Minnesota Vikings 2016 Season Analysis: X-factor, roster breakdown, schedule

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 6, 2016 at 8:25 AM
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FACTS AND STATS

2015 Finish: First in NFC North

Record: 11-5, 0-1 in postseason; Won division

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 5-1

TOTAL OFFENSE: 321.2 (29th)

RUSHING: 138.2 (4th)

PASSING: 183.0 (31st)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 344.2 (13th)

RUSHING: 109.3 (17th)

PASSING: 234.9 (12th)

COACH: Mike Zimmer

3rd season as Vikings/NFL head coach

18-15 overall; postseason 0-1

XTRA FACTOR

--The Vikings went 11-6 in two seasons in their temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium. Their .687 regular-season winning percentage (11-5) is the highest ever among teams playing in a temporary home stadium. But, that being said, the excitement surrounding the team's move back inside to state-of-the-art U.S. Bank Stadium promises to be a season-long jolt of energy starting with a prime-time regular-season home opener against the Packers.

2016 UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

By TSX reporter covering team:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Sam Bradford. Backup -- Shaun Hill

The tentative plan is to start Hill in the season opener at Tennessee and have Bradford take over in Week 2 when the Vikings open new $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium against the Packers on Sunday Night Football. Hill is old (36) and frail by NFL standards. But he knows the offense, having been with Norv Turner since the start of last season and in San Francisco in 2007. But Hill can't be counted on to stay healthy. He has only 16 career wins and has never started more than 10 games in a season. Bradford, who joined the team four days after Teddy Bridgewater's season-ending knee injury, also is an injury risk. But the Vikings like his arm strength and accuracy on deeper throws. On a run-oriented team built around Adrian Peterson, Bradford simply needs to avoid critical errors and have the ability to stretch the field to take the pressure off the running game.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Adrian Peterson, FB Zach Line. Backups -- Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon

Peterson is one of only three running backs to lead the league in rushing while in his 30s. He did it last year when he ran for 1,485 yards at age 30. Curtis Martin set the record for oldest back to lead the league in rushing when he did it at age 31 in 2004. Peterson looks like he's 25 and is primed to defend his title with a fourth rushing crown. The Vikings rested him in the preseason, so add fresh legs to his power, quick jump cuts and speed. Line has improved as a lead blocker and has gained Peterson's trust. Asiata is a steady, underrated guy who rarely fumbles or loses ground when called on to give Peterson a rest. He's also the Vikings' best pass protector among the running backs. McKinnon is a shifty, deceptively powerful back who makes for a nice change of pace on third downs.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Kyle Rudolph. Backups -- Rhett Ellison, MyCole Pruitt, David Morgan

Rudolph has all he needs to be a big part of Norv Turner's offense. When he's healthy and not needed to help the offensive tackles block (which was a lot last year), Rudolph has good speed, outstanding hands and a large frame with a giant catching radius. He can reach over defenders and make catches down the seam. Ellison is back from a torn patellar tendon sustained in last year's regular season finale. He's the best and most versatile blocker among the tight ends, but his playing time will be low at the start. Pruitt was a surprise in the passing game as a rookie last year. He has a knack for finding soft spots in coverage and running after the catch. Morgan, a rookie sixth-round draft pick, has skills that are very similar to Ellison's.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Charles Johnson, Stefon Diggs. Backups -- Adam Thielen, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Laquon Treadwell

Diggs, who led the team in receiving as a rookie last year, is the most talented and polished of the receivers. He can separate from defenders and is a strong route runner. Johnson gets the early opportunity to start after losing his job to Diggs a year ago. Johnson uses his decent size well and is faster than some safeties give him credit for when he's running free down the field. Treadwell, the Vikings' rookie first-round draft pick, hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet. But he has been worked in with the starters. Expect him to be used mostly as a red-zone target until he becomes a starter at some point during the season. Thielen, a special teams standout, continues to grow as a receiver who can play every spot. Patterson, the former first-round pick, has been a disappointment as a receiver. But he could be used more this year as a change-of-pace guy who can execute bubble screens and reverses. A training camp injury cost Wright some ground to Thielen as the slot receiver with the first team. But he remains a valuable, underrated playmaker who's quick and sneaky fast.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Matt Kalil, LG Alex Boone, C Joe Berger, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Andre Smith. Backups -- LT T.J. Clemmings, RT Jeremiah Sirles, C Nick Easton, G Zac Kerin

The offensive line should be better than it was last year. Of course, that's not saying a whole lot since last year's line was undeniably the weakness of the team. Boone, the giant-sized guard, was the team's prized free-agent signing. After watching him in action, it's clear to see why. He's a powerful run blocker and stout pass protector. He also brings the nasty attitude that coach Mike Zimmer wanted for his offensive line. Kalil has looked considerably better than he has in recent years, although a leg injury did cause him to miss the third preseason game. He hasn't played since the second preseason game. New line coach Tony Sparano has helped Kalil's technique, while defensive end Everson Griffen's elite speed and quickness has forced Kalil to give 100 percent on every snap. Berger beat out long-time starter John Sullivan, who was trying to bounce back after missing last season because of two back surgeries. Berger was one of the better centers in the league a year ago while filling in for Sullivan. Fusco returns to the right side after a failed attempt to play him on the left side last year. Smith is basically the starter by default at right tackle. He was signed as a free agent from Cincinnati and hasn't impressed. Speed rushers give him problems. Easton has impressed in his second season with the team. With Berger's ability to start at center and either guard spots, and the team's growing confidence in Easton, Berger could move to guard in case of an injury. It appears Clemmings, the starter at right tackle a year ago, has won the swing tackle job. But the team also could activate Sirles, who can play either side in a pinch as well.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- RE Everson Griffen, DT Sharrif Floyd, NT Linval Joseph, LE Brian Robison. Backups -- LE Danielle Hunter, RE Justin Trattou, T Shamar Stephen, DT Tom Johnson

