Training Camp: 2017 X-Factors

Today, our team’s “veterans” report to training camp. It’s funny, because they’re not much older! For various reasons, today’s NFL trends towards youth. The Vikings are no exception to the rule, and this makes many fans justifiably uneasy. On-field development means growing pains, not all young guys deliver.

The 2017 squad has several of these projects. Jerick McKinnon, Laquon Treadwell, Trae Waynes & Mackensie Alexander will play important roles. Their success, or failure, could decide whether the team stagnates or evolves into a contender. I’m encouraged since they’re talented and in excellent situations. I rated (out of 10) these pivotal athletes on three aspects: Talent, Situation, and Fallback. I’ll be tracking these men the most during training camp.

 

Jerick McKinnon – Talent = 7, Situation = 7, Fallback = 8

Jet took off, but never reached cruising altitude. The young QB-turned-RB flashed plenty during his first three years without achieving consistent production. Jerick will define the rest of his career this season. He’s on the last year of his rookie contract.

Talent isn’t the issue. Jet’s best compared to LaDanian Tomlinson on Player Profiler. He received the same scouting grade as Devonta Freeman. McKinnon threatens defenses with speed and versatility. The man will flourish in the proper situation, which the Vikings are building towards. Jerick’s dreams came true as Minnesota added Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, and Pat Elflein. Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook will cut into snaps, but that’s a sneaky positive. McKinnon posted his best efficiency numbers in a limited role. He excels at changing pace and catching out of the backfield with fresh legs that maximize his 4.41 speed. If for some reason he doesn’t feature consistently, the fallback is the 1-2 punch of Murray and Cook. Jet has the opportunity to greatly enhance the offense. He must take advantage of it.

 

Laquon Treadwell – Talent = 8, Situation = 9, Fallback = 10

Quon learned that first impressions matter. He failed to make one during his rookie campaign. Fans claim multiple theories and ask multiple questions about his singular 15-yard catch season. Was he injured? Can he not understand the offense? Are his routes crisp enough? If we’re asking the same questions after 2017, he’s a bust.

For this season, either you trust in Treadwell or you never did. The wide receiver has undeniable talent. Consensus rated him a top 3 WR in the 2016 draft while he compared to Dwayne Bowe and DeAndre Hopkins. Laquon surely has detractors but the Vikings aren’t one of them. Outside of courting Alshon Jeffrey for one day, they cleared the path for Quon to feature as WR3. That’s actually the best part about Treadwell’s year 2. He’s in a magnificent situation behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. 1st round talent at WR3 could perfect Pat Shurmur’s offense. If Treadwell falters proven players Michael Floyd and Jarius Wright can pick up the slack.

 

Trae Waynes – Talent = 10, Situation = 10, Fallback = 6

After handpicking Trae Waynes from the top of the 2015 draft, the Vikings brought him along gradually. Much slower than some fans preferred. Despite flashing in 2016, he played behind Terence Newman. Now Newman provides depth and its Waynes’ world.

Trae has elite talent. He ranked highest on several draft boards at Cornerback. Comparing to Antonio Cromartie, the slow development doesn’t make a high ceiling unattainable. In fact, if I’m going to trust anybody with getting him there, it’s Mike Zimmer. Our coach developed the aforementioned Terence Newman and resurrected his career, twice. Zim also got the best out of Roy Williams, matured Leon Hall, established Johnathan Joseph, and saved Adam Jones. The man just finished polishing Xavier Rhodes, so Waynes is next. Trae’s in a special situation and Minnesota needs him to make the leap. Newman can always step in, but the D takes a small step back without Waynes’ ascension.

 

Mackensie Alexander – Talent = 8, Situation = 9, Fallback = 5

The Vikings anointed Mackensie their Nickel CB of the future in 2016. A quartet of Rhodes, Waynes, Newman, and Captain Munnerlyn made it hard for Mack to get on the field right away. With Munnerlyn departing for Carolina the future starts now for the scrappy, confident Alexander.

ESPN rated Mackensie the 4th best prospect in the nation coming out of high school. 3 years later he drew comparisons to Desmond Trufant at the NFL level. His athleticism could result in immediate production. Again, Mike Zimmer’s tutelage is essential here. Alexander must be a sponge, benefiting from Zim’s presence in practice and Newman in the huddle. He’ll be surrounded by Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, and Everson Griffen at the start of any given snap. What’s not to like about that? Rick Spielman envisioned that scenario when prioritizing other positions over CB this off-season. Still, I wouldn’t mind adding a veteran behind Alexander because Newman can’t provide insurance for Waynes and Alexander at the same time. Maybe the above-mentioned Leon Hall?

 

It’s time to find out what the Vikings have in these guys. The team pursued an off-season strategy that depended on all four contributing significantly in 2017. Why did they sign an RB who needed surgery? Why did they settle for Michael Floyd, and pass on Nickell Robey-Coleman? Simple, because Rick, Zim, and Pat believe in Jet, Quon, Trae, and Mack. They gave them a support system without adding starters who would push them down the depth chart and stop their progress.

While they didn’t click immediately, we hope they’re ready now. Let’s see if they prove themselves this year.

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