Minnesota Vikings: Most Under and Overrated Offseason Additions
It's late June, and that means that all is quiet on the NFL front.
It's the one month of the year where American football players are relegated to the second and third pages of your local newspaper. The summer of 2014 sees the world stage filled with different footballers like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Thomas Mueller.
Oh sure, we'll all probably get constant updates from the world-wide leader on what Johnny Football does over the Fourth of July weekend, but beyond that, there won't be any news from NFL practice fields for another three weeks.
But as NFL fans, you have to chew on something don't you? Hopes are high for all 32 NFL teams at this point of the year. New acquisitions and draft picks have every fanbase in the league thinking that 2014 will be their year.
And one of the very best things about the NFL is that at this point in the year, everybody is right. July and August will bring an interminable amount of predictions and analysis, with fantasy "sleepers" and projected busts.
The truth is that almost every season in the NFL yields two or three playoff teams that nobody saw coming. Who guessed that the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs would make the playoffs in 2013? Those three teams won 13 games combined the previous season.
On the other side of the coin, the 2012 season saw the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans combine for 35 wins and three division titles. That trio tumbled to just nine total wins last year.
The NFL is an up-and-down league; that's part of the reason so many people love it so much. You're never that far out of it. The success of a 16-game season depends so much on momentum, which can turn on a dime with injuries, breakout stars and things nobody sees coming.
Having said all of that, spirits are definitely high in Minnesota. A new coaching regime has ushered in a sense of urgency that seemed to be lacking in the Leslie Frazier era. The Vikings have seemingly given up on expecting Christian Ponder to lead them at quarterback, which is a relief to a vast majority of the fanbase.
Like every other team in the league, Minnesota's hopes are pinned to several new arrivals. Obviously, the maturation of many young players on the Vikings roster is crucial to their success. But in late June, the easiest, most tangible thing to point to, regarding improvements, is in the new blood.
Here we take a look at some of Minnesota's offseason additions and project who might be under and overrated as the 2014 NFL season approaches.
Underrated: Head Coach Mike Zimmer
New head coach Mike Zimmer is hands down the most important offseason addition for the Minnesota Vikings.
There was really no reason to dislike the hiring of Leslie Frazier after the 2010 season. Frazier had paid his dues as an assistant coach in the league and carried himself as a professional both on and off the field. He had worked under, and was cut from the same cloth, as a Minnesota favorite son in Tony Dungy.
Frazier's coaching style was laid back and came off as passive. Like Dungy, he was a quiet leader who never adopted the "rah-rah" style seen in a majority of football coaches. It's a style that comes off as cool and calculated if you're winning. If you're losing? It can make you look dispassionate and even lethargic.
Enter Zimmer, who, like Frazier, has certainly paid his dues as a long-time, highly successful defensive coordinator in the league.
That's about it for the similarities between Zimmer and Frazier. Zimmer comes in as a fiery, animated leader who will never be described as dispassionate.
Athletes, in almost any sport at any level, often take their cues and develop a personality that is similar to their coach. Too many times over the course of the last three seasons, the Vikings looked listless on the field.
That won't be the case under Zimmer, a 58-year-old who's been chomping at the bit to be an NFL head coach for years. Zimmer, as reported by Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo, almost pulled himself out of consideration for the Vikings job because his frustration with not landing a head coaching job had gotten so high.
Zimmer has been a breath of fresh air and a bundle of energy since arriving in Minnesota. As Star Tribune reporter Master Tesfatsion (subscription required) wrote in January, Zimmer's style is about as far away from Frazier's as you can get.
Both the Vikings' present and future lie in the development and maturation of many of the young players on its roster. Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Kalil, Kyle Rudolph, Cordarrelle Patterson, Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith are part of the nucleus that will determine the Vikings' fate over the next handful of seasons.
After a hugely disappointing 2013 season, those players will all have a chip on their shoulders heading in to the coming season. Just like their new head coach.
