Drilling in: Vikings unit by unit analysis

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph catches a touchdown pass against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game.Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

By Brian Hall, The Sports Xchange:
A detailed breakdown of the lineup

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Kirk Cousins. Backups -- Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter.

The Vikings have had a quarterback reach 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns only three times in 57 years. Cousins has done it in each of the past three seasons. But critics of the $84 million quarterback point to his 26-32-1 record, including 0-2 in the playoffs. Acquired in a pre-draft trade, Siemian has experience and an affordable contract. He's making only $1.9 million in the final year of his rookie contract, but he also started 23 games in Denver, going 13-10.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Dalvin Cook, FB C.J. Ham. Backups -- Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, Roc Thomas, Mike Boone, FB Johnny Stanton.

Cook should be back to full strength coming off ACL surgery. If so, he'll be a focal point of John DeFilippo's offense. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and was better than expected in the screen game before being injured. Murray, a bigger back, is a better option in short-yardage situations. Looking to replace the departed Jerick McKinnon as the No. 3 back are Brown, who has 16 career carries, and undrafted rookies Thomas and Boone.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Kyle Rudolph. Backups -- David Morgan, Blake Bell, Tyler Conklin, Josiah Price.

Rudolph has looked good as he recovers from surgery to repair a bum ankle that hobbled him down the stretch last year. Cousins discovered quickly in offseason drills that he can trust throwing to a covered Rudolph, who is a mismatch with a huge catch radius. Morgan is a versatile blocking tight end, while Conklin, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, could develop into the second pass-catching tight end the team has been seeking.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs. Backups -- Laquon Treadwell, Kendall Wright, Tavarres King, Stacy Coley, Caleb Jones, Brandon Zylstra.

The Vikings don't have a prototypical No. 1 receiver, but they do have one of the best 1A and 1B tandems in football. Thielen and Diggs combined for 153 catches for 2,125 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Treadwell, whose lack of speed makes it difficult for him to separate, has looked good as the No. 3 receiver this offseason. This is a make-or-break year for the disappointing 2016 first-round pick. Wright, another underachieving former first-round pick of the Titans, comes over from Chicago and will push Treadwell for the No. 3 job.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Riley Reiff, LG Nick Easton, C Pat Elflein, RG Mike Remmers, RT Rashod Hill. Backups -- LT Aviante Collins, LG Danny Isidora, C Cornelius Edison, RG Tom Compton, RT Brian O'Neill, LT Dieugot Joseph, LG Colby Gossett, LG Josh Andrews, RG Cedric Lang, RT Storm Norton.

The No. 1 reason behind the Vikings' 2017 turnaround was the offensive line. Reiff could have been team MVP after coming over from Detroit as part of an overhaul that pumped respectability into what was a disastrous unit in 2016. Injuries slowed the line late last season. But Easton is back from a broken ankle, while Elflein should be good to go after offseason ankle and shoulder surgeries. All eyes will be on the right side of the line, where steady veteran guard Joe Berger retired. Remmers has moved from tackle to guard and looks more comfortable there. Hill has taken over the right tackle job and appears likely to man that position until O'Neill, a second-round pick, essentially redshirts this season as he gains NFL caliber strength.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Danielle Hunter, NT Linval Joseph, DT Sheldon Richardson, RE Everson Griffen. Backups -- LE Brian Robison, NT David Parry, DT Jaleel Johnson, RE Stephen Weatherly, DE-DT Jalyn Holmes, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Ade Aruna, RE Stephen Weatherly, Tashon Bower.

One of the highest-paid starting units also is one of the league's best. Griffen is an established star, a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro. And the younger Hunter, with 26.5 sacks at age 23, could end up being even better. Joseph is virtually immovable with deceptive quickness on the nose. And Richardson, a former 13th overall draft pick of the Jets, should be an upgrade over the departed Tom Johnson, an older situational inside pass rusher who was forced into the starting lineup the past two years. Unhappy with their overall depth, the Vikings drafted Holmes, a versatile end who will have a role as an inside pass rusher. Adding to the depth is veteran former starter Robison and Johnson, a second-year player who is beginning to blossom. Bower and Weatherly also are promising young pass rushers.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Anthony Barry, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Ben Gedeon. Backups -- SLB Eric Wilson, MLB Kentrell Brothers, WLB Reshard Cliett, SLB Antwione Williams, MLB Devante Downs.

The defense is set with Kendricks and Barr as versatile 26-year-old three-down linebackers. The weak-side position belonged to Gedeon during his rookie season last year. But he played sparingly as the Vikings lined up in their nickel packages most of the time. Pushing Gedeon this year is Wilson, an outstanding special teamer who has turned heads with speed and power since joining the team as an undrafted rookie a year ago. Brothers is the backup in the middle, but he'll start the season with a four-game suspension. Downs, a rookie, could step into that role until Brothers returns.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Xavier Rhodes, LCB Trae Waynes, SS Andrew Sendejo, FS Harrison Smith. Backups -- CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Terence Newman, CB Mike Hughes, FS Anthony Harris, SS Jayron Kearse, CB Horace Richardson, CB Jack Tocho, CB Holton Hill.

Not many teams, if any, can boast the talent and depth the Vikings have in the secondary. Rhodes and Smith made first-team All-Pro last season. Then came the draft and the first-round selection of Hughes. If Hughes bumps third-year pro Alexander out of the nickel back job, head coach Mike Zimmer's sub packages will feature four defensive backs -- Rhodes, Smith, Waynes and Hughes -- that were first-round picks of the Vikings. Newman, who turns 40 in September, is essentially a coach in pads. He'll play a limited role at nickel back and at safety in some packages.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Daniel Carlson, K Kai Forbath, P Ryan Quigley, LS Kevin McDermott, KR Mike Hughes, PR Marcus Sherels.

Carlson, a fifth-round draft pick, is the highest-drafted kicker in team history. But the Vikings are at least giving the impression that he will have to beat out Forbath to win the job. Carlson has a bigger leg, but also made a career-low 74.2 percent of his field goals at Auburn last year. Forbath's struggles with PATs was his downfall, but he was steady enough overall that the team would keep him if Carlson has a total meltdown. Quigley ranked last in the league in punting average, but tied a team record with no touchbacks during the regular season. Sherels is steady and deceptively elusive as a punt returner. Hughes, an electric college returner, is expected to replace Sherels as the kickoff returner.


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