NFC North - Minnesota Vikings
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Round 1 – Center, Garrett Bradbury, North Carolina State
Round 1b – Tight end, Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
Round 3 – Running back, Alexander Mattison, Boise State
Universally acknowledged as the best center available heading into the draft, there is a lot to like about Garrett Bradbury. Possessing most of the traits required to excel at the position in the NFL, the former North Carolina State product should be in line for a starting role as a rookie. His experience at guard also offering the Vikings some flexibility. Converted from tight end to center when he arrived at college, the fact that Bradbury still has much to learn about playing center is a clear sign he has not come close to reaching his full potential and could possibly develop into one of the league’s best at the position one day. Arguably one of the safest picks of the 2019 NFL Draft.
As the son of a former NFL tight end taken in the first-round by the New Orleans Saints, there is a lot to like about the pedigree of Irv Smith Jr. and his final season at Alabama was more than enough inspire the Vikings to take him in round two. While far from the finished product as a blocker or a pass catcher, he has good speed and athleticism and should be a solid contributor as a rookie. If he develops as some predict, he could be pushing for a starting role in year two.
Much like the first two players drafted by Minnesota, running back Alexander Mattison offers a lot of versatility. Adept as a receiver, runner and blocker, the former Boise State prospect will see snaps on both special teams and offense this season. Mattison has the potential to be an effective starter if pressed into action as a rookie but is more likely to see playing time as a rotational back as he adjusts to life in the NFL. Perhaps lacking the top end speed of other runners, he should prove to be a solid backup to presumed starter Dalvin Cook.
During a relatively quite offseason for the Vikings given the excessive spending of 2018, the most notable deals agreed in Minnesota this year involved extensions for veterans Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Anthony Barr. Former Tennessee Titans guard Josh Kline was the most expensive free agent signing of the past few months as part of an overhaul along the interior of the offense line.
Losing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to the Cleveland Browns was the most significant loss during free agency, but with limited salary cap space available to them, the Vikings were powerless to prevent him from leaving for the free spending Browns. Center Nick Easton similarly signed a large deal with the New Orleans Saints that Minnesota was wise not to match and also released veteran guard Mike Remmers.
Gary Kubiak arrives as the new offensive advisor/assistant head coach with instructions to tailor an offense that better suits the talents of quarterback Kirk Cousins. How well he can achieve this feat will go a long way to dictating the success of the Vikings in 2019.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are two of the league’s best wide receivers and it is hard to find a more impressive duo in the NFL. Seemingly lacking the diva attitude of some of their more illustrious peers, the pair are only really limited by the talents of the quarterback throwing them the ball. Young running back Dalvin Cook could be the Vikings next breakout star on offense this season.
Emerging defensive talent Danielle Hunter will be a star of the future if he can improve on his 14.5 sacks from 2018, while veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes is still considered by many to be one of the elites at his position, this despite something of a down year last season. The same could also be said of safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen in that regard.
Having signed a guaranteed contract worth $84 million during free agency last year, it would be fair to say that Minnesota was perhaps hoping for more than they got from Kirk Cousins during his debut season with the team. His statistics for the year were not poor, but they did not match with the expectations associated with his deal and the Vikings will be looking for significant improvement this season if they are to return to the playoffs. Much will depend on the new offensive scheme Kubiak implements.
There is more than enough talent on defense for Minnesota to remain competitive but given their lack of offseason signings on both sides of the ball, it appears the coaching staff will be relying on their rookies to provide the offensive spark that was missing at times last year.
If some of the key veteran names who underperformed by their own standards in 2018 can return to their Pro Bowl form of past seasons the Vikings should be contenders for a division title and a decent run in the playoffs. A Super Bowl title might be beyond them this year though.
Oddschecker spokesperson Pete Watt: ““If Kirk Cousins plays to the level his salary demands, then +5500 for MVP could be a very shrewd bet. His poor form last season was enigmatic to observers, but with the right tools around him – which the Vikings certainly possess – they could pose a threat to any team in the NFC.”
Based on the 2018 record of their opponents, Minnesota will theoretically have the 10th hardest ranked schedule in the NFL heading into 2019. They will face teams that accumulated a combined record of 130-124-2 last season for a winning percentage of .512.
Roads trips to face the Green Bay Packers in Week 2 and Chicago Bears in Week 4 will give a good indication of how competitive the Vikings will be in the division early on. Their home games against both in Weeks 16 and 17 to close out the season are likely to decide to the winner of the NFC North.