2013 Team Outlook: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings rode the near record-setting shoulders of Adrian Peterson to a wildcard playoff berth last season and finished second overall in rushing. AP might need to turn in another superhero-level performance if Minnesota is to make a repeat postseason trip. That is unless quarterback Christian Ponder takes his game up several notches in his third professional season. The Viking pass offense finished 31st in the NFL last season with a lackluster 172 yards per game. Playing without Percy Harvin for half of last season didn't help. and the dynamic slot option won't be around at all this season after a deal to Seattle. Yet it's now possible the Vikings have deeper pool of targets as the offseason additions of free agent Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson join TE1 option Kyle Rudolph. Jennings will look to bounce back from two injury riddled seasons in Green Bay and will now be the clear-cut No.1 WR in the Vikings offense. Ponder did help direct Minnesota into playoffs, but once there, the Vikings weren't there for long. Ponder missed the game with a triceps injury and Joe Webb was beyond ineffective. Minnesota hopes it shored up the backup role by signing free agent Matt Cassel while transitioning Webb to receiver. No matter who is taking snaps, they will have a potent running attack to lean on. If the Vikings plan to unseat Green Bay for the NFC North title, they will need more than that.
QB Matt Cassel, MIN - Over the Hill (decreased production)
The Vikings learned the hard way that improving their backup QB spot was necessary after Joe Webb fell flat on his face during the playoff loss to Green Bay. The 31 year old Cassel signed a 2-year deal to serve as Christian Ponder's backup and could see starts in the 2nd half of the season if Ponder fails to progress. The USC alum had a solid 2008 season (subbing for an injured Tom Brady), as he threw for 3,693 yards with 21 TDs , 11 INTs and led the Pats to an 11-5 record. In 2010, he finished with 27 TDs and just 7 INTs, but failed to average more than 210 YPG in any of his four seasons with the Chiefs. Over the past two seasons, Cassel battled injuries, suting up for just 18 games. In 47 starts for the Chiefs, he went 19-28 while turning the ball over an alarming 57 times.
QB Christian Ponder, MIN - Bust (overvalued)
The 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft could be facing a make or break season in his 3rd year in the NFL . He's been labeled as a bit of weak armed game manager, but does have the athleticism to excel outside the pocket. To remain under center, Ponder will need to improve dramatically on his weak 6.2 YPA over 774 career passes. The loss of Percy Harvin (Seattle) could keep Ponder off the fantasy radar in 2013, but he will benefit from the addition of veteran Greg Jennings and selection of downfield threat Cordarrelle Patterson (University of Tennessee). Ponder's 2012 statistics were mediocre with Harvin (first eight games of the year), as the Florida State alum totaled 1,743 yards (218 YPG) on 171 of 262 passing (65% percent) for 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With Harvin sidelined, Ponder's production fell to1,192 yards (150 YPG) on 129 of 221 passing (58%) with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. At best, Ponder is a late-round pick that can be used as a bye week filler as this offense will continue to be one of the more run heavy attacks in the NFL.
QB Joe Webb, CAR - Not Draft Worthy
Webb completed just 11-of-30 passes for 180 yards, one touchdown, and an interception in the Vikings' Wild Card loss in Green Bay (did rush seven times for 68 yards). The UAB alum enters a contract year and will be converting to WR after the Vikings signed Matt Cassel to serve as Christian Ponder's backup. Webb posted impressive forty times of 4.44 and 4.45, an 11-foot-5 broad jump, and 42.5" vertical at UAB's Pro Day three years ago. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has raw talent, but will be hard pressed to gain fantasy relevance as he competes to be the #4/5 WR on the Viking roster.
RB Toby Gerhart, JAX - Fantasy Handcuff
The No. 51 overall pick of the 2010 draft (selected ahead of Houston's Ben Tate), Gerhart must show improvement if he expects to remain in Minnesota after his rookie deal expires at the end of this season. AP's backup averaged a pedestrian 3.5 YPC in 2012 (50 carries for 169 yards) and has just one 100+ yard performance over his first three NFL seasons. The Stanford alum has just six touchdowns over his brief career and has averaged 21 receptions per season. The Vikings should be looking for an upgrade in the 2014 draft.
RB Adrian Peterson, MIN - Stud (low risk)
What can Purple Jesus do for an encore after he miraculously came back from ACL/MCL surgeries and fell just 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record (AD finished with 2,097 yards on 31 fewer carries than Dickerson)? His seven games of 150+ yards tied Earl Campbell. He seemed to get stronger as the season wore on totaling 1,598 yards over the final 10 games and finished as #1 fantasy RB with eye popping 6.03 yards per carry and 13 total touchdowns. Not surprisingly, he was awarded the MVP and finished 2nd to Peyton Manning for Comeback Player of the Year. The 7th overall pick of the 2007 draft out of Oklahoma has averaged 293 carries for 1,476 yards (99 YPG) over his first 7 seasons and at age 28 shows no signs of wearing down. AD has amassed 78 total TDs and in 2012 he became a bigger factor in the passing game, hauling in 40 receptions for 217 yards. Unless you own the #1 pick in your draft, you won't be getting Peterson on your team this season. AP's goal for 2013 is to top 2,500 yards - which seems crazy until you consider that he is a genetic freak.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN - Sleeper (undervalued)
Update (8/13): Patterson had a solid NFL preseason debut. He led the Vikings with four catches for 54 yards and added a 50-yard kick return on the first play of the game game. Patterson should push Jerome Simpson to the bench and secure a starting spot opposite Greg Jennings as Minnesota's starting X receiver.
The Vikings traded back into round 1 to select Patterson at #29 overall. He has ideal size (6-3, 205 pounds), but played just one year against D-1 competition after spending two years in junior college. CP set a University of Tennessee record with 1,858 all-purpose yards in 2012. Patterson is a dynamic kick returner and was the first player to score a touchdown four ways (receiving, rushing, kick return, punt return) in a single season since 2008. He tested very well at the combine, running a 4.42 forty with a 37-inch vertical and 10-foot-8 broad jump. There is no denying his dynamic playmaking ability, but raw route running and limited D-1 experience could give the rookie some growing pains in his first NFL season. Although Patterson is running behind Jerome Simpson at the X position in OTAs - we fully expect he unseats Simpson early on, making him an intriguing late round flier (especially in dynasty leagues). His current ADP has him coming off the board in rounds 10/11 as the 45th WR selected.