The Minnesota Vikings scored a diving touchdown as time expired before quarterback Taylor Heinicke outran the defense to the corner for the two points that handed Minnesota a 32-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The play capped off a fun second half of football to watch at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t even want to talk about it. He was seeing red over his starting unit’s pedestrian effort that left the Vikings in a 14-0 halftime hole against the rebuilding team from the bay. Two days later, he was still mad enough to say his starters should expect to see action in the Vikings’ final tune-up against Miami, something he has never done in his coaching career.
Sam Bradford was able to complete passes when he wasn’t being knocked down. But he still has not found the end zone this preseason and averaged just six yards per pass. Stefon Diggs had some uncharacteristic drops that helped keep that number low. After a solid showing in his first two games, rookie Dalvin Cook could only muster 17 yards on five carries. Latavius Murray’s debut was successful mostly in that he was not injured.
Meanwhile, the Vikings’ proud defense was planning to feast on San Francisco’s evolving offense led by a 31-year-old journeyman quarterback. After a couple of less-than-inspiring series against the Seahawks last week and signs of vulnerability shown throughout the preseason, they needed a strong performance to get their mojo re-ignited.
Instead, they watched Brian Hoyer complete his first nine passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns before calling it a night.
What did we learn?
There is a lot of anxiety in Minnesota. Their revamped offensive line put the five projected starters on the field together for the first time. Hope was that Bradford’s protection would improve and the running game would continue to impress. Instead, they added to Bradford’s sack total (five on the preseason) and the running game was off their mark.
In their 15 snaps together, there were five plays for negative yardage, including three sacks, and an offensive line penalty. The Vikings moved 36 yards (a 2.4 yard per play average) and scored no points. To be fair, Minnesota hasn’t scored much behind any other line either. Only a 58-yard field goal saves the starters from being shut out on the preseason.
The Vikings offense is looking too much like the group that went 3-8 to finish last season and left them out of the playoff picture. With Cook, Murray, and the offensive line additions, Zimmer was looking for something more like the group who helped Minnesota start 5-0 in 2016.
With Dalvin Cook gobbling up snaps and Latavius Murray signed to handle much of the load, Jerick McKinnon might need to contribute elsewhere to justify his roster spot. His 108-yard kick return might have locked that spot up for him. He also tacked on 27 yards on four carries with the second team and four catches for 31 more yards.
Bradford remains what he is… a serviceable veteran with a relatively-high floor and decent ceiling. He is also not coming off your draft board and will be available as a streaming option later.
Diggs had a bad game but has a strong upside. The return of Laquon Treadwell and the running of Cook and Murray is a hamper, which is why he drafts as the WR28 and no higher. Treadwell looked good in his return and is the starter going into the regular season. With Bradford, you never know when one or the other receiver will have a big game, but the inconsistency is generally not worth the play.
Rookie Dalvin Cook is not sneaking up on anybody after the Vikings announced his role as the lead back. Latavius Murray will eat into his carries a bit, but not enough to say Cooks’ ADP of RB15 is not warranted. Buy the hype on the kid. I am almost tempted to say Murray will be displaced by McKinnon as the number two before the end of the year. Still, I take the Vikings at their word that Murray will get the first crack in a run-heavy offense that gives him some value later in the draft. His current ADP of RB49 (11th round) is too optimistic for me, though.
Those other fantasy guys
Kyle Rudolph remains a top-ten option at tight end. He finished as the TE3 last season, but only had the seventh best per-game average. He should be starting in every league as a consistent if unspectacular, receiver.
The Vikings can’t decide if Kai Forbath is still their kicker as a hot and heavy competition continues. I’m not drafting the winner either way.
Last year’s Minnesota team finished as the D/ST1, but they were almost caught by several teams at the wire. They might come together in the regular season and challenge for the title again. They could also be closer to the vulnerable unit we’ve seen in preseason or the one that faded down the stretch last year. They are a safe D/ST10, but they are making me think twice about their current top-three draft position.
So… that’s that.
It makes sense that an offensive line playing together for the first time would have some struggles. It is too early to say they have not brought together an improved group that will eventually open running holes and keeps Bradford on his feet enough to give Minnesota a solid offense.
That will affect our fantasy options, which right now come with significant question marks. After Cook and Rudolph, we just have to see. We’ll be watching all year for you (because we care), so check back at RealSport often for updates and advice.
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