Vikings Postseason Roster Assessment—Part 2: The Offense/Special Teams

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Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph fights for extra yards in a game against the Bears last season. (Photo Courtesy: Andy Kenutis)

The Vikings are the 2nd seed in the NFC playoffs and, as we said in Part 1 of this feature, that is both thrilling and terrifying to Vikings fans. Some of us can’t even talk about the prospect of the Vikings being in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis (me included) for fear that it won’t come true.

Balderdash!

The Super Bowl Experience

As previously stated, a calm, realistic, objective (kind of) look at this team can help build confidence going into playoffs as to how good the team is and what we can hope to expect. This is the NFL, so there are no guarantees (that ball is oddly shaped and can take some strange bounces), but the Vikings have as good a shot as any team and not just because they are in the tournament.

So, in this installment we look at the offense (and throw in the offensive Special teams). This is an offense that turned around a basement dweller (rushing yards per game) in 2016 to become a top-10 offense in terms of points scored in 2017. That’s not bad—you need to score points in the playoffs in order to continue playing (stop the presses for that incredible insight). The Vikings haven’t blown a lot of teams out this season, although they haven’t had to since their defense is so tough. But they have a balanced offensive attack (ranked seventh in rushing and 11th in passing), and that is required for the multitude of teams you meet in the postseason—one dimensional offenses don’t last long.

Note: Remember, the grades here are subjective and made up of a look back at what the team has done and what they can be expected (hoped) to do going forward into the postseason.

Offensive Line

Riley Reiff—The free agent pickup has been the top acquisition of the offseason, as he has helped solidify the line and given up very few sacks this season. Reiff has had some injury problems, but looks good for the postseason. Grade A

Jeremiah Sirles—The Vikings hung onto the versatile backup from last season and need him greatly now that Nick Easton is out with a broken ankle. Sirles has a bum knee himself and struggled a bit jumping in at guard, but with his role now defined, look for him to step up in the playoffs. Grade C+

Pat Elflein—The rookie quickly took over the center spot and made it his own with quickness and power that helped the line evolve. His shoulder kept him out of the regular season finale, but he should be back for the divisional round. Grade A

Joe Berger—The senior member of the line is the only one to play all 16 games this season and has already talked about this being his swan song season. Versatile (he stepped in at center for Elflein against the Bears) and solid, Berger will want very much to play and win three more games. Grade A

Mike Remmers—The other big free agent signing did a decent job but missed five games midseason with a concussion and then lower back injury. He stepped in at right guard for Berger last Sunday, and together with the rest of the makeshift line helped put up 154 rushing yards. He should be healthy for the stretch run. Grade B+

Line Depth—Rashod Hill leads the way of a depleted unit of late. He has played both tackle spots admirably. He is joined by rookie guard Danny Isidora and rookie tackle Aviante Collins—each of whom has seen action this season—Collins as a fill-in tight end this past Sunday. The Vikings have some depth (compared to last season) on the line, but they don’t want to have to dip into it.

The changes to the offensive line have been the single most impactful personnel moves of the offseason, as they have helped this offense turn their fortunes around. The loss of Easton is tough to absorb since he was athletic getting to the second level and instrumental in the screen game. But as far as what they have done and readiness for the postseason, this unit grades out well. Overall Grade: A-

Tight Ends

Kyle Rudolph—Rudolph has had another very good season with eight touchdown receptions (topping last season’s team-leading seven) but he has been limited (see Aviante Collins) the past three weeks with an ankle injury. The rest will help. The offense needs it some Rudy. Grade: A-

David Morgan—With a limited Rudolph, Morgan got on the stat sheet against Chicago with three receptions, including two big catches that kept a scoring drive alive. In fact, his five catches (on five targets) in the past two games dwarfed the two targets and two catches in the previous five games. Morgan delivers when called upon—look for more in the playoffs. Grade B

Tight End Depth—It is reduced to Kyle Carter (three games, no catches) since Blake Bell is on IR.

With Rudolph ailing, the margin is slim at this position and a bit precarious. We hope they won’t have to pass to Collins. Overall Grade: B

Wide Receiver

Stefon Diggs—He may have not made the Pro Bowl or reached 1,000 yards (due in part to injuring his groin and missing two games), but he can get in the end zone—eight times to tie Rudolph and Latavius Murray for the team lead (and T-8 in the NFL). He has been playing well since returning from injury and is ready for the postseason. Grade: A-

Adam Thielen—Little more need be said about Thielen than 91 catches (eighth in the NFL), 1,276 receiving yards (fifth in the league) and his first Pro Bowl. His route running, large catching radius and excellent hands are all key for the playoffs. Grade A

Wide Receiver Depth—Jarius Wright (great, but limited action), Laquon Treadwell (better, but not there yet) and Michael Floyd (10 catches for 78 yards—we were hoping for more) have all contributed and can do more with the opportunity. Solid, but not spectacular depth that will likely get called on in the playoffs.

