In 2016, the Minnesota Vikings demonstrated why it is so difficult to predict an NFL team’s record before the season begins.
Going into the year, they were considered serious contenders with Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson carrying an offense that would be a perfect counterpart for a fearsome defense.
However, when Bridgewater and Peterson had season-wrecking knee injuries, it looked like it would be a long season in the Twin Cities.
After five weeks, though, the Vikings were 5-0 behind Sam Bradford and appeared to have control of the NFC North. In the end, there wasn’t enough offense, and Minnesota collapsed down the stretch, losing eight of its next 10 games before rallying to beat the hapless Chicago Bears in Week 17 to salvage an 8-8 season.
General manager Rick Spielman had a lot of work to do in free agency, and he got some of it done. Offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers will help protect Bradford, while Latavius Murray will get the unenviable job of replacing Peterson in the backfield.
The ageless Terence Newman will be back in the secondary, and deep threat Adam Thielen should give Bradford a way to stretch the field. However, the Vikings did lose No. 2 cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
There are still holes, though. Murray probably needs a young partner at running back, and the Vikings need at least one more offensive lineman. A replacement for Munnerlyn would be big, and there are depth concerns all over the roster.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they traded their first-round pick to Philadelphia to get Bradford, so here are five players that might catch their attention in the second round:
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
Feeney is a Midwestern guy, having played at Indiana, and he might be the best guard in the draft. He didn’t allow a sack in 2015 or 2016 and was an All-American as a senior. Adding him to the line would allow Joe Berger to stay at center and the Vikings to start building chemistry on a settled line.
As a four-year starter who opened holes for Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, he’s certainly capable of serving as a road grader in the running game, and the Vikings need a guard.
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
If the Vikings are going to try to replace Munnerlyn in the draft, Wilson’s probably their best bet. He made a devastating combination with Teez Tabor at Florida, and he’s the type of physical cornerback the Vikings want in their defense.
He’s quick, reads defenses well, and he’ll attack the running game. His biggest weakness is probably flat-line speed as he only ran 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and while he excelled in the short shuttle, he struggled in the three-cone drill.
Some analysts think his long-term future might be at safety, but he looks like a player who could handle the corner position in a carefully managed defense.
Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State
Taking an offensive lineman from Ohio State is rarely a bad idea, and Elflein’s versatility would mean the Vikings could experiment with he and Berger at center and guard. Like Feeney, he was an All-American who was known for a strong work ethic.
In other ways, he’s the opposite of Feeney as he’s impossible to move off a set position but struggles to get to a blocking position in the open field. That probably means he’s going to be an NFL center, which would allow Berger to go to guard.
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
Sharrif Floyd has shown signs of becoming a top-tier defensive tackle, but he was inconsistent even before missing 15 games last year with a knee injury.
Like other players on this list, McDowell has a lot of talent but no clear position. At 6-foot-6, is he destined to be a pass-rush specialist at end, or can he build on his 295-pound frame and become a disruptive force at tackle? He has shown the ability to do both in college, blowing past a tackle on one play before caving in the interior of a line on the next.
He also might not do either. He was highly inconsistent at Michigan State, and he’s going to have to prove that he’s ready for the hard work needed to take the next step. The potential is there to become a spectacular player, but he will have to make it happen for himself.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Kamara’s the type of runner that could be the perfect complement to Murray. He’s got the speed to exploit the holes opened by the new-look offensive line, and he’s strong enough to break tackles. On third downs, he can pick up blitzers or catch passes, and he’s a dangerous punt returner.
So why would he be available with the 48th pick? He didn’t have much of a college career. He left Alabama after redshirting as a freshman and was arrested after a traffic stop in Georgia. He ended up playing one season at a community college, and only carried the ball 210 times in two years at Tennessee.
He was productive, rushing for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns and adding 74 receptions for five more scores, but he’s never carried the ball 20 times in a game at Tennessee.