The 2017 season was a historic one for the Vikings defense.
Minnesota finished first overall by allowing just 15.8 points per game, the first time a Vikings defense had led the league in that stat since 1971. The Vikings also finished first overall in yards allowed per game with 275.9, Minnesota's best defensive ranking in that stat category since 1993.
And if that wasn't enough, the Vikings also recorded the top third-down defense since the NFL started tracking third-down percentage in 1991. Minnesota allowed 51 conversions on 202 attempts (25.2 percent).
As the 2018 season looms in a few months, Jared Dubin of CBS Sports recently wrote that he expects Minnesota's defense to be among the challengers for the NFL's top unit again.
Remember how we mentioned earlier that the Jaguars finished last season second in both yards and points allowed? Well, these are the guys that finished first. In both categories. The Vikings also ranked second in yards allowed per play, points allowed per drive, and defensive DVOA. They were the only team in the league to finish in the top five in each of those categories, plus the top five in DVOA against both the run and the pass.
[Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL, and he just got another fun toy to play with, as the Vikings signed former Jets and Seahawks star Sheldon Richardson on a one-year deal. Richardson should help mitigate the loss of interior stalwart Tom Johnson, and something tells me the Vikings will be OK getting by with just Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Andrew Sendejo, and (assuming he comes back for one more year) Terence Newman.
Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes were First-Team All-Pro selections in 2017 and Pro Bowl starters. Linval Joseph also played in the game. Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr were Pro Bowl selections but did not play.
Dubin also mentioned the Jaguars, Rams, Eagles and Texans as teams that could also have strong defenses in 2018.
Sherels' success story adds another chapter
With the news last week that Marcus Sherels re-signed to return to the Vikings, Star Tribune legendary columnist Sid Hartman wrote that the Rochester native's career continuing in his home state will add another season to "one of the best stories in Minnesota football history."
What makes Sherels' story so fantastic is that the former University of Minnesota walk-on and Rochester John Marshall graduate never seemed like a potential NFL player.
Nobody really wanted Sherels in college, or in the NFL, where he went undrafted in 2009 and then came to the Vikings' rookie minicamp. He made the team but didn't stick for long and was released, then he was brought back onto the practice squad and finally got called up for the final game of the 2010 regular season.
"I always try to stay positive and I stayed in shape and ready to go and they brought me back and I was happy," Sherels said. "At the rookie minicamp I wasn't even on the punt return list and I had to ask the coach and tell them, the special teams coordinator at the time, that I could return punts. He said, 'Let's see what you got.' "
Sherels has consistently been one of the best punt returners in the NFL. He has totaled 2,171 yards on 208 punt returns (10.4 yards per return) and five touchdowns.* *