The wide receivers have been instrumental in reviving this offense. Thielen and Diggs have become a great dual threat, and will garner the attention of opposing defensive coordinators. The entire unit will have to step up in the postseason. Says here, they will. Overall Grade: A-

Running Backs

Latavius Murray—The loss of Dalvin Cook in Week 4 (remember, back when we thought the sky was falling on the Vikings’ season) gave rise to a running back duo that has helped make the Vikings the seventh-best rushing team in the league (122.3 yards per game). Murray leads the team in attempts, yards, yards per carry (only slightly) and touchdowns. He is not Adrian Peterson in his prime, but his ability to grind out tough yards up the middle are crucial for playoff time. The further he gets away from offseason ankle surgery the more powerful he has become. Grade B+

“He’s done well,” Zimmer said of Murray. “Our offensive line has blocked well for him. I think the receivers have blocked well. He’s done a nice job hitting the creases. When he stays on point with where he’s running, he’s pretty good. When he has bad plays, it’s usually when he tries to do too much or go somewhere he shouldn’t be going.”

Jerick McKinnon—While McKinnon gets less opportunity toting the rock, the Vikings chuck it to him quite often—and successfully (51 reception on 68 targets, making him the No. 4 receiver on the team). During training camp, Jet maintained he had a role on this team and really carved one out—his versatility is huge for the playoffs. Grade B+

“A little of both,” Zimmer said when asked whether McKinnon is benefitting more from less or carries or different types of runs. “I think a little of both. Some of the ones he ends up bouncing to the perimeter a little bit more. You’re able to see some of that. He seems fresh.”

Running Back Depth—Technically not depth, C.J. Hamm is the starting fullback and he has served well in the role, but he left the Bears game early with a neck injury. Little is known on it yet, so the offense may have to adjust. Mack Brown has appeared in one game (no carries) for the Vikings.

The running back room is solid, although not incredibly deep. But the variety of skills the group provides bodes well for the postseason. The Vikings running game looks good in the first year of the post-AP era. Overall Grade: B+

 Special Teams

 Kai Forbath—It’s tough to feel totally confident in the Vikings kicker going into the playoffs (then again, we all did in 1998, right?), but with at least the first playoff game indoors, Forbath can eliminate the elements as a concern. He is 84.2 percent on field goals and 87.2 percent on PATs. Both of those need to rise in the postseason. Crossing fingers now. Grade: B

Ryan Quigley—We all have heard the punting record that Quigley tied (he went the whole season without a touchback), pretty darn impressive, but I’m not sure what it all means. It did include the embarrassing punt return for a TD by the Bears on Sunday when even Quigley appeared to cover in the wrong direction (coverage has been very good this season despite that play). Ultimately, Quigley has had a very good season. His role as a holder increases with Kevin McDermott on IR, however. Grade: A-

Jeff Overbaugh—The new long snapper just signed on for either the most exciting or terrifying gig of his short career (sounds like he would make a good Purple fan with those emotional extremes). One regular season game (with okay results) and then he is thrown into the fire. There is not enough data for a grade. His grade will come after the postseason. Grade: N/A

This group has the potential to carry the team to new heights or do something that I can’t even think about right now. It is the nature of their positions. The Vikings are due for the former. Overall Grade: B+

Quarterbacks

Case Keenum—The Vikings’ “backup” quarterback has had his best season as a pro. Keenum has been everything the team has needed and more to put them in this enviable playoff position. One gets the sense that the jury will be out on Keenum until the season is over, but the bottom line is that the Vikings aren’t where they are without him—and that fact is indisputable since no one can prove otherwise.

With his arm, his legs, his pocket presence and his decision-making, Keenum has done everything asked of him, and the team stands ready to possibly host and win three playoff games. Looking forward, Keenum’s lack of playoff experience is a concern, especially when playing teams with a track record in that category. But he is surrounded by a decent team, and that has been the overriding theme of the 2017 Vikings: team. I like his chances. Grade: A

Quarterback Depth—Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what the Vikings will do with the position next year or even next week. Teddy (Bridgewater) is ready, (Sam) Bradford is back for another go and Sloter can’t go–ter somewhere else. Sorry—when in doubt, try to rhyme. (Here is one scribe’s take on it—ESPN’s Kevin Seifert—and it makes a lot of sense and aligns with my thoughts on it in the short term, but I do think the team doesn’t want to see Kyle Sloter get away.) Ultimately, it is a good problem to have—three starting quarterbacks to get you through the playoffs. I am not saying they will activate them all, but they can if they have the need.

 

The Vikings quarterback situation is the best it has been in years—and plenty of the success at the position has to do with the offensive line and the scheming of OC Pat Shurmur (who is tragically—for us—getting interview requests). But you also have a starter playing at the peak of his ability and two backups who won’t puke on themselves if called in for emergency duty. The whole thing just gets me jacked for the postseason. Overall Grade: A

In the final analysis, the Vikings are ready for the playoffs. They have some great attributes and no glaring weaknesses.  Add to that a coaching staff that is hungry and at the top of their game, and they have a great opportunity in front of them. There are no guarantees in football—you have to win on the field rather than on the internet, but the Vikings should fear no one. They can stack up with any other team in the playoffs. If they don’t let the situation get too big for them and do their jobs, as they have all season, they have the team that can ultimately get to the NFL promised land and win it.

Take heart, Vikings fans. I can’t wait to see who must come to The Vault to meet the Vikings on January 14.

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