The Minnesota Vikings have boldly added and developed offensive talent over the last two years. So where’s the buzz?
They may not be in the discussion as one of the NFL’s best offenses, but they will quickly assert themselves as such.
They were on the cusp of being a top 10 offense last season. With quarterback Kirk Cousins and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo joining the team in 2018, the Vikings are somehow an under-the-radar group while the offseason focus falls on the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New Orleans Saint and the Philadelphia Eagles.
And perhaps that’s because the Vikings have had that turnover with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur taking the New York Giants’ head coaching job. Quarterback Case Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC title game, went to the Denver Broncos after Minnesota signed Cousins in free agency. The Vikings should be just fine without them. In fact, they should be better.
Minnesota is not flashy, but they have a core of returning players who should help Cousins churn out huge stats. But with Cousins, stats have never been the problem. Under Mike Zimmer and complemented by the Vikings stout defense, Cousins will win games — lots of them.
Cousins will go from the Redskins’ offensive line, which allowed the 12th-most sacks in the NFL last season, to the Vikings’ offensive line, which allowed the 6th-fewest. The Vikings acquired three new starts on the line in 2017, and they played together well. Four of those starters are returning with a full year of work together. Guard Nick Easton or Danny Isidora should prove capable of replacing Joe Berger, who retired this offseason. If not, they can slide right tackle Mike Remmers to right guard and second-round pick Brian O’Neill can start at right tackle.
He has begun his offseason work with Stephon Diggs and Adam Theilen, an understated receiver tandem that combined for 2,125 yards and 12 touchdowns. Cousins will also get work with Kyle Rudolph, who had 57 catches, 532 yards, eight touchdowns in 2017. Rudolph can be a red zone beast. The pass-catchers should all benefit from Cousins’ presence.
He had a shortened rookie season due to an ACL injury before we could see his full impact, but Dalvin Cook finished his 2016 season at FSU with 33 receptions for 488 yards and a touchdown. He should figure to be an option in the passing game. Cousins doesn’t mind giving running backs a high volume of targets and Cook is, by far, the Vikings’ most dangerous running back. More important, however, will be Cook’s role between the tackles. Cook was an absolute monster in the four games he played in 2017 after going in an impressive rookie running back class that boasted Leonard Fournette, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt. Cook figures to be a massively productive back in 2018, especially with Jerrick McKinnon leaving Minnesota for the San Francisco 49ers.
The Vikings have two missing pieces. McKinnon’s departure left Minnesota without a change-of-pace back. They seem confident Cook will do it all. And why not? Cook had four total touchdowns in his final two games of the season (2 receiving, 2 rushing). The last issue is that they aren’t set at their third receiver spot. Laquon Treadwell has yet to claim ownership of the job with Kendall Wright nipping at Treadwell’s heels. Treadwell, a 2017 first-round pick, has all the talent (and work ethic) to break out. He just hasn’t quite done it yet. Cousins could help change that. If not, Wright and Treadwell can make for a solid one-two punch as receiver depth. Perhaps Dez Bryant could be a good pickup, though not a necessary one.
The Vikings offensive unit is returning virtually all of their starters except their quarterback. And while that seems like a bad thing, Cousins offers a significant upgrade over Keenum. With a better quarterback and a healthy Cook, the offense should look dominant in 2018.