The Minnesota Vikings are headed back to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. After a tumultuous 2016 season, the Vikings overcame adversity in 2017 to finish 13-3, winning the NFC North title and clinching the second seed in the NFC.
As the team gears up for their playoff run, we will evaluate each position over the next two weeks, reviewing strengths and weakness and where each position stands in comparison with their NFC playoff counterparts.
Starter: Case Keenum (14 starts/16 games)
Reserves: Teddy Bridgewater (0/8), Kyle Sloter (0/6), Sam Bradford (2/2)
Stats: Keenum – 67.6 cmp%, 3,547 yds, 22 TDs, 7 INTs, 71.4 QBR, 98.3 RAT
Despite the success at the quarterback position in 2017, the season did not unfold quite like many believed it would. Sam Bradford entered the year as the starter. Many believing that if he faltered or sustained an injury, Bridgewater could be the savior upon the return from his own injury.
As luck would have it, Bradford went down after just one game. With Bridgewater on the PUP list until after week six, the coaching staff inserted Keenum as the starter, under the assumption that he would do enough to simply keep the Vikings in the playoff hunt. What the Vikings and their fan base received was far more than anyone could have anticipated.
In Keenum’s 15 games, the Vikings went 12-3. The offense as a whole became the perfect complement to the league’s top-ranked defense, ranking 10th in both total offense and scoring. As a result, Minnesota elevated from a team that missed the playoffs to the second seed in the NFC.
One of the biggest strengths that Keenum showed throughout the year was pocket presence. His ability to move around and manipulate the pocket helped in buying time for his receivers to eventually get open.
His ability to hit deep passes earlier in his run was a big benefit, particularly for a running game that took a hit when rookie running back Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week Four. This downfield attack helped to open things up for Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon on the ground.
Keenum’s ability to scramble was also on display in several games. He uses his legs well in extending plays and drives. It is an important reason as to why the Vikings finished third in the NFL in third down conversion percentage.
Perhaps the most important thing he brought to the offense was his energy. Most teams would have crumbled once their starting quarterback was lost for an extended period of time. Keenum’s energy and confidence provided a much needed spark for this group, particularly during a difficult five-game stretch following their week nine bye.
Despite the big year Keenum put up in 2017, there are still areas in his game that can be of concern.
Even during his best stretches of play, he still showed a tendency to miss or pass up open receivers when going through his progressions. Though this has not proven to be costly yet, Keenum will need to do a much better job of getting the ball to open receivers.
One area that may be of greater concern is the decline of his deep ball accuracy. Over the past several games, we have seen Keenum struggle to get the ball down the field to his targets, many of them being underthrown. He has been fortunate that a number of those passes were not intercepted. That can change as teams will be looking for any edge they can get.
My NFC Quarterback Rankings
- Drew Brees – Saints
- Cam Newton – Panthers
- Matt Ryan – Falcons
- Jared Goff – Rams
- Case Keenum – Vikings
- Nick Foles – Eagles
It is no surprise as to who sits in the top three. Brees, Newton, and Ryan have each been to the Super Bowl, with Brees winning on his one and only trip. Jared Goff has been the more productive between he and Keenum. The Eagles are in the worst position of the group with Carson Wentz being lost for the season. In his stead, Foles has underwhelmed the past two weeks.
The Vikings clearly do not have the best quarterback in this conference. However, with the level of talent everywhere else on their roster Keenum may have the best situation. With a consistent running game and a number of playmakers in the passing game, he has all of the tools needed to get this team where they want to go. He does not have to be an All-Pro. He just needs to make the plays asked of him and rely on the talent around him to get the job done.