If the Minnesota Vikings are to rebound from a disappointing 2018 season, these five players must be great this year.
After reaching the NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum under center, the signing of Kirk Cousins theoretically put the Minnesota Vikings in line to at least repeat that run last year.
But it was not to be, as the Vikings faded to 8-7-1 and lost a “win and you’re in” Week 17 game against a Chicago Bears that had their playoff position locked in.
Minnesota moved to address a bad offensive line this offseason, and their first four draft picks in April were on the offensive side of the ball. Some shifting of piece up front should bring automatic improvement for both Cousins’ pass protection and a rushing attack that was 30th in the league last year (93.3 yards per game).
Expectations naturally remain pretty high for the Vikings, with a window to win as currently constructed during Cousins’ three-year deal. Another lackluster record in 2019 stands to bring changes, most notably at head coach and general manager with Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman receiving token contract extensions over the offseason.
If the Vikings are going to rebound back to the playoffs this year, and ideally go a little beyond that minimum, these five players have to be great.
5. OG Pat Elflein
Elflein was never quite himself last year, coming off an ankle injury in the previous NFC Championship Game and offseason shoulder surgery to go with it. So he clearly regressed after a solid rookie season in 2017, with Pro Football Focus grading him as the league’s worst starting center last year. First-round pick Garrett Bradbury is taking over at center, so Elflein will move to left guard.
Elflein was a two-year starter at guard in college at Ohio State, so the position is not foreign to him. With how overmatched Tom Compton was in replacing the injured Nick Easton last year, simply having four healthy appendages makes Elflein an automatic upgrade at left guard.
If the Vikings are going to protect Cousins better this year, and get the running game on track as well, Elflein’s health and practically natural improvement will be critical.