OTAs have barely started so of course the time is perfect to speculate on how the Vikings’s 2018 season will shape. It will all be proven moot by week three when something earth-shattering takes place, but for now, our guesses are all we have.
Today and tomorrow, we will make our predictions for five things that will go according to plan for the Viking season and five things that will be unwelcome surprises. First, we start on the positives.
Cousins first 4,000-yard passer in almost a decade
Brett Favre threw for 4,202 in 2009. Since then, the following Minnesota quarterbacks have attempted to match: Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum. Bradford came close, Bridgewater and Keenum passed 3,000. But no Viking passer has been able to be the consistent threat that Favre was almost a decade ago. Kirk Cousins is the guy set to change that.
Now, that is not to say Cousins is Favre. But what he does have is a history of putting up lucrative passing numbers with fairly mediocre targets. In Minnesota, Rick Spielman has set Cousins up with a top notch one-two punch in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, a pass-catching tight end in Kyle Rudolph, an effective receiver out of the backfield in Dalvin Cook and a defense that will get him the ball back a lot. All told, that should point to Cousins having a career year. It is up to him to silence the skeptics: Is he worthy of a massive deal or was he merely a stat-stuffer on a poorly constructed team for three years?
Cook will contribute over 1,700 yards from scrimmage
The Vikings have not had a running back not named Adrian Peterson go over 1,000 yards rushing since Chester Taylor in 2006. Cook should be the guy to snap that streak. As a rookie, Cook was well on his way to reaching this total before tearing his ACL in week four. In fact, through roughly 3.5 games, he was on track to crack 2,000 yards from scrimmage on the season. Assuming health, Cook is already one of the more dynamic dual threat backs in the game. He is going to see a big chunk of the touches once he gets full clearance, even with Latavius Murray behind him.
Cook’s receiving numbers last year were boosted a bit by Pat Shurmur’s screen-heavy scheme. John DeFilippo by all indications will also do what he can to get the ball in his backs’ hands as early and as often as possible. This means that Cook will continue to be a significant part of the gameplan. That is, if his knee holds up.
Diggs, not Thielen, will be leading receiver (but both will go over 1,000 yards)
The word is out on Thielen. He is a route-running machine with great athleticism and strong hands who can play inside and out. A year ago, Thielen was merely a solid role player, someone you gameplan for, but do not necessarily sweat over. Now, he is a star, universally recognized as one of the top threats in the game. As a result, Diggs has flown a little under the radar.
Diggs is entering his fourth season and due to injury, has yet to have a 1,000-yard season. Not only will this be the year he breaks that barrier, he will also surpass Thielen’s yardage totals for 2018. This will be due in part to Thielen getting more attention, in part to Kendall Wright providing an additional receiving threat and in part to Diggs’ own development. Over the past few years, Diggs has taken gradual steps from a speed demon to an all-around exceptional mix of possession and deep threat. He even led the league in contested catch percentage last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Vikings’ defense will finish top-three in scoring and yards per play yet again
Assuming no lapse in performance from a year ago, there is no reason to believe the Vikings’ defense is not at least as strong, if not more so. They have added a couple of significant pieces to the rotation, namely Sheldon Richardson and Mike Hughes. Throw in added development from still-young starters Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Trae Wayne and everything is pointing up.
The only major question marks are the development of some players who are now rotation mainstays, namely Jaleel Johnson and Mackensie Alexander. Alexander has shown some signs but the addition of Hughes makes his role undefined at the moment. As for Johnson, he now looks like the third defensive tackle after player sparingly a year ago. Unless new signee David Parry unseats him, Johnson is going to see a substantial uptick in playtime.
Defense turnover numbers will improve dramatically
The Vikings had an excellent turnover ratio last year largely due to the efficiency and ball protection of the offense. Under Cousins and DeFilippo, however, the giveaways will likely increase. As such, the defense will have to improve its rather paltry takeaway totals from a year ago. They finished 23rd in the league with 19 in that category.
The interception totals were not bad; Minnesota had 14 a year ago, led by Harrison Smiths’ five. Still, one would assume such an elite secondary would get a few more. The area of improvement is in forcing fumbles. Jacksonville, the “other” top defense, if you will, forced 21 last season. The Vikings forced eight. With presumably an improved pass rush, the opportunity for sack fumbles should be considerably higher.
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