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. 2 on our list is left tackle Riley Reiff.
Yes, we put both Riley Reiff and fellow free-agent addition Mike Remmers in the top three of our list of the most important Vikings in 2017.
But if you think putting a pair of offensive tackles ahead of, say, young stud Danielle Hunter or Pro Bowl defensive backs Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, might I remind you that T.J. Clemmings, Jeremiah Sirles and the shell of Jake Long all started multiple games at tackle in 2016.
I’d embed Clemmings lowlights or the comeback-killing sack Sirles got beat for (immediately after coming off the bench) in Washington. But that would be cruel to everyone involved, including you, our loyal reader.
The Vikings obviously never wanted to see that again, which is why they shelled out nearly $100 million in unguaranteed money to Reiff and Remmers within the first two days of free agency in March. Reiff, of course, was the big one, signing for nearly $60 million over five years.
In five seasons in Detroit, Reiff was not a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle. But he proved to be reliable, playing 77 of 80 possible games. The Vikings will play him at left tackle, the position he manned from 2012 to 2015.
Coach Mike Zimmer has publicly acknowledged that Reiff has limitations in pass protection (ditto for Remmers) and is better in the running game. But he believes Reiff will bring both physicality and a tough mindset to an offensive line that Zimmer called “soft” at one point last season.
Even if Reiff is merely average this season, that will be a major upgrade over what the Vikings had last season, when they had to line up Long and Clemmings at left tackle after Matt Kalil went on IR last September.
Unable to seal the edges last season, the Vikings had to send a large percentage of their running plays behind the center or guards. The lack of versatility in the running game coupled with poor run blocking led to the Vikings and their backs setting a franchise low in yards per carry.
And with their tackles, particularly Clemmings, getting smoked so quickly in pass protection, the Vikings were forced to rely on a quick-hitting passing offense that helped quarterback Sam Bradford set the NFL record for completion percentage but inspired little fear in opposing DBs.
If Reiff (and Remmers on the right) blast open some holes in the ground game and usually give Bradford more than a couple of seconds to throw, the Vikings, with Bradford and speedy rookie Dalvin Cook in the backfield and receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on the outside, have a shot at fielding a competent offense for the first time in the Zimmer era.
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
2. Riley Reiff, LT
11. Trae Waynes, CB
16. Pat Elflein, C/G