Jets Know Your Foe Podcast Preview – Scouting the Minnesota Vikings’ Offseason

Michael Nania continues his “Know Your Foe” series breaking down the New York Jets 2018 opponents with a look at the Minnesota Vikings…

Coming this regular season, I will be hosting a weekly podcast centered around the dissection of the New York Jets’ opponent each week; featuring guests from the opposing perspective, in-depth looks into opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses on film, compelling statistical nuggets, matchups to watch out for, and plenty more! To preview the show, each week leading up to the season I’ll recap the offseason of one of the Jets’ opponents; this week, we look at the reigning NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS:

Franchise Outlook:

It is hard to imagine a franchise painting the “all-in” mantra more clearly than the Vikings have with their moves this offseason. After winning 13 games and leading the league in both scoring and yardage defense, the Vikings came just one win away from the Super Bowl, getting obliterated by the eventual champion Eagles. To follow that effort they ditched 3 quarterbacks who have previously been productive for them. Their replacement? Former daily Jets Twitter topic #1 and one of the biggest fish to hit the quarterback market in history; Kirk Cousins.

Minnesota is in it to win everything, and anything short will likely be considered a failure. This franchise has a .546 all-time regular win percentage, the sixth highest in the league, and no Super Bowl wins to show for it. After fielding a dominant defense and a good-not-great offense led by the overachieving Case Keenum, the time had never been better for the Vikings to mortgage the future for the present and lure in a top quarterback. Say what you will about Cousins, but he has been a consistent top 10-12 QB and is now joining forces with one of the league’s best defenses and coaching staffs.

2017 Strengths and Weaknesses –

Positives:

Offensive:

  • 10th in scoring (23.9 PPG), 8th in points per drive (2.03)
  • 3rd in fewest turnovers (14), 2nd in fewest interceptions (8)
  • 9th in net passing yards per attempt (includes sacks; 6.8)
  • 8th in lowest sack percentage allowed (4.9%)
  • 7th in rushing yards (122.3 per game)
  • 3rd in third down conversion rate (43.5%)
  • 9th in red zone touchdown rate (57.9%)
  • 8th in punt return average (9.5)
  • 3rd in kick return average (24.8)

Defensive:

  • 1st in scoring defense (15.8 PPG)
  • 1st in yardage defense (275.9 YPG)
  • 1st in fewest passing TD allowed (13)
  • 2nd in lowest net passing yards per attempt allowed (5.2)
  • 5th in lowest rushing yards per attempt allowed (3.7)
  • 1st in third down defense (25.2%)
  • 3rd in red zone defense (40.0% TD rate)
  • 3rd in QB rating allowed (73.0)

Negatives:

Offensive:

  • 23rd in rushing yards per attempt (3.9)
  • 30th in fourth down conversion rate (14.3%)

Defensive:

  • 29th in fumble recoveries (5)
  • 25th in kick return average allowed (22.7)
  • Had to really reach with these. Their defense was that good – top ten in just about everything.

Draft –

R1, #30: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF – A raw but very talented outside corner with high upside and returner potential. It was interesting to see a Vikings team with so much defensive talent go with a corner in round one, but if there’s one position where you can’t have enough good players, it’s cornerback.

R2, #62: Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh – The Vikings offensive line was only so-so last season, grading 22nd at Pro Football Focus. O’Neill should have a chance to compete right away. He is an athletic and skilled pass blocker, but is considered to need more strength to hold up as a tackle. With guard Joe Berger retiring, the team’s highest graded lineman, O’Neill could shift there.

R4, #102: Jalyn Holmes, DE, Ohio State – Needs fundamental development and more NFL strength, but has upside as a disruptive interior defender. His NFL.com scouting report compared him to new Jet Henry Anderson.

R5, #157: Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan – Not a very high-upside pass catcher who dealt with injuries over his previous two seasons. Has a good shot to contribute as a blocker.

R5, #167: Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn – The first kicker selected in the 2018 Draft. Carlson connected on all 198 of career extra points and converted 80.7% of his career field goal attempts, though he set a career low at 74.2% in his senior season. Kai Forbath had a rocky 2017 for the Vikings, missing five extra points.

R6, #213: Colby Gossett, G, Appalachian State – A physically imposing guard with an NFL-ready frame who was very unimpressive against high-level competition.

R6, #218: Ade Aruna, DE, Tulane – An athletic project. He has an interesting story, as he came to the U.S. from Nigeria to play basketball but switched to football for just one year after a coach suggested it to him.

R7, #225: Devante Downs, LB, California – An inside linebacker project with pass rushing upside.

Biggest instant threat to the Jets? – The Vikings are so deep and talented that it is hard to find playing time for any of these draft picks. Their first round pick, Mike Hughes, could very well be the #4 or #5 corner on the depth chart in Week 1. Even his returning upside is blocked on the depth chart by top-notch returner Marcus Sherels. This is clearly a draft class with the future in mind.

