The Vikings will wrap up their offseason workout program this week with a three-day mandatory minicamp that begins tomorrow. Before we know it, they will be reporting to Mankato for training camp, playing preseason games then traveling to Nashville for their regular-season opener.
Believe it or not, that Week 1 game against the Titans is just 13 weeks away.
So with that in mind, and with the 2016 season looming already here in the middle of June, I reached out to fellow beat writer Mark Craig, Vikings team leader Chris Miller and digital sports senior writer Michael Rand for their way-too-early predictions for the upcoming season.
Read. Enjoy. And share your own early predictions with us in the comments section. All we ask is that you don’t remind us of these 13 predictions when most, if not all, are proven wrong about 14 weeks from now.
1. The offensive line will play with a mental and physical tenacity we haven’t seen in far too long. It will look uncontrolled at first. Flags will fly, defenders will be shoved after the whistle, new left guard Alex Boone probably will bite the ear off Evander Holyfield, etc., etc. Will it result in a championship-caliber offensive line? Who knows? But the line will step its game up after essentially having its NFL manhood challenged by its head coach. — MARK CRAIG
2. This will become Teddy Bridgewater’s offense, by design and default. The Vikings want the third-year QB to cut it loose more often this season, and the best way for that to happen is to put him in the shotgun and move away from the under-center alignment preferred by running back Adrian Peterson. For his part, Peterson says he can adjust and adapt. I just don’t see that happening. — MICHAEL RAND
3. Adrian Peterson will defend his rushing title. We’ll talk about Adrian Peterson catching more passes. We’ll talk about Adrian Peterson improving as a blocker. We’ll talk about Adrian Peterson securing the ball better. He won’t catch more passes. Or block better. And he’s still going to fumble now and then. But, guess what? Jim Brown didn’t catch passes. Or block people. But he’s arguably the greatest player in NFL history. Peterson’s strengths are historically great. It’s probably time for people to focus more on them and less on what he’s not. He’s 31 and won his third rushing title largely in spite of his offensive line a year ago. Imagine what he can do when he’s not being consistently hit behind the line of scrimmage. — MARK CRAIG
4. Laquon Treadwell will be the starting split end when the season starts. Coach Mike Zimmer, of course, didn’t just hand the starting gig to the rookie right away this spring. But the Vikings used their first-round pick on Treadwell for a reason. A big, physical possession receiver who can make contested catches, Treadwell brings a dimension to coordinator Norv Turner’s offense that it sorely lacked. Sometime during the preseason, Treadwell will leap-frog veteran Charles Johnson to join second-year wideout Stefon Diggs in the starting lineup. — MATT VENSEL
5. Treadwell won’t just be a starter this season… He will finish the season as the team’s leader in receptions. — MIKE RAND
6. Two other 2016 draft picks will make a big impact. Treadwell is getting all the hype, but two other rookies to watch are cornerback Mackensie Alexander and tight end David Morgan. Remember, Zimmer loves to stockpile and train cornerbacks, and Alexander seems to have all the tools to fit into the Vikings’ scheme. Morgan might seem to be trailing Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt and Rhett Ellison entering camp, but Turner likes to find ways to get tight ends involved and that’s a position that has been injury-prone for the Vikings. — CHRIS MILLER
7. Trae Waynes will make any fans who already wrote him off look foolish. Sure, you ideally want your top pick to play a lot as a rookie. But in 2015, the Vikings didn’t need Waynes to do much more than sit and learn because veteran corner Terence Newman was so solid. Newman could again be the starting left cornerback in September. But Waynes is going to get on the field one way or another and will show everyone why the Vikings feel he has so much promise. — MATT VENSEL
8. Danielle Hunter will play more snaps than Brian Robison. Right now, Robison remains the team’s first-string left defensive end and is probably the favorite to start there in Week 1. But Hunter, who recorded six sacks as a rookie despite being the NFL’s youngest player, will force the coaches to put him on the field. He will edge out the veteran Robison in snaps, but both players will get significant playing time because Zimmer likes to roll at least six deep in his defensive line rotation. — MATT VENSEL
9. Blair Walsh won’t recover from his playoff game miss. The Vikings kicker’s All-Pro rookie season of 2012 almost seems like a fluke now that he’s gone through slumps and key misses from what-should-be-makeable distances. His gaffe in the final minute against Seattle will weigh heavily on him this season, and he’ll be among the middle of pack in the league when it comes to accuracy. — CHRIS MILLER
10. At some point, the Vikings will bring in a punter to challenge or overtake Jeff Locke. Walsh and his brain will be fine. He’d never admit it, but he overthought kicking outdoors. The specialist to be concerned about is Locke. He’s too inconsistent on a team that depends heavily on Peterson, a sound defense and favorable field position. — MARK CRAIG
11. The Vikings will finish in the top five in the NFL in sacks despite only having one defender in double digits. Barring injury, starting right end Everson Griffen will rack up at least 10 sacks for the third straight season. But unless Hunter takes a big leap forward as a pass rusher, nobody else is reaching 10. No biggie. With Zimmer drawing up the plays, the Vikings will get at least three sacks from seven players and as a unit will crack the top five for the first time since 2012. — MATT VENSEL
12. Cordarrelle Patterson, a forgotten man in 2015, will have an increased role this season. Pat Shurmur might be the new tight ends coach by title, but let’s face it, he was brought in as another voice (and mind) in the room to juice up a lackluster offense. One way to do it: forget the daydream that Patterson will ever be a complete wide receiver and design a handful of special plays for him every game that make use of how dangerous he is in open space. It should have happened last year. It will happen this year. — MICHAEL RAND
13. U.S. Bank Stadium won’t be that much of a home-field advantage. Zimmer has forged a pretty tough team, so the comfortable temperature and state-of-the-art playing field at the Vikings’ new stadium won’t quite fit in with that mentality. The Vikings were pretty impressive in the late-season cold in 2015, but visiting quarterbacks such as Tony Romo, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers will probably find conditions conducive to high-powered passing games now that the Vikings’ home turf is 72 degrees and wind-free. — CHRIS MILLER