It’s safe to say that the 2018 season was a complete disappointment. The Minnesota Vikings had Super Bowl aspirations, yet failed to even make the playoffs. There are many things that contributed to this failure, including but not limited to, the offensive line, the run game, the offensive coordinator, the offensive line coach passing a week before the season and the defense taking a little step back.
So, what can this team, and some of its players, do to stop this from happening again? This is still a star studded defense, can they get back to their full potential? The draft was very offense heavy for the Vikings, will this improve their offensive firepower?
I won’t get into all of those questions here quite yet, but let’s take a look at a few players that could take that extra step to help this team get to the promised land, but let’s also see who might take a step back and hurt their chances.
Taking a Step Forward:
After tearing his ACL in week 6 last year, Mike Hughes was put on the injured reserve list and his season was over. Before his injury he was showing a lot of promise. I anticipate Hughes being looked at for both the slot corner and the outside corner position. His success or lack thereof will likely determine who is extended between Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes when the season ends.
Mike Hughes was the most skilled and pro ready CB that Mike Zimmer has worked with, and I’m including Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes into that statement. However, it may be difficult for Hughes to find playing time behind Rhodes, Waynes, Alexander and even the ever improving Jayron Kearse. Even though his rehab is ahead of schedule, he still may not be healthy until the regular season, which could definitely hurt his chances to reach that potential and the starting lineup… this season.
For Vikings fans, Harris has been spoken about a lot as the most underrated player on this team. With Andrew Sendejo’s injury last year Harris was able to step up and play very well opposite Harrison Smith. Now with Sendejo on the NFCCG (38-7 haha!) rival Eagles, Harris will get a full offseason working with the starters.
With Harrison Smith being all over the field, as one of the top safeties in the NFL, it’s easy to overlook Anthony Harris, who is only playing on a Second round tender contract after being a restricted free agent this offseason. Harris is still looking for that big extension, and this season could play a large roll in not only if he gets it, but how much the Vikings or another team is willing to pay.
O’Neill was never supposed to start last year. He was supposed to be a project that wasn’t going to be ready year one, maybe not even year two. When he was forced into the starting right tackle position though, he never let his grip loosen on that starting gig. He struggled a little with power rushers due to his size, but this was to be expected. Overall he exceeded expectations and was one of the few bright points on an abysmal offensive line.
Knowing he has the starting gig and working along the starting unit the full offseason should assist in making O’Neill much better in year two. Some extra time in the weight room will help as well. Can someone make sure that Danielle Hunter is his weight room buddy?
Taking a Step Back:
Even writing Joseph’s name down as one of the players I expect will take a step back this season was a tough pill to swallow. Linval has been a beast ever since he arrived as a Viking. His work with Andre Patterson has put him on a short list of the top nose tackles in the NFL. However, it is exactly that reason that he is on this list. Although 30 isn’t considered old at all positions of the NFL anymore, it will take a toll on someone as large as Joseph.
Just because he might take a step back does not mean that he will not still be dominate week in and week out. This just means that other players along the defensive line may have to step up a little more. Look for rookie Armon Watts to take reps at nose tackle during training camp and maybe even during the regular season. Where the Minnesota Vikings line succeeds, and where others fail, is the rotation that happens along the line and the talent from the top to the bottom of the depth chart. That rotation should help keep Joseph healthy, but he will definitely see less time on the field this season which will also impact his… impact.
Eric Kendricks has been a tackling machine ever since he was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft. His coverage skills have also been better than the average middle linebacker. So, why is he on the taking a step back list you might ask? A few reasons, one being that this team may look to have formations with more defensive backs on the field in years past.
Taking a side journey here, when the Chargers played the Chiefs in the playoffs last year
they put five CBs out on the field with two safeties still up top. This was considered blasphemy, but it worked! Mike Zimmer is an ever evolving defensive minded coach and he may look at that, along with our bevy of defensive backs that are on the roster, and employ such a technique.
Eric Kendricks has also had over 100 tackles every year, (except his rookie year when he had 92) that he has been in the NFL. He is also consistently the Vikings leading tackler on defense. Taking a step back, again, doesn’t mean he will be bad or even a liability, more so that he might just level out. Which would still make him a great to elite middle linebacker in the NFL.
Oh boy, this one is going to get me in trouble. The last two years Adam Thielen has had over 2,500 yards combined. It earned him a fat new contract extension with his home-grown team. He is one of the best route runners and even better at getting separation, but teams have more tape on him succeeding now.
More so, this year Stefon Diggs could be the leader in yards for the team if he stays healthy. That, combined with a Kubiak run offense (Yeah yeah Stefanski is the OC, but we all know who is actually running the offense) there will be more run plays and (two) tight end designed plays. With the drafting of Irv Smith Jr, the sheer targets for Thielen could just be whittled down from last year, causing his numbers to go down a bit. Thielen also started the season breaking records and as teams finally adjusted and the offense imploded, so did his numbers.
So, that makes three players that non-Vikings fans might not know all that much about that I see taking a step forward which will be a huge boost for the Vikings this season! That leaves three players that are household names that while not necessarily taking a step back, could end up falling back to earth. While that wouldn’t necessarily diminish this team’s chances, it could, and likely will, affect them. Despite that, though, I do believe that overall the Vikings will take a step forward from last year!