Overrated: Middle Linebacker Jasper Brinkley
The Minnesota Vikings drafted linebacker Jasper Brinkley in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, and he gave them two solid seasons as a backup to E.J. Henderson and as a dynamic special teams player.
When Minnesota decided not to bring Henderson back for the 2012 season, Brinkley took over as the starting middle linebacker. He had a decent enough season, but he was a little underwhelming in posting 99 tackles at a position where you should put up bigger numbers than that.
Brinkley was tough against the run and usually off the field in passing situations. He signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals after 2012, but he struggled mightily in Arizona's 3-4 scheme and could never crack the starting lineup.
The Cardinals released Brinkley after just one disappointing season where he recorded only 27 tackles.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman brought Brinkley back to Minnesota in a low-risk move where he will be in a positional battle with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker.
Brinkley is now 28 years old, and the truth is that his skill set is pretty one-dimensional. He is a tough player who can make a tackle when the play comes to him. His ceiling isn't very high, and the hope in Minnesota is that both Cole and Mauti can prove that they bring more to the table than Brinkley in training camp.
It'll be a fierce, open competition at middle linebacker, and Brinkley will certainly be in the mix. The thought here, however, is that Brinkley will be the odd man out come the end of August.
Underrated: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn
When the Vikings made the eyebrow-raising decision not to bring back Antoine Winfield in 2013, many Vikings fans expected the worst. Minnesota rolled the dice with second-year man Josh Robinson taking over the slot corner position vacated by Winfield, and the results were disastrous.
The Vikings secondary was simply brutal in 2013. They gave up a ton of passing yards, they couldn't stop anybody on third down and they couldn't generate any turnovers.
It was obviously an area that needed an upgrade in the offseason, and the Vikings made a huge move when they signed free agent Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year deal that will pay him up to $15 million.
Munnerlyn was a key cog for a Carolina Panthers defense that ranked second overall in the NFL. Munnerlyn was third on the team in tackles and has improved in that area in every one of his five seasons in the league.
Munnerlyn led the Panthers with 12 passes defended, and he keyed a secondary that ranked sixth in the NFL against the pass and was eighth in third-down conversion rate. The Vikings were 31st in the league in both of those categories and also in total defense.
Munnerlyn also brings the pop of big plays to a Vikings defense that needs it. He has four interceptions over the last two seasons and has returned all four of them for touchdowns. He told reporter Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, that he has a knack for scoring.
Perhaps just as important as the obvious physical skills Munnerlyn brings to Minnesota are his intangibles. Munnerlyn plays with a swagger and an edge to his game that the Minnesota defense has lacked over the last three years, especially in the secondary.
Munnerlyn is a loud and vocal leader who inspires those on the field with him. In a strange, way his arrival might make it easier for the Vikings to remove Jamarca Sanford from the starting lineup, as Sanford has been the de facto vocal leader of the secondary in the past.
Winning football teams aren't just built on talent alone. There is a belief and an attitude on good teams that spreads just as quickly as bad attitudes can eat away at losing teams.
Munnerlyn is a winner and he will have a huge impact on the Vikings defense in 2014.
Overrated: Cornerback Derek Cox
If you think the Minnesota Vikings had a disappointing 2013 season, you should talk to cornerback Derek Cox, who Minnesota signed to a nothing-to-lose contract this offseason.
Cox was signed as a big-deal free agent by the San Diego Chargers after four productive seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chargers had high hopes that Cox could fill a huge void that San Diego had at cornerback. Cox had picked off four passes in three different seasons with the Jaguars, and the Chargers gave him a four-year, $20 million deal.
Not only did Cox not fix the Chargers secondary, (they ranked 29th in the league against the pass last year), but Cox found himself on the bench by the halfway point of the season. Cox looked lost for most of the 2013 season and had a propensity to get beat deep in one-on-one situations.
