2016 cheat sheet: Minnesota Vikings
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
The Minnesota Vikings took big steps forward in 2015 under head coach Mike Zimmer, winning the NFC North and coming a 27-yard field goal miss away from winning a playoff game; this season they want to become legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The defense, as you might expect from a Zimmer-coached team, has become the strength of the franchise, but how far they go will likely hinge on the play of Teddy Bridgewater at QB and how the scheme adapts around him. In 2015, the offense was too contingent on seven-step drops and long-developing passes that put Bridgewater and the O-line under too much pressure—will that change going forward?
Three biggest things to know
1. Teddy Bridgewater took a step back last season.
Over the second half of his rookie season, only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees had a higher PFF grade than Teddy Bridgewater, and it looked like the Vikings had finally found their new franchise QB; unfortunately, the former Louisville standout couldn’t carry that momentum into 2015. Last season, his performance was far more average, and he ended the year with a PFF grade of 82.6, 13<th
among QBs. As a passer he was even worse, ranking 16th (79.9). Not all of it was his fault—the offense was not suited to Bridgewater’s strengths, and he turned into more of a checkdown quarterback, with an average depth of target of just 7.5 yards, lower than all but four other NFL QBs. In the preseason, he opened up with a 49-yard deep touchdown to prove he has that capability, but the Vikings need to see the best of Bridgewater if they are to be contenders.
2. Consistency among Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd can take defense to next level.
The Vikings’ roster is full of potential, with several players having shown the ability to be elite, but not the consistency to do it for a long time. Last season, Linval Joseph was nearly unstoppable until injury slowed him, and much like Bridgewater, Sharrif Floyd ended the 2014 season on fire before failing to deliver last year. At their best, they are the perfect combination of 4-3 nose tackle and 3-technique, with quickness, strength, and the ability to play the run and pass, but the number of games that both have showed up to play in a big way is not a large one. What version of each player appears in 2016?
3. Vikings have a mix of youth and veteran talent at the CB position.
Terence Newman started for the Vikings last season opposite Xavier Rhodes, with Captain Munnerlyn in the slot, but Newman is soon to be 38 years old. Behind him, the Vikings now have two highly-touted young corners in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Waynes only played 196 snaps last season after being drafted No. 11 overall, and Alexander was our No. 4 ranked CB in the 2016 draft and No. 21 on the PFF big board, but slipped all the way to the Vikings in the second round (pick No. 54 overall). Newman played well last season, but at his age, decline is inevitable, and the young players are unknown but talented quantities at this point. How that No. 2 cornerback plays this season will be a big key for the Minnesota defense.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: WR Laquon Treadwell (Round 1, pick No. 23 overall, Ole Miss), CB Mackensie Alexander (Round 2, pick No. 54 overall, Clemson), OT Willie Beavers (Round 4, pick No. 121 overall)
Signed in free agency: G Alex Boone (49ers), T Andre Smith Jr. (Bengals), S Michael Griffin (Titans), LB Emmanuel Lamur (Bengals), TE Brian Leonhardt (49ers), LB Travis Lewis (Lions)
Left via free agency: WR Mike Wallace (Ravens), CB Josh Robinson (Buccaneers), S Robert Blanton (Bills), LB Casey Matthews (UFA), LB Jason Trusnik (UFA)
Rookie to watch
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (Round 1, pick No. 23 overall)
I’m not sure Laquon Treadwell is the best player the Vikings drafted, but he should be the one they lean on the most early. Even if he doesn’t start Week 1, it shouldn’t be long before he overtakes Charles Johnson for that spot. Treadwell is a big, physical receiver that excels underneath—essentially a prototypical possession receiver—but he can also break tackles and make people miss after the catch, with 17 broken tackles to his name in 2015. Much is made of his blocking, and while it may be a little hyperbolic at times, he is a good blocker that has the ability to spring Adrian Peterson on a big run at any time if his block becomes relevant.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Linval Joseph, DT, 89.0 overall grade
Only injury held Linval Joseph back from what was a truly dominant display in 2015. No other defensive tackle had a game graded as well as Joseph’s destruction job against the Rams, meaning that his best game of the year was better than any single game from the Rams’ Aaron Donald, or any other DT. Last season, Joseph’s blend of power and quickness was too much for linemen to contend with, and had he stayed healthy all season, we could have been talking about him in terms of the best DT in the league, or at least the best outside of Donald. 2015 was a huge departure from his career baseline to that point, however, so how close he can come to replicating that form in 2016 is a big question mark.
Breakout player watch
Danielle Hunter, DE
At 33 years old, Brian Robison is in the twilight of his career, and the Vikings have seen good things in limited snaps from Hunter. In a rookie season that saw him play 398 snaps, Hunter notched five sacks and 31 total pressures, but was also extremely strong against the run, the area that our college grading indicated he would excel at. Robison wasn’t good in run defense last season, so Hunter could potentially eat into his snaps in that area, and still feature as a situational rusher on passing downs, with the very real chance that he could win the full-time job on merit with an expanded workload.
Base defense (2015 season grades shown)
Base offense (2015 season grades shown)