The theme of the 2016 Minnesota Vikings season may be boom or bust. The year will be filled with players fighting to prove themselves, fighting to gain or hold starting spots, and for the team as a whole to either cement themselves as a contender, or fall back into pretender status.
Let’s start with a preview of the starting lineup for the 2016 Viks:
WR1: Stefon Diggs WR2: Laquon Treadwell WR3: Jarius Wright WR4: Charles Johnson
TE1: Kyle Rudolph TE2: MyCole Pruitt
LT: Andre Smith // Matt Khalil LG: Brandon Fusco C: John Sullivan // Joe Berger
RG: Alex Boone RT: Phil Loadholt
FS: Harrison Smith SS: Andrew Sendejo // Michael Griffin SS2: Antone Exum
CB1: Xavier Rhodes CB2: Terrance Newman CB3: Captain Munnerlyn CB4: Trae Waynes
LOLB: Anthony Barr ROLB: Chad Greenway MLB: Eric Kendricks
RE: Everson Griffen LE: Brian Robison // Danielle Hunter
DT1: Linval Joseph DT2: Sharrif Floyd
KR: Cordarrelle Patterson
PR: Marcus Sherels
K: Blair Walsh
P: Jeff Locke
The Vikings 1st round draft pick this year, WR Laquon Treadwell out of Ole Miss, will have plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs. He’s coming in to give Teddy Bridgewater a deep threat, a big bodied receiver and someone who can win a jump ball consistently, and this has been discusses on sports talk podcasts and other Vikings centered sports podcasts as well all offseason.. The Vikings have lacked the big receiver for years now, and have no other receiver on the current roster who can win a jump ball regularly. Stefon Diggs offers top end speed and excellent route running, and Jarius Wright is quick, elusive and has proven to be a valuable receiver of recent years. Treadwell also gives the Vikings some physicality on the outside, as he is generally regarded as a strong run blocker to benefit the likes of Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon.
Speaking of McKinnon, he is the next guy up behind our generation’s best running back, AP. McKinnon is a physical beast, and wields excellent quickness, elusiveness, and vision. He has already proven his worth as a backup, but I see him starting to gain more carries as AP ages and McKinnon continues to improve as a runner. If Jerick McKinnon has another impressive 2016 campaign, I think Zimmer has found himself another star runner for the future.
On the defensive side, two of the players to keep an eye on are Michael Griffin and Trae Waynes. The
Viks signed Michael Griffin to a contract this past free agency to try to help All-Pro safety Harrison Smith. Smith has never played with another legitimately capable safety beside him, and if the Vikings can sure up the strong safety position their secondary would take the next step towards greatness. But Griffin is already a veteran at 31 years old, and has to prove he is capable of starting in the SS position and playing well next to Smith.
Trae Waynes is coming off of his rookie year, and is looking to prove his worth in Mike Zimmer’s defense. In his last appearance, his picked off a Russell Wilson pass in the shoulda-coulda-woulda playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Waynes has shown promise since being the Vikings 2015 first round pick, and has a very good shot at climbing the depth chart into a top 2 role with Xavier Rhodes if he can sure up his coverage skills and limit his penalties.
Another name to keep in mind is Danielle Hunter. Currently he sits behind Brian Robison in the depth chart, but I chose not to list him as a DE2. He showed incredible explosiveness last season, and has great strength and skill already at only 21 years old. Robison has been effective for the Viks in the past, but a changing of the guard may be coming a lot sooner than expected if Hunter continues to impress this year.
The last player to watch closely in 2016 is Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson has been an embattled player of sorts after being a first round pick along with top corner Xavier Rhodes and starting DT Sharriff Floyd. Patterson is essentially just a kick returner, one of the NFL’s best at that. But with the kick return dying out slowly, and Patterson’s contract and first rounder status, he’s expected to be a solid receiver as well. He has been working diligently this offseason to sharpen his route running, sure up his hands and earn the WR status that was expected of him. As a note, Patterson’s team option was declined this past offseason as his draft-mates Rhodes and Floyd had theirs picked up. Adding fuel to his fire by declining his option publicly before the season may be what he needs to improve as a whole player.
The Vikings 2016 schedule does not look terribly difficult; however it is no cake walk either. They play road games against Tennessee, Carolina, Philadelphia, Washington, and Jacksonville as well as division foes Detroit, Chicago and Green Bay. Their home games include the Giants, Texans, Cardinals, Cowboys, and Colts.
Overall, I see a lot of potential in this Vikings team. Coming off of an 11-5 record and NFC North division title in 2015, the Viks know what it takes to win the division. They won’t walk into another crown, and this team still has a lot to prove. A young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater still has tons of room to improve, but also the chance to stall. The receiving core needs to grow as well and mature, while the secondary has to prove itself once again. The Vikings also need to find Chad Greenway’s replacement sooner than later, with the other two starting linebacker jobs locked down by UCLA alumnus Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. With optimism, I see the Vikings going 10-6 this year and, in all likelihood, securing a playoff spot once again.
Can the Vikings close out a playoff game in 2016 finally? Time will tell.