Starter Randall Cunningham played at a MVP-level all season before faltering in their playoff loss to the Falcons. Cunningham was more patient in the pocket than in the past and really did a nice job getting everyone involved in the passing game. Backup Brad Johnson was traded to the Redskins for multiple draft picks, so the Vikings will look to add a veteran backup. Surprisingly, neither Jay Fiedler or Todd Bouman was selected by Cleveland in the expansion draft and it could be an interesting battle in training camp for a roster spot. Because of Cunningham's age, the Vikings could easily take a QB with their top pick in the first round.
Robert Smith, the main beneficiary of the Vikings wide-open pass-oriented offense, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and made his first trip to Honolulu. Backup Leroy Hoard was quicker than he's been in years, leading the team with nine rushing touchdowns. Nickel-back David Palmer does most of his damage on special teams but Minnesota was very creative last season in the formations they used him. FB Charles Evans left in free agency to be in Baltimore with Billick. With Harold Morrow as the only other FB on the roster, look for the Vikings to address this need in the draft.
Unlike the other skill positions on the team, Minnesota's tight end group lacks an elite performer. Starter Andrew Glover is a big target that can stretch the defense but he's not much of a factor in the run game. Backup Hunter Goodwin is an effective, battling run blocker with limited skills as a receiver. Like Evans, Greg DeLong was lost to the Ravens in free agency.
The addition of all-world rookie Randy Moss lifted this group to an elite level-perhaps the best in league history. Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed comprise a three-receiver set that is nearly impossible to defend. Moss and Carter combined for 29 touchdowns and are threats from virtually any position on the field. Reed battled back problems all season but that allowed second-year player Matthew Hatchette to emerge as another viable option. Hatchette and speedster Robert Tate provide great depth.
LOT Todd Stuessie has worked hard to become one of the premier players at his position. LOG Randall McDaniel was named to his 10th Pro Bowl after logging another dominant season inside. C Jeff Christy finally received the recognition he deserves by joining Stuessie and McDaniel in Hawaii. ROG David Dixon joins ROT Korey Stringer to form the most massive right side in the league. With both players well over 300 lbs., the Vikings have great success running behind this engulfing pair. Backups Everett Lindsay and Matt Birk are solid reserves and capable of holding the fort over short stretches.
This is a solid unit but the complexion of the group could change significantly before the start of training camp because of free agent defections. Starter Jerry Ball is expected to land a big contract with Cincinnati and Jason Fisk left for Tennessee. RDE Derrick Alexander has drawn some interest on the open market and could possibly leave as well. UT John Randle, who moved around a lot more than in the past, had another fine season with 10.5 sacks. NT Tony Williams is a good-looking young player that could easily replace Ball if he leaves. The left end position was unstable all year long as starter Stalin Colinet battled injuries and backup Duane Clemons regressed after a promising '97 season. With little depth at end, expect the Vikings to add a couple of bodies this off-season.
Because of injuries and contract issues, this very well might be an area that undergoes changes in the off-season. After posting sensational numbers during the regular season (125 tackles, 7 sacks), Pro Bowl MLB Ed McDaniel tore his ACL in the NFC Championship game and might not be ready by next September. Weak side LB Dwayne Rudd's speed makes him a constant threat and he is on the verge of becoming a impact player. Strong side LB Dixon Edwards was left unprotected in the expansion draft but Cleveland passed on him because of his big salary. In all likelihood, the Vikings will say goodbye to Edwards and insert Kailee Wong at his position. Wong made the adjustment from college DE quite easily and looks ready for a regular work load. Bobby Houston, Pete Bercich, and Kivuusama Mays provide good depth.
The team moved quickly this off-season to re-sign SS Robert Griffith, who is invaluable in terms of leadership. FS Orlando Thomas continues to improve and the Vikes rewarded him with a big contract as well. Jimmy Hitchcock is an in-your-face defender that makes his share of big plays. Hitchcock was a huge upgrade from Dwayne Washington. Corey Fuller was a player the team felt they could live without and thus signed a lucrative deal with Cleveland. This thin unit was thinned even further when backup Duane Butler was selected by the Browns.
Aside from missing the game-winning field goal in the NFC title game, PK Gary Anderson had an unbelievable season. Anderson connected on all 35 of his field goal attempts and shows no signs of slowing down. P Mitch Berger was as big a threat on kickoffs as he was on punts. Berger's big leg consistently helped Minnesota win the field position battle. Return specialist David Palmer's numbers dipped a little bit this season but he remains a threat on both punts and kickoffs.