The Vikings are coming off a 13-3 season and appearance in the NFC Championship Game. But they know that 2018 starts with a blank slate and, as Head Coach Mike Zimmer says, all 32 teams will start at 0-0.
As the Vikings set their sights on returning to the postseason, NFL.com's Adam Rank and Marc Sessler recently highlighted Minnesota as part of an ongoing series in which they provide five reasons why each of the NFL teams could make the playoffs.
Listed as two of the reasons were free-agent signings Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson. Rank said the Richardson deal "could be a game-changer" for the Vikings in 2018. He wrote:
The Vikings already had the top-rated defense in the league last season, including a defensive line filled with superstars like Danielle Hunter (they signed him to a new deal, BTW), Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph. It was already the reincarnation of the Purple People Eaters and then you go out and bring in a talent like Richardson. It's almost not fair.
Rank said that Cousins "could be the top gun the Vikings have been looking for" under center.
Listed at No. 3 on the list was the hiring of Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo.
One area where DeFilippo should immediately help Cousins is in the red zone. The Redskins struggled in that department the last two seasons (this was probably more of a running back problem), but it was a source of pride for the Vikings. Minnesota averaged 5.11 points per trip to the red zone last season, ranking fifth in the league, according to Football Outsiders (via the "Star Tribune"). The Eagles also excelled in the red zone. It's where they made their money and great moments.
Dalvin Cook's return was also listed as a reason the Vikings will make the playoffs. Cook started out hot in 2017 before tearing his ACL in Week 4, but the running back is expected to be ready to go for the season.
Rank said that Cook will be "the biggest key among Cousins' weapons." He opined that the running back could be "eased back in," but that he expects Cook to be "the kind of spirit-crushing back who is going to help the Vikings salt away a bunch of late-season wins."
Finally, Rank said that Minnesota's "unfinished business" after falling to the Eagles in last season's NFC title game will help the club make it to the postseason.
They really didn't lose much coming from a great 2018 season. They lost their offensive coordinator, but might be better off with DeFilippo. They let their quarterback walk out the door, but somehow got better. They were productive on the ground but will probably run the ball better this year. That's pretty scary to think about.
Things to watch for with Vikings RBs in 2018
In addition to Cook, Latavius Murray and Mack Brown also are returning for their second season in Purple, and fullback C.J. Ham is another carryover from last season's running back room.
Jerick McKinnon signed with the 49ers in free agency, which leaves room for one of the Vikings first-year backs to make an impression.
Looking specifically at the running back position, 247Sports' Anthony Broome posed five questions for the group. Among topics covered by Broome was whether or not Cook could be a "sleeper candidate for MVP." He wrote:
Should Cook come back healthy and more of the player that we saw before he went down with the injury, this is a guy that could be worth keeping an eye on as a sleeper candidate for the MVP award. He may be the early favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, but his fit in the offensive scheme that John DeFilippo will coordinate is almost too perfect as a guy who can run and catch passes out of the backfield.
Broome also looked at the third running back spot and considered options to fill McKinnon's spot, referring to the battle as "one of the most fun" to watch at training camp.
Undrafted rookies Roc Thomas and Mike Boone are the two names to watch, along with Mack Brown and potentially even C.J. Ham, who stuck on the roster last year as a fullback. Depth is going to be extremely important at this position with what Cook is dealing with, so there is an immediate storyline and perhaps the biggest one heading into camp and the preseason.