To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.
This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.
Coming in at No. 1 on our list is quarterback Sam Bradford.
Considering Sam Bradford plays the most important position in the sport and is also in a contract year, we aren’t going to overthink this one.
Simply put: how Bradford plays in 2017 will not only factor significantly into whether the Vikings return to the playoffs, his performance is also likely to impact how they proceed at quarterback beyond this season.
Bradford was probably better than the Vikings expected from him last season given the unusual circumstances that led him to Minnesota.
They traded their first-round pick to acquire him in early September after Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with a knee injury. Two weeks later, Bradford made his first start, lighting up the Packers at home. Despite being under near-constant pressure all season long and having no running game to support him, he put up career-best numbers.
Bradford was far from perfect. His gaffes in Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit loomed large as the Vikings missed the playoffs and his reluctance to throw beyond the sticks on third down drove some fans batty.
But his record-setting completion percentage, solid 7.0 yards-per-attempt average and 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio suggested that if he can finally find stability in his star-crossed NFL career, maybe, just maybe, the 29-year-old can be one of the top dozen passers in the league.
In January, coach Mike Zimmer was quick to name Bradford his starting quarterback for 2017 with Bridgewater’s status in doubt. But the Vikings, who have been seeking long-term stability at that position for decades and a competent offense in the four years since Zimmer was hired, were seemingly in no rush to lock down Bradford with a new contract.
During spring workouts, Bradford said the Vikings had not contacted his agent. Of course, that could change once the Vikings arrive in Mankato, as they often hammer out at least one lucrative deal during those dog days. If not, Bradford said he is cool with entering the season without a new deal. After all, he has been through it already, two years ago in Philly.
GM Rick Spielman and the Vikings have put the pieces in place for Bradford, who turns 30 in November, to have a breakthrough season.
The Vikings signed a pair of tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. They drafted speedy rookie back Dalvin Cook and added free agent Latavius Murray, too. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are seemingly still ascending and fellow wideout Laquon Treadwell had an encouraging spring. Plus, play-caller Pat Shurmur gets a chance to make this offense his own.
OK, so no one will confuse this cast with, say, the Greatest Show on Turf. But with better blockers, intriguing players at the skill positions and Bradford’s familiarity with Shurmur, the Vikings offense can climb into the middle of the pack if Bradford builds on what he did last season.
And should that happen, with this defense, a NFC North title is possible, likely giving him even more leverage with free agency looming. However, the Vikings still have final say thanks to the franchise tag along with a young quarterback hell-bent on returning this year in Bridgewater.
For now, the ball is in Bradford’s hands. Where will he go with it?
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
1. Sam Bradford, QB
2. Riley Reiff, LT
3. Mike Remmers, RT
4. Danielle Hunter, DE
5. Anthony Barr, LB
6. Dalvin Cook, RB
7. Xavier Rhodes, CB
8. Stefon Diggs, WR
9. Harrison Smith, S
10. Laquon Treadwell, WR
11. Trae Waynes, CB
12. Linval Joseph, NT
13. Teddy Bridgewater, QB
14. Everson Griffen, DE
15. Eric Kendricks, MLB
16. Pat Elflein, C/G
17. Latavius Murray, RB