Cox was clearly never comfortable in San Diego, whether it was from the big expectations, the change in defensive scheme or the combination of both. Kyle Posey gave an in-depth look at why Cox was struggling last November in boltsfromtheblue.com.
None of that matters now that Cox is in Minnesota. The Vikings signed him to a cheap deal to see if they can find the player he was in Jacksonville. It's really a nothing-to-lose contract for Minnesota. Cox is only 27 years old, and his 12 career interceptions are the most of anyone on the Vikings roster.
Confidence is a funny thing, though, for elite athletes. Once it's damaged, it can be hard to find again. Cox enters training camp with the Vikings with a fresh slate and the burden of expectations behind him. After a disastrous season in San Diego, he'll have to prove a little bit more than the guys he's competing against to land a roster spot.
Underrated: Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph
While it's completely true that technology, schemes and scouting have made NFL football in its current form an infinitely complex endeavor, it's just as true that games are still won and lost in the trenches.
The "box," as it's known in football circles, indicates the line of scrimmage from tight end to tackle on offense and those who line up against them on defense. From 2005 to 2010, the Vikings had one of the best interior defenses in the NFL, when they lined up the "Williams Wall," Kevin and Pat Williams next to each other at defensive tackle.
The Vikings ranked in the top 10 in total defense in the last three seasons with the Williams Wall. In the three seasons since, they've dropped to 21st and 16th, before dropping all the way to 31st in 2013.
Perhaps the biggest priority facing Minnesota heading toward 2014 was finding a big body who could be the defensive anchor. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wasted little time in free agency, signing the best tackle available in Linval Joseph to a five-year, $31 million deal.
The massive Joseph is 6'4", 325 pounds and at just 25 years old, should form a young, dynamic pair along with Sharrif Floyd at defensive tackle for the Vikings.
Joseph started 46 of 48 games for the New York Giants over the last three years and has taken big steps forward each year. He is a run-stuffer who is agile enough to still pressure the quarterback and usually demands two blockers, which leaves room for other linemen to attack.
Joseph was a brilliant signing by Spielman. The Vikings needed not just a defensive tackle, but a huge one who could get the job done. Perhaps the only other guy on the market who fit that bill was Paul Soliai, who signed with the Miami Dolphins for $2 million more than the Vikings gave Joseph.
But at 30 years old, the best guess is that Soliai's best days are already behind him. The Vikings got a player every bit as good, who is just heading into his prime.
There are plenty of reasons to expect the Vikings defense to be vastly improved in 2014. Mike Zimmer is reason No 1. Reason No. 2 just might be the monster in the middle of the defensive line.
Overrated: Linebacker Anthony Barr
Wait, what? First-round pick Anthony Barr is overrated?
We could have written that we think the free-agent signing of Vladimir Ducasse is overrated, but did you really want to read about that?
OK, simmer down. We don't think Barr is overrated, and we certainly think he was a great pick for the Vikings this year. Barr is the type linebacker the Vikings haven't had since perhaps Matt Blair, and we fully expect him to be a Pro Bowl player some day.
Just not in 2014.
We post this slide just as a warning to those who want to think that Barr is going to explode onto the scene and pick up 12 sacks and four interceptions in his rookie season. It's not going to happen. Yet.
You have every reason to think that Barr is the real deal and will ultimately be a superstar in the NFL. At 6'5", 255 pounds on a very athletic frame, Barr is a former running back who oozes talent the moment you look at him. If only football were that easy.
Barr has only played linebacker for two seasons and will have a big learning curve at the professional level. Most first-round linebackers have up to 10 years of dominant play at the position under their belts by the time they hit the NFL.
The reality is that Barr was only sixth on his team in tackles last season at UCLA. He did have 23.5 sacks in two seasons, but he had a decided size and speed advantage that won't be so great in the NFL.
Again, none of this is to say that Barr isn't going to be a star in the NFL. We're simply trying to temper immediate expectations that Barr will be a dominant player right out of the gate.
Here's hoping we're dead wrong on this one.