“Thirteen of them, that’s hard to do baby. That’s hard to do, but we have a damn good team. We play together as a team: special teams, offense, defense…I’m proud as hell of this team.” – Mike Zimmer
The end of the regular season passes quickly for playoff bound teams. It’s hard to pause when playoff match-ups and scenarios come to the forefront of the conversation. It’s fun to focus on the 12 best teams in football and get excited about the epic games we hope for.
Nevertheless, I’d like to stop and celebrate the Vikings’ special regular season. The NFL playoffs drastically change perceptions, but there’s still a lot to remember and enjoy, no matter what happens. Here are the five Vikings I’ll remember most from 2017:
Sack Daddy’s Sack Streak. Before the Vikings found their ground this year, Defensive End Everson Griffen started white hot. Week in and week out Sack Daddy took down QBs until the bye week. The eight game string helped Griffen reach career highs in sacks and PFR Approximate Value. Everson’s presence greatly rewarded Rick Speilman’s four year $58 million investment in him this off-season. Moreover, Everson has become the defense’s vocal leader.
2017: The year that Everson Griffen led the way physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Many whispered “defensive regression” in August, specifically citing the loss of Captain Munnerlyn and Trae Waynes’ slow developmental arc. Waynes responded just as you’d expect a Zimmer protégé to, rapidly progressing to solidify the defensive backfield and make the entire unit THAT much stronger. Playing across from Xavier Rhodes, Trae saw an expected increase in targets, battled through them early on, and transformed himself into an unflinching defender. He eliminated the pass interference penalties from his game while adding stellar run support to the skill set. Waynes is the perfect example of Zimmer’s knack for development.
2017: The year Trae Waynes bravely locked down the CB2 position
We’ve enjoyed watching Hitman Harry from the day he arrived in Minneapolis. Yet for all the years he’s produced, he played even better in 2017. Smith matched and beat his career highs in interceptions and pass deflections, respectively. His PFR Approximate Value of 12 (previous high of 8) ranks up there with Eric Berry’s 2016 and Joey Browner’s 1989. PFF rated his 2017 as the best Safety season ever. All that, a first team All-Pro award, and he doesn’t even make the Pro Bowl!
2017: The year we watched Harrison Smith quietly dominate.
Let’s make no mistake; We were ecstatic with Thielen’s 69 catch, 967 yard, five touchdown 2016 season. So the only way to feel about his 2017 is incredibly, incredibly grateful. 91 receptions for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns. Adam Thielen is one of the best WRs in football. I’ll always be fascinated by how long it took opposing defenses to realize this. I’d giggle while donning my Randy Moss jersey (who Thielen grew up idolizing) and watching Adam burn linebackers and backup cornerbacks.
2017: The year Adam Thielen became an elite NFL WR
Every conversation about the 2017 Vikings starts and ends with the QB situation. Go ahead and try it. Approach a friend and say, “How about the Vikings this year?” Topics will occur in this order: Keenum, defense, WRs, RBs, Cook, Sam/Teddy, Keenum. The journeyman QB started like a normal backup before astounding us during Minnesota’s eight game win streak. He came back to earth late in the season, but still achieved the second best QBR (69.8) behind the now-injured Carson Wentz. All that on a two-million-dollar contract.
2017: The year Case Keenum came out of nowhere and led the Vikings to…
Zimmer’s quote at the top of this article continues, “You’ve worked your rear ends off for six months to get to this spot. To give us the opportunity, to do what we want to do now. You gotta believe fellas!”
Bring. It. Home.
Sam’s week one performance (346 yards, 3 touchdowns) is a statement on what could have been for both his season and entire career.
Left Tackle went from liability to team captain just like that!
Eight games of fill-in services (during which the Vikings went 7-1) confirmed the glimpse we all saw in 2016.
Rudy silenced all critics by becoming one of the most versatile and productive Tight Ends in football.
The development of a pass rush specialist into an every down linebacker (and source of cheesehead ire) is complete.
It’s an embarrassment of riches as our worst defensive starter put together a special, impactful season.