There are a number of ways to categorize a “breakout season.” It could be a talented guy once deemed a bust turning into a valuable piece. It could be like an Adam Thielen 2016 season, where a player jumps from being a nobody, mere roster filler up to productive contributor. Or it could be a Thielen 2017 season; a productive player who takes the last step to superstar.
The Vikings have candidates on both offense and defense for all of these types of breakouts. They have one of the more talented rosters in all the NFL. But they are also still waiting on some promising talents to become the players they need them to be. We narrowed down the list of 90-some players on the roster to three guys on each side of the ball who are poised to make the next step. First, the offense.
As it looks now, three players are locked in for starting spots somewhere along the line: Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers. The last two spots are open to a handful of names, including rookies Colby Gossett and Brian O’Neill. However, the most likely guys to line up alongside Elflein come week one appear to be Nick Easton, Tom Compton and Danny Isidora.
Isidora did not see much action in his lone NFL season, starting only one game. But coming out of Miami, Isidora caught attention as a big guard with well above-average athleticism. He essentially redshirted his rookie season, as his power technique and overall strength needed developing. But now, it seems best-case scenario for the Vikings line would be Isidora winning one of the guard jobs. He has the tools to flourish, particularly in a zone and screen-heavy system. Isidora is best when working in space, just like his potential running mate Elflein. Plus, with O’Neill having some developing to do, as well, it would eleviate pressure on the rookie to step in day one. O’Neill was the Vikings highest-selected lineman since Matt Kalil in 2012. By giving him time to develop from the sidelines, they can avoid throwing him to the wolves that are the elite NFL pass rushers.
Minnesota did not go after a highly-touted guard in the draft or free agency presumably because they have confidence in guys already on the roster. As we are not even into training camp yet, it is impossible to tell what sort of improvements Isidora has made to his game. As such, for now we penciled in O’Neill as the day one starter at right tackle, bumping Remmers inside. But, given the physical talent and the scheme fit, a polished Isidora should provide the Vikings the best chance to have an improved line in 2018.
This is an example of a bright young star taking flashes and translating them to a healthy, productive season. Cook looked like a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate before going down with a torn ACL. He displayed all the tools necessary to succeed in today’s NFL. Cook ran well between the tackles and in space. He could make plays as a receiver. And perhaps most impressively, he showed surprising polish as a pass blocker.
It is safe to say Cook broke out last year in the sense that he made the league take notice of his future. Unfortunately, his three and a half games of performance were overshadowed by the way his season ended. He has already proven he belongs. But to take the next step into superstardom, Cook has to show he can stay healthy.
This season may be the last gasp for Treadwell’s Vikings career. First round receivers are supposed to be difference makers at some point in their first two years. Treadwell’s difference has amounted to 21 catches in 25 games. Mike Zimmer has been relatively transparent about his disappointment with Treadwell’s development thus far. He said publicly that Treadwell has had every opportunity to succeed. If he fails to make a splash in 2018, his time in Minnesota may be at an end sooner than anyone expected.
It is not like Treadwell lacks tools. He struggles in two areas primarily: Speed and high pointing. Those are, granted, two important factors of being a quality receiver. But Treadwell has other things to make him effective. He has good hands and comes back to the ball well. He has a big frame and knows how to use it to gain position. And most of all, he is a pretty decent route runner. Treadwell is open a fair amount of the time. The problem is that his lack of production has relegated him to being a decoy or the fifth option more often than not.
But that was with Case Keenum. Keenum was more of a “two reads and scramble” type of quarterback. Kirk Cousins, on the other hand, is more adept at moving through progressions. Treadwell should get more balls thrown his way with Cousins at the helm. Now, he will have to prove in preseason that he has value in areas Kendall Wright does not. He will also have to look over his shoulder at Jake Wieneke, another big receiver with limited athleticism, only Wieneke has the fans’ eyes as a Morton Grove native. If Treadwell earns the majority of the third receiver snaps out of camp (which John DeFilippo would love, as Thielen and Stefon Diggs both work well out of the slot), that would be a step in the right direction.
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