3 Against The Grain Training Camp Predictions for our Minnesota Vikings

Quite often, the Minnesota Vikings training camp predictions can be pretty lame, mostly because they’re dull and predictable. At TVG, we don’t have the luxury of trotting out the same old stuff, nor would we ever really want to. Nay, our aim is to think outside-the-box without fully giving in to outright implausibility. We’re thus putting forth some against the grain predictions, ones that run contrary to most of the ones I’ve seen.

Alas, the reader will need to decide whether this article successfully finds productive a middle way between dry & dull and unappealing & unrealistic. Without further ado, our predictions:

Prediction #1: Harrison Hand – Not Cameron Dantzler – Is the Sophomore Corner Who Shines

Vikings fans love Dantzler. Frankly, I do as well. He far exceeded any reasonable expectation for his first season. The third-rounder was the NFL’s best rookie corner. Some people may tell you they saw his performance coming, but they’re probably lying. He finished as PFF‘s 22nd-best corner, meaning he was a low-end tier-1 corner in his rookie season.

Given all that I’ve said, why the prediction about Harrison Hand being the sophomore corner who shines at Vikings training camp?

Well, there are at least couple reasons. For starters, Hand is facing considerably different expectations. People will be happy if Hand is merely a strong depth player; the same cannot be said for Dantzler. We’ve seen what Dantzler is capable of, so we expect him to solidify himself as a first-rate corner. He’s still young, though, and sophomore players regularly struggle.

Moreover, there is considerable danger in assuming that past success guarantees future success (as we’ll go to discuss with the special teams). No one can predict the future, so we’re often relying on the past to help us make educated guesses. Unfortunately, teams may get in trouble when they assume a good year in 2020 means a good year in 2021.

Will I be surprised if Dantzler has an excellent season? By no means. I just don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion.

Second, let’s remember the love Hand has been getting so far in the offseason. On his recent appearance on All Things Covered, Harrison Smith praised the fifth-round corner: “That’s my guy, man, the other Harry.” He clarifies that it’s Harrison Hand. In fact, it’s Patrick Peterson who says that Hand is Smith’s favorite, explaining “that’s your guy.” Smith is quick to agree. Peterson talked about how Hand “can play” and praises both his feet and work ethic.

For what it’s worth, Hand was an Unsung Hero last year. Don’t be surprised if he asserts himself during training camp. He may even work his way into consistent playing time.

Prediction #2: Wyatt Davis Doesn’t Win the Starting RG Job

Hear me out *ducks.* Look, I can offer my explanation *ducks again.*

I briefly wrote about this not too long ago, explaining that Minnesota is likely looking for third-round contributors rather than every down starters. That reality may apply to Davis even though iOL doesn’t boast the same amount of talent at the defensive line or linebacker position.

Let’s consider what Davis is confronting. He’s rookie mid-round pick who is coming off an injury. Those factors alone make things difficult. He’s also directly competing with Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia, Kyle Hinton, and Mason Cole. Now, before you conclude that it should be a relatively easy competition, consider a few things.

First, the Vikings – right or wrong – often favor established vets with a known skill set. As Biglar recently pointed out in the comment section, Brett Jones (the Viking from the true north) never really got a fair shot even though he consistently played well. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, Dozier continued to play. It’s entirely possible Dozier continues to be the option at guard despite the underwhelming performance.

Let’s also not overlook some of the other options that offer upside. Cole is a former third-round pick who could benefit from a switch to guard. He’s only 25, which is actually younger than Garrett Bradbury. Hinton is an athletic, upside player who was promoted from the practice squad toward the end of last season. It won’t be totally surprising if one of them happens to snag the starting spot. Davis needs to show he’s better than these two.

I understand why folks pencil Davis into the RG spot. Heck, I did that in the o-line preview piece. Don’t assume it’s a certainty, though.

Prediction #3: The Kicking Position Actually Works Out Reasonably Well

I’d be lying if I said I fully believed this prediction. At present, Minnesota is moving forward with UDFA Riley Patterson and veteran journeyman Greg Joseph as the two kicking options in training camp. Fans will be forgiven if they’re embracing either Purple Pessimism or Purple Pugilism.

My one reason for hope is last season. I know far too well that last year’s special teams were a disaster, so allow me to explain.

Coming into training camp, most people believed things were all set for Minnesota’s specials. Essentially no one was offering Vikings doom & gloom predictions during training camp. Dan Bailey, Britton Colquitt, and Austin Cutting were supposed to give us much-needed stability. How wrong we were.

Minnesota has taken the opposite approach this offseason. Last year, there was no offseason competition and the specials were a disaster. This offseason, it’s competition galore. They’ve brought in a lot of young talent and are content to let them fight for playing time. Of course, Colquitt remains in Minnesota, but it’s on a restructured deal and he has competition. Hopefully that leads to significantly improved play.

Until we see the actual performance on the field, fans will merely be left with questions and anxiety. Zim can say that the special teams are a major emphasis, but that doesn’t matter much unless there’s legitimate production and stability. My hope is that an opposite approach – fully embracing competition – during training camp and preseason will have a dramatically different outcome during the season (and, ideally, the postseason).

Well, there you have it, folks, three Vikings training camp predictions. Disagree with these opinions or think I missed something? Let me hear about it.