With that said, I am going to be bold and pick Brian O’Neill as my top instant draft threat. Yep! I’m picking a non-round 1 offensive lineman. Why? Well, just looking at the Minnesota depth chart, it seems O’Neill has the best chance to earn a starting spot. The Vikings offensive line was already shaky and is down a starter from last year. O’Neill was a very efficient pass protector in college. I think he is the best bet to provide positive contributions to this team; with that being said, I still wouldn’t bet on any of these rookies doing much in 2018.

Kicker Daniel Carlson might actually be the best choice. I showed you his numbers above, and he could have a chance to be an upgrade for the Vikings. Kai Forbath wasn’t very good in 2017, as he missed six field goals (hitting on 84%), and five extra points.

Major trades:

  • The Vikings acquired former Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian and the 225th overall pick for a future 5th round pick.

Notable losses:

  • Guard Joe Berger retired. He was the league’s 23rd ranked guard by PFF and the Vikings’ top-graded offensive lineman.
  • All three Vikings starters of the past four years moved on. Teddy Bridgewater is obviously now a Jet, Sam Bradford is a Cardinal, and Case Keenum is a Bronco.
  • Running back Jerick McKinnon signed with the 49ers for four years, $30 million, giving him the 5th highest average annual value at the position. McKinnon has never had a 1000-yard season from scrimmage and has had a YPC below 4.0 in each of the last two seasons. He also only has 14 career starts. It was an interesting gamble on upside by San Francisco.

Notable additions:

  • After most assumed the Vikings would bet on one of their three solid quarterbacks, Minnesota swooped in and grabbed the biggest name on the free agency market. They gave Kirk Cousins an unprecedented fully guaranteed three year deal in which he will make $24M, $29M, and $31M over the next three seasons.
  • Former Jet and Seahawk Sheldon Richardson joined the Vikings on a one year, $8 million deal.

Most damaging loss?

I am going to roll with Joe Berger. The Vikings offensive line was already considered their weakest unit, so losing their most proven and acclaimed veteran will not be helpful as they phase in a new quarterback and try to improve their YPC to an above-average mark.

While Berger is my pick in this section, the Vikings really didn’t lose much at all. McKinnon was a role-playing back whose numbers can be replicated or beaten by the combination of Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook. And, other than McKinnon and Berger, they didn’t lose any valuable pieces. Those hits will come next year, when Murray, Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, and Terrence Newman (though he is nearing his 40s) all come off of their team-friendly deals while the team has little cap room.

Most threatening free agency/trade addition to the Jets? 

Come on, now.

Between the final snap of Jets-Patriots in Foxborough on New Year’s Eve and the start of the legal tampering period in March, nobody was discussed more in Jets circles than Kirk Cousins. Is he elite? Is he mediocre? Can you build around that contract? Is he a money-first guy? Can he handle NY? Can he beat playoff teams?

All of these things are debatable, but one fact that you cannot debate is that Kirk Cousins has been an above average starting quarterback in each of his first three seasons as an every-week starter. Since becoming a primary starter in 2015, he ranks 3rd in the league in completion percentage, 4th in yards per attempt, 7th in yards per game, 6th in quarterback rating, 3rd in rushing touchdowns, and 11th in touchdown percentage (among qualifiers). He did that on a team that never gave him an above-average defense or top half rushing attack.

Kirk Cousins is a very good quarterback. Is he a top 10 quarterback? Probably not. Will he ever be one? That’s a coin toss. However, the Vikings are not paying for his upside. They are paying for the certainty and stability he has proven he can bring to the table through three productive seasons with an unstable team. For a team in Minnesota’s position, cashing out for a quarterback you can be sure will be at least “good” makes sense over gambling on one of the three major wild cards they already had. Cousins makes a lot more sense for the Vikings than he would have with the Jets, and he has a great opportunity to be successful there.

Jets Connections –

  • Teddy Bridgewater went 17-11 as the Vikings starter over his first two years in the league from 2014-15, becoming their youngest QB to win a game since Fran Tarkenton in 1962. He sits at 9th on the franchise’s all-time QB wins list.
  • Sheldon Richardson had a solid if not flashy one season in Seattle, posting only one sack but playing well nonetheless. He adds even more talent to an already stacked defensive front.

You might remember Sheldon having arguably the best game of his career in Minnesota. In 2014, Richardson posted 3 sacks, 7 tackles, and a safety in the Jets’ overtime loss to Bridgewater’s Vikings.

  • Three of the Vikings’ 2018 selections were once owned by the Jets; #157 (TE Tyler Conklin), #167 (K Daniel Carlson), and #225 (LB Devante Downs)

Synopsis –

The Vikings are an extremely talented football team. The offensive line has question marks, but outside of that they have top 10 or better potential at every position.

This is football. There are only sixteen games in a season. A handful of plays can be the difference between 13-3 and the first seed, and 10-6 with no playoff appearance. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL unless you are the Patriots (unfortunate as that is to say).

The expectations are at a max for Minnesota, but few teams are better equipped to reach those heights than they are.

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.