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Aug. 29, 2013 - Shasky Clarke

2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC North: Minnesota Vikings - 3rd

2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC North: Minnesota Vikings - 3rd





The Vikings edged their way into the playoffs largely on the back of this generation’s premier running back and a terrific, playmaking defense. Entering his third year, former 2011 first round pick Christian Ponder still has to prove that he can be more than just along for the ride. Ponder is an athletically gifted quarterback capable of extending and making plays with his feet. He has a very quick release and is also an accurate passer in the short and intermediate areas. Where Ponder is limited is in his ability to stretch the field and be proficient on deep balls. His lack of production there actually made running Adrian Peterson a statistically superior option to the passing game, a rare and unacceptable fact. The Vikings signed Matt Cassel in the offseason to upgrade the backup spot. Cassel is a prototypically sized passer with decent athleticism and arm strength. He doesn’t overwhelm with physical tools, but his accuracy to all levels is underrated. His biggest issue has been protecting the ball through the air and in the pocket. There is a legitimate possibility that Cassel will get an opportunity in relief of Ponder this year.


Running Back:

Adrian Peterson’s freakish accomplishments in 2012 have been well-documented as the super star ran for over 2000 yards on six yards per carry. He was a big play threat, combining elite power, speed and overall explosiveness, and even quietly contributed in the pass game, catching 40 balls. The guys behind him did not get many opportunities. Physical Toby Gerhart only rushed 50 times and failed to show much in those chances. Gerhart did, however, take advantage of Ponder’s short passing interests, getting 20 receptions of his own. Jerome Felton is one of the best fullbacks in the league but he'll be suspended for the first three games. But the team also brought in versatile rookie Zach Line, a super productive ball carrier at SMU who has flashed natural pass catching ability out of the flat and in the redzone.  


Wide Receiver:

One excuse Ponder had for his plodding passing performance was the team’s lack of pass catching weapons. The Vikings responded by overhauling the corps, letting leading receivers Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins go and aptly replacing them with Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. Over the course of his career, Jennings has succeeded as a vertical threat with terrific ball skills and route running ability. He isn’t a big or physical player and will have to stay healthy entering age 30. Patterson is a 6’2” 220-pound top athlete with excellent open field running skills and deep speed. His ball skills are somewhat inconsistent but he should replace the playmaking the team desired from Percy Harvin. Jarius Wright returns as a lean, explosive guy capable of playing in the slot. The top three are impressive and are backed up by some combination of the very athletic Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb and Stephen Burton.


Tight End:

The Vikings believe they have one of the best tight end situations in the league, led by Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph is a massive, 6’6” 260-pound red zone scoring machine, leading the team with nine touchdown catches. He has good hands and presents a big target. He does, however, lack great athleticism and isn’t able to consistently stretch the field with speed. John Carlson has had a long and productive career and provides a little more danger as a receiver. Nonetheless, he had less than 40 catches over the last three years and has struggled mightily with injuries.


Offensive Line:

Much credit is given to Peterson for his historic 2012 performance. He probably deserves most of it. But the Vikings offensive line was clearly much improved, starting with the instituting of rookie top five pick Matt Kalil at left tackle. Former severe liability Charlie Johnson was able to move from left tackle to left guard. Phil Loadholt was more consistent in pass protection at right tackle, though he is still somewhat vulnerable to speed rushers. Brandon Fusco was decent as an athletic and try-hard right guard. The break out player of 2012, though, was center John Sullivan. Sullivan probably had the best season of any center in football, combining good size and length with terrific power, quickness and execution. The entire line returns.


Best Offensive Rookie – WR Cordarelle Patterson

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – LT Matt Kalil

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Quarterback

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU





Defensive End:

The Vikings’ defensive end position was a source of tremendous production and maybe the biggest reason the defense played at an elite level. Over the past several years, Jared Allen has been as consistently productive as any pass rusher in the NFL. He is well on his way to a Hall of Fame induction and single-handedly allows the Vikings to be successful with just a four-man rush. Opposite Allen, Brian Robison, a flexible speed rusher off the left side, notched 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Fast and powerful Everson Griffen had eight sacks of his own, showcasing the versatility to play standing up and to drop into coverage effectively. The most dangerous packages involved all three of them on the line at the same time.


Defensive Tackle:

Minnesota is also deep on the interior. Long, athletic veteran Kevin Williams will once again start at the three-technique spot when healthy. Though at his age he wasn’t as productive as he has been, he still excelled at disrupting passing lanes with seven pass deflections. Physical Letroy Guion is also slated to return as the starter at the other tackle spot. Fred Evans has been a handful as a rotational player. Rookie Sharrif Floyd is an elite athlete who will also get significant snaps and has already flashed great ability to get into the backfield. Athletic, versatile piece Christian Ballard has flashed as a nickel interior rusher. Williams and Floyd are banged up to start the season but, when healthy, Minnesota should have one of the deepest and most disruptive defensive tackle units in the league.



The fact that the linebacker spot was also a strength in 2012 was slightly more surprising. The unit was very impactful as open field tacklers as well as pass rushers on blitzes. Of course, Chad Greenway played at an elite level, grabbing 148 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and displaying terrific speed, tackling and playmaking ability in coverage. Erin Henderson will move from his outside linebacker spot to the middle to replace Jasper Brinkley. And moving into the other outside linebacker spot will be new signee Desmond Bishop, a big time hitter with good range. Vikings rookies Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti both have the skills to be eventual starters. The instinctive, physical and athletic Mauti, in particular, is one to watch as a long term option at middle linebacker after an injury-marred, yet super productive collegiate career.



The Vikings targeted the cornerback spot for improvement, replacing long-time leader Antoine Winfield with first round rookie Xavier Rhodes. The team expects a lot from 6’2” elite athlete Chris Cook and super fast second-year Josh Robinson. Cook has struggled with injuries and off field issues but he has all the talent to be an elite starter. In nickel situations, Robinson will kick inside allowing Rhodes to get ample time outside in his place. Robinson has flashed the ability to be physical in run support and in the open field and he should take a step forward as a tight cover guy. Rhodes is a unique talent and will be dangerous in press coverage and using his ball skills to turn the ball over in coverage.



Harrison Smith had a terrific debut as a rookie starter, showing up huge in run support with more than 100 tackles. He also made a number of plays in coverage, including three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. Smith was a major reason the pass defense was so highly rated. However, the team still lacks a great option next to him. Jamarca Sanford is slated to start with Mistral Raymond coming off an injury. Like most of the defense, both are sound tacklers, but they can’t be relied on to make big plays.


Best Defensive Rookie – DT Sharrif Floyd

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – S Harrison Smith

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Safety

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – S Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech