|By Rob Warner, Monday, August 19, 2013|
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 Christian Ponder - 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 Matt Cassel - 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.
RB Adrian Peterson - 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.
RB Toby Gerhart - 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.
WR Joe Webb - 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.
WR Greg Jennings - Solid/Safe Pick
The spokesman for Old Spice chose to join the division rival Vikings this offseason signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract, including $18 million guaranteed. Jennings will turn 30 this September and spent his entire 7 year career with Green Bay. He has missed 11 games the past two years (8 games last season) due to knee and groin injuries, but should be the clear cut #1 target for Christian Ponder in the passing game (no longer have to fight for targets with Jordy, Cobb, and James Jones). Jennings came on strong late last season leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and TDs in Green Bay's final four games. From 2008-2010, Jennings averaged 75 catches for 1,223 yards per season and has totaled 53 touchdown catches (7.5 per season). He is expected to start at the flanker position in the Vikings offense - same spot manned by Percy Harvin (racked up 80 targets in the first half of the 2012 season before injuries hit). Despite the injury risk, the Western Michigan alum will have a lot to prove and should produce borderline WR2 numbers as the focal point of the Vikings' passing game. Jennings' current ADP has him being selected in rounds 7/8 as the 30th WR off the board.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson - 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.
WR Jerome Simpson - Deep-league Only
The acrobatic WR was a major flop during his first season in Minnesota as he finished with just 26 catches for 274 yards and zero touchdowns. The 27 year old WR battled back problems last season, but the Vikings surprisingly brought him back on a 1-year $2 million contract (must have one hell of an agent). In 2011 (with the Bengals), Simpson had his best season to date finishing with 50 catches for 725 yards and 4 touchdowns. Simpson won't be relevant( barring injuries) as he figures to be 4th on the WR depth chart behind Greg Jennings, rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and 2nd year WR Jarius Wright.
WR Jarius Wright - Dynasty Only
The 2012 4th round pick out of Arkansas showed flashes of his big play ability filling in for an injured Percy Harvin during the 2nd half of his rookie season. The 5'10, 180 pounder recorded 22 catches for 310 yards with two touchdowns over seven games, including a 3 catch 90 yard, one touchdown effort against Green Bay in the regular season finale. Wright is not draftable except in deeper leagues as he'll likely be the 4th option behind Jennings, Patterson and TE Kyle Rudolph on a Minnesota offense that ranked 28th in pass attempts last season.
TE Kyle Rudolph - Solid/Safe Pick
The 43rd overall pick of the 2011 draft out of Notre Dame, Rudolph posted a solid 2012 fantasy season thanks to 9 touchdowns, but was less than impressiveon the season in the yardage department (53 catches for 493 yards - 31 YPG). He was held under 40 yards 11 times last season. Rudolph finished as the #9 fantasy TE in 2012 and remains a Ponder favorite in the red zone, which should help him maintain lower end TE1 status as he enters his 3rd NFL season.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
TE John Carlson - Low Potential
Carlson holds the dubious distinction of being quite possibly the worst free agent signing of the 2012 offseason. The Vikings moronically gave the oft injured TE a 5 year $25 million contract to serve as a backup to Kyle Rudolph. Carlson was paid $7.9 million in 2012 and finished with just 8 catches for 43 yards over 14 games (approx. $987,500 per catch). The 29 year old Notre Dame alum posted 12 TDs over his first two seasons, but has reached paydirt just once over the past 29 games in 2010/2012 (missed entire 2011 season due to injury). He has sustained four concussions in the NFL and will be hard pressed to regain any fantasy relevance barring an injury to Kyle Rudolph.
PK Blair Walsh - Solid/Safe Pick
The rookie from Georgia finished as the 5th highest scoring fantasy kicker last season and should be primed to produce top 10 numbers again with half his games in the friendly confines of the Metrodome. Walsh accounted for 141 points, hitting 35 of 38 field goals including a perfect 10 of 10 from 50+ yards. The offense added WR talent in Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, which could result in more trips to the red zone. The Vikings have no fear giving Walsh attempts anywhere inside 60 yards.
Minnesota Defense - Solid/Safe Pick
The Purple People Eaters rebounded in 2012 as their DST amassed five touchdowns (two on returns, three on defense) and finished as the #15 fantasy defense in standard scoring leagues. Led by Jared Allen, the Vikings defense totaled 44 sacks but the pass defense remains a work in progress (just 10 interceptions). The loss of kick returner Percy Harvin and veteran CB Antoine Winfield (both in Seattle) will be somewhat offset by a solid draft class that includes first rounders WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) and DT Sharrif Floyd (Florida). The Vikings ranked 11th vs. the run (106 YPG) and 9th against the pass (244 YPG). This unit should be well worth starting most weeks, especially in a division loaded with questionable offensive lines (Chicago and Green Bay allowed 40+ sacks).