Our 2017 Detroit Lions season preview continues today with our first look at a divisional opponent. Last year the Lions swept the Minnesota Vikings, but both games ended with miraculous comebacks. There was no team more evenly matched with the Lions than the Vikings, which sets the table for an exciting 2017 NFC North race.
But have the Vikings changed much since the Lions last saw them on Thanksgiving? We tapped Daily Norseman to find out more about this year’s team.
Notable free agent additions: DT Datone Jones, RB Latavius Murray, OT Riley Reiff, OT Mike Remmers
Notable free agent departures: TE Rhett Ellison, OT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, RB Adrian Peterson
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
RB Dalvin Cook - In many circles, Cook was regarded as a first-round talent, but some off-field issues caused him to slip into Round 2, where the Vikings quickly traded up to secure his services. Cook might have been the best all-around back in this year’s draft class, thanks to his ability to create yards after contact and serve as a weapon in the passing game. People will immediately tab him as Adrian Peterson’s replacement, but he’s going to be a part of a rotation (at least at first) with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Everyone expects that Cook will be the featured guy eventually, but it might not come right away.
C/G Pat Elflein - The result of another trade up on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft, Elflein provides both toughness and versatility to a Vikings’ offensive line that needs it. He started at center and both guard spots during his time with the Buckeyes, though the Vikings appear to want him at the center spot. There has been word coming out of the OTAs and mini-camps that Nick Easton was getting the first-team snaps at center (with last year’s starting center, Joe Berger, getting pushed out to right guard), but in my opinion it would be a significant upset if Elflein wasn’t the starter at center in Week 1.
Biggest offseason addition: It has to be the additions of Reiff and Remmers at the tackle positions. In the dumpster fire that was the Vikings’ offensive line last season, the tackle positions were the biggest issue of them all, and Reiff and Remmers should provide an upgrade at those spots over the collective of lukewarm bodies (and T.J. Clemmings) that the Vikings ran out there at those positions last year. Are they superstars? No, not by any stretch. But they’re significant upgrades over what the Vikings had there in 2016, and they should be able to get the offensive line to at least “not completely awful” status.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: The biggest storyline going into camp is the same one that’s been the biggest storyline for Vikings fans for most of the last year: What’s going on with Teddy Bridgewater? It was nearly a year ago that Bridgewater’s leg completely fell apart after a non-contact injury, necessitating the trade for Sam Bradford for a team that expected to contend. Now, we’re seeing videos of Bridgewater throwing, working out with teammates, and making progress. Nobody seems to know exactly how much progress he’s made to this point, as the Vikings have kept that pretty tightly under wraps. Bridgewater is likely going to start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform List, but how the Vikings handle things from there is going to be the biggest story. Both Bridgewater and Bradford are in the final year of their contracts, so how Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and company handle the quarterback situation is going to be an overarching storyline for this team all season long.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: With the departure of Captain Munnerlyn, the big question for the Vikings’ defense is what the team does at the nickel cornerback position. The team appears set on the outside with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, but the nickel/slot corner situation is a bit of a mystery. The team re-signed Terence Newman, but who knows if this is the year that Father Time eventually catches up to him. They also have last year’s second-round pick, Mackensie Alexander, but he saw limited time in his rookie season and got roughed up a bit when he was on the field. With teams playing so much nickel defense in the NFL today, the third cornerback position is the primary question mark for a Minnesota defense that doesn’t have a whole lot of questions that need answering.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Outside of Bridgewater, there really aren’t any significant injuries for the Vikings at this point in time.
Thanks to Daily Norseman for the informative answers. How do you think the season series between the Lions and Vikings shakes out in 2017?