starters all season in 2015 to one that couldn’t keep a healthy lineman on the field. I guess the numbers all eventually even out after awhile, right? Regardless, this number could have the biggest impact on the outcome of the season in 2017. It did in 2016.
10—And speaking of the outcome, 10 is the number of wins the Vikings will need to have to even talk about the postseason this year. In the competitive NFC North, that will be tough to achieve. But hit a few of (all) the numbers mentioned above and it will happen. We’re counting on it!