Editor’s Note: This article was written by purplePTSD writer and owner of VikingsTalk DeShawn Vaughn alongside the owner of purplePTSD.com/VikingsTerritory.com/purpleTERRITORYradio.com Joe Johnson
The Vikings are made up of some very good units, but how good are those groups exactly?
Let’s grade each unit based on their depth and productivity, and then rank them among the thirty-one other teams in the NFL before the start of training camp to see just where the Vikings rank as they approach one of the biggest seasons in team history.
Coaching: Mike Zimmer and Gary Kubiak are both top 10 coaches no matter how you cut it. This duo may be the best in the entire NFL. The best comparison would be (a poor man’s) Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. But since we haven’t seen them perform yet we can’t rank them too high, however, we know enough about Zimmer as a head coach here to give him a realistic grade.
The one weak spot in Zimmer’s resume would be the Vikings’ offense as he’s been through many offensive coordinators since joining the Vikings as head coach (with only one leaving because of the success the team had in Pat Shurmur). However, Kubiak is one of the best and most respected offensive minds in the entire NFL and adding him to Kevin Stefanski’s team is a huge addition, perhaps the biggest addition this off-season (across the entire NFL), so we can look at his record of success and the pieces that the Vikings offense has in place to give a grade. I fully expect BIG things from these two this season and applaud Stefanski’s lack of ego in, as he’s said, suggesting that the Vikings add Kubiak this off-season.
Ranking: 8th in front of Harbaugh, behind Pederson
Quarterback: Despite all the slander/libel Kirk Cousins has endured since signing what was the largest contract in NFL history at the time, the reality is that he has consistently been a top 10-12 QB each and every year he’s been a starter in the NFL which is all the more impressive when you consider that he’s accomplished that without ever having a complete team around him. He will continue to be solid this year as he has the most complete team (on paper) that he’s ever had in his career, however, I also feel that he will, unfortunately, continue to be disrespected in the process.
Ranking: 11th in front of Cam Newton, behind Philip Rivers.
Running Back/Full Back: Latavius Murray solidified the unit as top 10 in the league based on talent alone, so without him it’s difficult to say where they rank because of the health of Dalvin Cook. While on the field Dalvin is arguable a top (five to seven) talent. Third-round pick Alexander Mattison is a promising rookie who can do it all, though and should fill Murray’s role nicely. He’s able to catch balls out of the backfield, run between the tackles, block and also he’s a bulldozer on the goal-line. Fullback C.J. Ham is a do-it-all fullback who, while under-utilized, still produces when he’s number is called. Ameer Abdullah was resigned this off-season as well and while he hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy in the NFL thanks to his diminutive frame, was a top-three running back in the country while in college for a reason and could provide a great change of pace off the bench as well (whether returning punts/kicks or spelling Cook and/or Mattison).
Ranking: 10th in front of Eagles, behind Titans.
Wide Receiver: I think no matter how you cut it Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are the best duo in the league. And Yes I am including Odell Beckham Jr, and Jarvis Landry in Cleveland. These two dominate from both the slot and the outside thanks to their superior route running abilities and have some of the best hands in the league. The only thing stopping the unit from being number one is WR3. Unlike last year, though, they have some decent options at the position with Jordan Taylor following new offensive coach Gary Kubiak from Denver and new draft picks ‘Bisi Johnson and Dillon Mitchell.
Ranking: 2nd in front of Falcons, behind Browns.
Tight End: The return of Rudy is big for a few reasons, the least of which is not his familiarity with Kirk Cousins. While he had a poor season last year (his second in a row without a 40-yard game), he should get more opportunities to do well with the presence of Irv Smith Jr. as well as the addition of Gary Kubiak who loves running two tight end sets. The blocking of David Morgan is what makes this a good unit, as well. His versatility will be key, especially as Kubiak has shown a preference for tight ends that can block.
That may also increase Smith Jr.’s role as he is a much better blocker than Rudolph. However, the tight end position is one of the more difficult to acclimate to in the NFL. Rudolph, despite his down numbers, did also have his best year in terms of the percentage of balls thrown his way actually being caught (at nearly EIGHTYpercent), so look for Rudolph to reach or eclipse his career highs in touchdowns as well.
Ranking: 7th In front of Falcons, behind Colts
Offensive Line: The offensive line is by far the worst unit on the team. The Vikings have made an effort to make them better this off-season via the draft and it should work as they finally invested some top picks in the position on first-rounder Garrett Bradbury and fourth-rounder DruSamia a year after spending a second-rounder on Brian O’Neill, who had the best first-year imaginable. The best addition, however, is the presence of new offensive “assistant” Gary Kubiak and the offensive line coach he brought along with him, Rick Dennison.
I’m expecting to see a worst-to-first situation with the O-line this year as it’s just what Kubiak does in general and arguably best. Just look at what Kubiak/Dennison did in one off-season before the 2015 season in Baltimore. With little to no change in personnel, they improved the offense from a bottom unit to one that was 12th in general and 8th in rushing. I fully expect the same thing to happen this season in Minny, with even better returns as the Vikings have more talent and fresh blood both on the line as well as in the run game.
Ranking: 26th in front of Jets, behind Texans
Defensive Line: This unit competes with the wide receivers as the best unit on the team, although it’s arguable that they’re a much deeper unit especially after years of adding new blood to the line. Because of that, the D-Line is extremely consistent and will continue to do well in 2019, even with the loss of Sheldon Richardson. If the Vikings can maintain interior pressure it will be a top-five unit again in 2019.
Ranking: 2nd in front of Jaguars, behind Bears.
Linebacker: The linebacking unit did not have a good season last year. Their play is a bonus to the defense, despite that, though, when they’re playing up to their potential they elevate this defense is the best unit in the entire NFL. Despite their down season last year they’re still a top-five unit in the league.
Ranking: 5th in front of Jaguars, behind the Seahawks
Defensive backs: The Vikings have a top 10 corner and the best free safety in the NFL. The rest of the unit is average at best, although Harris and Hill show promise. This unit is still a top group in the NFL and will continue to show that. The emergence of Alexander and the return of Hughes gives this unit the depth it needs to be a strong unit.
Ranking:5th in front of Houston, behind patriots.
Special teams: Most of the special teams unit was solid last year, but arguably the most important part was the worst. The Vikings kickers made 68.8 percent of their field goals last season, which is last in the NFL. Not converting our field goals has been an issue that’s haunted us for the last two years. New coach Marwan Malouf has a track record of getting the most out his kickers. He coached Cody Parkey (MR. Double Doink) to a career-best 91.3 percent accuracy on his field goals. The Vikings also added Former Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding as a kicking coach. It’s yet to be seen whether it will make a difference or not, but it is encouraging to see the Vikings take necessary steps to solve the problem
Ranking: 27th in front of Chargers, behind the Bears.
Total Grade: If you average out the grades they end up around a B, which is where this team was last year. The only grades that really need to improve are the offensive line and special teams. If those two Grade can reach a B the Vikings will become a very difficult team to beat in 2019/2020. They have the personnel and coaching to excel in all areas.