2016 season preview: Minnesota Vikings

What's in store for the Vikings this season? Senior analyst Sam Monson breaks down the roster, unit-by-unit.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

2016 season preview: Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings dethroned the Green Bay Packers to take the NFC North crown last season, but a missed 27-yard field goal meant they were one-and-done in the playoffs. Mike Zimmer’s side will build on that year and avoid repeating the same mistakes as they look to become legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2016. Do they have what it takes to make that happen? Let’s take a look through the roster:

[More: Be sure to check out PFF’s ranking of all 32 NFL QB situationsoffensive linesrunning back unitsreceiving corpssecondaries, and defensive front-sevens. Catch up on all the team previews here.]

Bridgewater struggling in the system

Quarterbacks: 16th

The situation with most team’s quarterback is pretty simple — they’re either viable or not — but the state of play in Minnesota with Teddy Bridgewater is a little more complicated than that. At the tail end of his rookie season, Bridgewater was playing fantastic football. In the second half of the season, only two QBs had a higher PFF grade than he did that year — Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. He was one place above Tom Brady, who had bounced back from his poor start. But Bridgewater did not perform well in his second year, and looks entirely ill-suited for the passing attack Norv Turner has crafted.

Bridgewater is one of the league’s most accurate passers, especially underneath, but the Vikings have eschewed the kind of spread-influenced offense much of the league runs that would likely suit Bridgewater very well, and instead of still attacking deep and using a lot of seven-step drops. In this offense, Bridgewater may never be better than average, despite his ability to improvise and make plays.


Peterson can still make big-time plays, but…

Running Backs: 5th

Adrian Peterson is an all-time great, and still capable of making big plays in an instant with the ball in his hands. Few runners are more punishing over a game to a defense, and he is capable of carrying the team at times. The trouble is that he isn’t a capable receiver or blocker, and in a passing league he has no presence in that area of the game, meaning he isn’t even on the field in many of the team’s most game-crucial situations. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon deputize as passing down backs for him in those situations, but neither is a guy that would unseat a player of genuine quality in all three phases.

(PFF Fantasy Insight: The Adrian Peterson situation has been one of fantasy’s biggest topics this offseason. Jeff Ratcliffe explained why Peterson is no longer a top-five fantasy RB, while Dan Schneier tried to find a rationale for the other side. He’s currently No. 6 at the position in our staff consensus ranks, and Jerick McKinnon needs to be on every dynasty player’s radar.)

All eyes on the rookie

Receiving Corps: 24th

Like the QB situation, the Minnesota receiving corps is influenced by the passing scheme, which isn’t often putting them in the best place to succeed. Stefon Diggs broke out as a rookie with a surprise season but over the second half of the year actually graded very average, catching just 27 passes over the final nine weeks. Diggs needed help and much will rest on the shoulders of rookie Laquon Treadwell. He graded well but not spectacularly in college over the past two seasons at PFF, but our advanced data shows he had real problems separating on anything but the quickest underneath stuff. His best facet is his work after the catch that saw him break 17 tackles in 2015 and 14 the year before in just nine games before injury struck.

O-line still searches for its identity

Offensive Line: 15th

There is a quality offensive line somewhere in the unit of players the Vikings have, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to discover it by the time the season rolls around. The Vikings have as many as seven linemen that have enjoyed high quality seasons in the past and maybe up to five that have shown All-Pro level play over a season throughout their careers, and yet the only one to do so within the last two years is likely on the bench (Joe Berger). Most of this unit is going back as far as 2012-13 for their best play, and the more recent tape isn’t nearly as pretty. Getting John Sullivan back can’t be a bad thing, but given how well Berger played in his stead last year it may be a sideways step at best. Moving Fusco back to RG where he enjoyed his best football could be the biggest impact move they have made, but where exactly this unit will end up as a group is anybody’s guess.

Joseph and Floyd make for a dynamic duo

Front Seven: 6th

This is where we get to the true quality of the Vikings roster. Mike Zimmer has added to a defense that already had a couple of key pieces in place and brought a real nasty streak to the team that can suffocate opposing defenses. When healthy, Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd form a very effective DT duo, while Everson Griffen is a quality DE. This could be the season that Danielle Hunter emerges alongside him after a very promising rookie campaign that saw good grades as a run defender and pass rusher. Anthony Barr has become one of the league’s best young LBs and while Eric Kendricks wasn’t stellar as a rookie, there were flashes of what could be to come. The only real weak link is the team’s loyalty to Chad Greenway, who has far outlived his quality play and is getting on the field purely for veteran savvy and leadership at this point.

