Minnesota will never be confused with New York, but there are similarities between Pat Shurmur's old Vikings and his new Giants.
Heading into 2017, Shurmur's first full season as offensive coordinator, the Vikings rebuilt their offensive line with a combination of veterans and draft picks, including third-rounder Pat Elflein. They also added a dynamic playmaker in Dalvin Cook, the franchise's highest drafted running back since Adrian Peterson.
If that sounds familiar, it's because the Giants followed a similar blueprint this offseason. They beefed up their offensive line with veterans Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, and selected guard Will Hernandez on the second day of the draft – like the Vikings did with Elflein. The comparison is a best-case scenario for the Giants after Elflein became the full-time center of an offense that ranked 10th in scoring despite losing two quarterbacks to injury. Like Elflein, Hernandez is earning the respect of veterans pretty early for a rookie.
"Pat came in, and he and Will were very similar in the way they approach the game," Shurmur said. "Very similar in the amount of reps they got, and very similar how quickly they rose into the starting unit. So hopefully, Will can have that same path, because Pat had a great year last year."
Elflein, who was named to the Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team, helped lead the Vikings to a 13-win season and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, which they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles. Hernandez spent much of the spring and the first parts of training camp on the first team at left guard next to Solder, a two-time Super Bowl champion.
In addition to protecting Eli Manning's blindside, they will pave the way for Saquon Barkley. The second overall pick has garnered hype that team president John Mara said hasn't been equaled around the team since possibly 1981, when the Giants drafted a linebacker named Lawrence Taylor. In fact, Mara said the hype back then was "maybe not quite this much." Barkley's No. 26 recently became the top-selling jersey in the NFL.
Cook, the 41st pick in last year's draft, didn't start with that type of buzz in Minnesota, but everyone knew he would be a force to be reckoned with at the NFL level. Cook ran for 127 yards in his pro debut – breaking Peterson's franchise record -- and 354 in his first four games before suffering a torn ACL that ended his promising start.
In an era when rookies have led the league in rushing the last two seasons, there is a balancing act between breaking them in like novices and leaning on them as significant contributors to the team.
"They're obviously different styles of runners," Shurmur said of Barkley and Cook. "Dalvin was a guy that displayed a lot of the things that Saquon has showed us. He just needs to go through training camp, and work through the good days and the bad, and clear up the mistakes as they show up, and just keep competing. That's really what we want to see from him."
If Barkley and Hernandez can match the trajectory of Shurmur's former star pupils, the Giants will be in good shape. If they can exceed them, then look out.