The Vikings went 13-3 in 2017, a record that was good enough for Minnesota to win the NFC North.
It was the second division title in the past three seasons under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, and one analyst believes another could be on the way soon.
Will Brinson of CBS Sports took a peak ahead to the 2018 season and said that Zimmer’s Vikings look like the most complete team in the NFC North.
Brinson wrote that the backbone of Minnesota’s success is the Vikings defense, which ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed, points allowed and third-down percentage in 2017.
The Vikings defense is just going to be a top-five unit in the NFL again this year. I can't find any real logic why they would magically fall off a cliff, not with all the talent at the three levels on this roster. They added Sheldon Richardson to Linval Joseph, Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter. That is filthy.
Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are excellent linebackers with different skillsets. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are elite talents in the secondary. Trae Waynes might blossom this year if Mike Zimmer's history with defensive backs is any indication, and the team also picked up Mike Hughes just in case. Minnesota's done a really nice job [of] creating a talent pipeline to ensure longevity and depth.* *
Brinson added that the Vikings also have plenty of skill players on offense, including a new quarterback in Kirk Cousins.
On offense, if the offensive line is good and Dalvin Cook stays healthy for a full season, this should be an explosive unit again. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are underrated, and Cousins could take things to the next level.
Brinson pointed to a tough-three game road trip in 2017 that proved how tough the Vikings are, and why they could be the division’s top team again this upcoming season.
I keep thinking back to the stretch of games after their bye last year when they almost beat the Lions, Falcons and Panthers in back-to-back-to-back weeks ... on the road. This is just a mentally tough team who manages to grind people out with its defense. Zimmer's a great coach who doesn't fully get the recognition he deserves. If Cousins spikes this offense, the Vikings are going to win a lot of games.
Hunting for talents like Hunter
When the Vikings nabbed Danielle Hunter in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, they were adding a defensive end who racked up just 4.5 total sacks in college.
But Minnesota saw something with Hunter’s athleticism and upside, and the move paid off as Hunter has 25.5 career sacks in three seasons in Purple.
Courtney Cronin of ESPN wrote earlier this week that the Vikings are hoping to use Hunter’s success story* *as a model for a handful of players taken in the 2018 draft.
At 6-foot-7, 297 pounds, second-round offensive tackle Brian O'Neill clocked a 4.82-second 40-yard dash, which was the fastest of all offensive linemen at the combine. Jalyn Holmes, a fourth-round defensive end who will move inside to tackle, has a near 82-inch wingspan. Fifth-round tight end Tyler Conklin has a 38-inch vertical jump. In the sixth round, Minnesota grabbed a guard who ranked fourth among all offensive linemen in the combine bench press (Colby Gossett). They also found a defensive end whose hand size, 40 time, vertical jump and broad jump all rank above the 93rd percentile (Ade Aruna). And they nabbed a linebacker who was on pace to contend for Pac-12 defensive player of the year before his season was derailed by an injury (Devante Downs).
Cronin added that while it remains to be seen what impact the trio can have going forward, the Vikings certainly know the formula for success is there.
The projections for how this group will pan out this season are all across the board. O'Neill's length, build and footwork are undeniable, but everyone inside the Vikings organization — Spielman to O'Neill himself — has said that he has to get stronger to play right tackle. Meanwhile, Aruna's explosive skill set could make him an early contributor.