Harrison Smith leads the way

Secondary: 7th

Harrison Smith may just be the league’s best safety, and is probably the league’s most versatile. The Vikings tied him up to a big-money contract, and he leads this unit. Xavier Rhodes didn’t kick on in 2015 as we expected after a fine season the year before, but Captain Munnerlyn and the ageless Terence Newman both had good years to create a very solid CB group. Rookie Mackensie Alexander and second year player Trae Waynes both have big time talent, but some rough edges that need work, and it will be interesting to see how much playing time both could earn this year. If either works out this unit will be in good shape for years to come.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • SkolBro

    Can we can Norv already… The guy is outcoached by DOM CAPERS… CAPERS!
    His awful offensive scheme made Phillip Rivers a comeback player of the year – the year after the chargers canned Norv, Phillip didn’t even have an injury.

    • aooa69

      PREACH BROTHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • crosseyedlemon

      Trivia buffs probably know there is one coach with 125 or more games coached that has an even worse win percentage than Capers. John McKay was 44-88-1 .335 with the Bucs.

      • pobodysnerfect

        As a head coach? Yeah. Capers was bad. I think he’s a decent D Coordinator. Not awful. Not great.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Vikings strategy is a bit of a throwback to the 70s but it can still be effective today. They rely on a solid defense to keep games close while using the league’s best rusher to control time of possession. That formula can provide enough wins to get them into the playoffs again provided they manage to at least break even on the turnover ratio.

    • Famfirst

      Broncos just won a SB with that same system.

      • pobodysnerfect

        Sure. The Vikings could win the super bowl. If their WRs grow up, AP doesn’t age, their OL decides it’s 2012 and 2016, and they don’t get any injuries in the secondary. Oh, and if TB grows up too.

        That’s a lot of “ifs”

  • Famfirst

    BTW, the guy running the ball in that gif is NOT Peterson.

    • Chris Ellis

      The gif is emphasizing Bridgewater’s ability to improvise on plays.

      • crosseyedlemon

        If that’s a pass blocker in the background then Teddy looks to be throwing towards his own end zone….lol.

  • WL- Minneapolis

    The Vikings will have an improved passing game this year for a couple reasons.

    1) pass protection will be better. The acquisition of Alex Boone will help a lot in that regard. I expect Mike Harris to win the other guard spot, who also did well last year in pass pro after a slow start- his first year at guard. Along with Sullivan, that should give the Vikings a solid interior O-line. I suspect Kalil will continue to struggle at LT, but give up fewer sacks, while RT will be improved with (likely) Big Phil back or possibly Andre Smith if Loadholt isn’t healthy. This line isn’t going to challenge Dallas for #1, but could very well prove to be a top 10 unit, which will be a big improvement over last year.

    2) Better receiver corps match-ups. Mike Wallace was not a good fit for the Vikings, as he didn’t have the rapport with Bridgewater, just like he didn’t with Tannehill in Miami. He was smallish to play outside, and didn’t have the catch radius or ability to win the contested ball. Treadwell, by contrast, while a rookie, has the length and size to play outside, and his strength is winning the contested ball and large catch radius. That will make him a real outside threat- something the Vikings haven’t had for some time. Meanwhile, having Treadwell outside will allow Diggs to play more in the slot, where he is most effective. Both Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson have the length and size to play outside, but haven’t shown the ability to gain separation or win the contested catch. If either one of them can up their game in that regard – and both still could do- then that will complete the starting trio and make for a very effective receiver corps.

    3) I don’t expect much improvement from Kyle Rudolph at TE, but he is a threat in the red zone, and Treadwell will be too. The red zone passing game was a big negative for the Vikings last year, and I expect that will improve this year.

    A wild card in the receiver corps is Moritz Boehringer. I don’t expect him to have a lot of playing time, but he could end up with a few big plays this year, and may earn more as the season goes on. I expect Norv Turner will use him as a hybrid F-back, lining up in the backfield, at TE or WR, trying to expose match-up advantages that could lead to some big plays.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Vikings really don’t need an elite passing game. Peterson can keep them in short down and distance situations most of the time so Bridgewater will just need to be effective with the short game and inside the red zone. Fans probably would like to see him as a long bomber like Carson Palmer but he would be better as a game manager like Alex Smith.

      • pobodysnerfect

        Don’t expect Vikings fans to be happy with your (true) statement.

  • pobodysnerfect

    So let me get this straight: Via PFF, the Vikings are markedly worse than GB at WR, OL, in the secondary, and at that all-important position, QB. Yet, they’re expected to compete with GB this year.


    • Doc-man

      You can take all the metrics you want to try to predict who will win (the NFC North) this year, and you’ll STILL get it wrong. That’s why Vegas makes so much money…because you can’t predict squat!

      • pobodysnerfect


  • TichoB

    If Rodgers is enough to vault their QB status to number one then Peterson alone should be enough to take the Vikings’ RB group to the same status.