Griffen is the second-best player on the team behind Peterson. Yes, he's that good. An excellent pass rusher with speed, quickness and power, he also plays the run with dogged determination and skill. Floyd has Pro Bowl potential if he could stay healthy. A huge if at this point in his career. Joseph was the league's best nose tackle a year ago before suffering turf toe. He had surgery and appears to be back to his dominant self. Robison is a steady veteran who makes few mistakes. Hunter, the second-year pro who surprised everyone by how quickly he progressed last year, will see a lot of time in the nickel. He comes in at left end, while Robison often slides inside and rushes from the standing position. Stephen is a nose-tackle-sized guy who can also play the three-technique. He spent most of last season on injured reserve. He could help the team's inconsistent run defense by playing more snaps this season. Johnson is an excellent inside nickel rusher, but played too many snaps in running situations a year ago.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Chad Greenway. Backups -- MLB Kentrell Brothers, LB Audie Cole, WLB Emmanuel Lamur, SLB Edmond Robinson.

Barr has All-Pro potential if he can avoid the nagging injuries that hit him in his first two seasons. He can do it all as a linebacker. With size, a long frame, speed and instincts, he can rush off the edge, up the middle and cover pretty well down the seams. Kendricks, who led the team in tackles as a rookie a year ago, is an undersized guy who makes up for it with anticipation and a strong lower body. Greenway is 33 and in what likely is his final season. He's still effective as a two-down player. Greenway can slip up or he will find himself losing time to Lamur, another favorite of Zimmer's when the two were together in Cincinnati. Brothers, a rookie, is a special teams player for now. Cole is a big, versatile athlete who can play all three positions. Robinson, a surprise seventh-round success story out of Newberry a year ago, is a solid backup behind Barr.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Xavier Rhodes, FS Harrison Smith, SS Andrew Sendejo, LCB Terence Newman. Backups -- CB Trae Waynes, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Anthony Harris, S Jayron Kearse, CB Marcus Sherels

Smith was the league's highest-paid safety when he signed an extension this offseason. It's easy to see why. He's equally effective in deep coverage or near the line of scrimmage as a run stopper or pass rusher. Rhodes has developed into a shutdown-type of corner with his long frame, speed and confidence. Newman refuses to act his age and is still a strong starter at 38. The Vikings tried to upgrade at strong safety, but Sendejo fought off all competitors for the second straight year. He's limited in deep coverage, but plays fast and all-out all the time. He easily outplayed highly-touted free agent signing Michael Griffin, who would have been released if he hadn't been injured in the third preseason game. Munnerlyn starts the season as the nickel cornerback. He played very well in that role last season, but can't afford to slip up. If he does, Alexander, the brash rookie second-round draft pick, will take his job. Alexander is still a little raw, but he's talented and very confident in himself. Kearse, a rookie seventh-round pick, and Harris, a second-year undrafted player, provide some athletic depth but not much experience.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Blair Walsh, P Jeff Locke, PR Marcus Sherels, KR Cordarrelle Patterson.

Walsh has said all the right things about his confidence not being shaken by his season-ending duck hook. But he'll have to prove it on the field after last year's 10-9 wild-card loss to Seattle ended with him pulling a 27-yard field goal attempt wide left with 22 seconds left. Locke has been an inconsistent performer his entire career, but the Vikings showed more faith in him by not bringing in competition. Sherels is rock-solid as a returner. He catches everything and is sneaky quick. With special teams coordinator Mike Priefer's blocking schemes, Sherels is a surprising big-play threat. While Patterson has fumbled his opportunities as a receiver, he's excelled as a kick returner. A year ago, he led the league in kick return average (31.8) for the second time in his four seasons. He also had two touchdowns, tying his team season record from his All-Pro rookie season.

PRACTICE SQUAD: QB Joel Stave, RB C.J. Ham, CB Tre Roberson, G Willie Beavers, G Isame Faciane, WR Moritz Bohringer, TE Kyle Carter, DT Toby Johnson, DE Stephen Weatherly, S Shamiel Gary

2016 SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Sept. 11, at Tennessee, 12:00

Sept. 18, GREEN BAY, 7:30

Sept. 25, at Carolina, 12:00

Oct. 3, N.Y. GIANTS (Mon.), 7:30

Oct. 9, HOUSTON, 12:00

OPEN DATE,

Oct. 23, at Philadelphia, 12:00

Oct. 31, at Chicago (Mon.), 7:30

Nov. 6, DETROIT, 12:00

Nov. 13, at Washington, 12:00

Nov. 20, ARIZONA, 12:00

Nov. 24, at Detroit (Thu.), 11:30

Dec. 1, DALLAS (Thu.), 7:25

Dec. 11, at Jacksonville, 12:00

Dec. 18, INDIANAPOLIS, 12:00

Dec. 24, at Green Bay (Sat.), 12:00

Jan. 1, CHICAGO, 12:00

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