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2013 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings

Quarterbacks

Starter: Christian Ponder
Backup(s): Matt Cassel, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Starting QB: Christian Ponder started all 16 games for the Vikings last season. Despite throwing for less than 3000 yards and having only one receiver with more than 500 yards receiving for the year, Ponder managed to lead the Vikings to the playoffs. Granted, that probably had more to do with Adrian Peterson than anything else, but Ponder was the guy guiding the way. However, he was injured at the end of the regular season, and was unable to face the Packers in the playoffs. This season, Ponder holds the starting job, but his position is far from secure. The Vikings have brought in Matt Cassel from Kansas City and he will push Ponder for the starting job this year. He'll also have a new group of pass catchers. Percy Harvin has moved on, and the Vikings added former Packer Greg Jennings to take over the No. 1 slot. The also added Cordarrelle Patterson to the mix with a late first round pick this year. Assuming Ponder can hold on to the starting role this season, his receiver corps will need to prove itself before the young quarterback will be able to excel as a capable fantasy option.

Backup QB: After two seasons with less than 1800 yards passing in Kansas City, Matt Cassel has moved on. He landed in Minnesota as a backup, but he will definitely get his chance to steal the starting role. Christian Ponder is far from secure in the starting role, and Cassel has more experience as a starter. Given that the majority of the offense flows through Adrian Peterson anyway, the Minnesota quarterback only needs to keep from turning the ball over. Joe Webb is more of a wide receiver than a backup quarterback, and he showed that in his terrible performance in the playoffs (119 of his 180 passing yards came in garbage time with less than five minutes to go). He will probably be the emergency quarterback for this season, but he's no threat to take the job from Ponder or Cassel.

Running Backs

Starter: Adrian Peterson
Backup(s): Toby Gerhart
Fullback(s): Jerome Felton, Rhett Ellison, Matt Asiata, Zach Line

Starting RB: What else needs to be said about Adrian Peterson. Despite ending 2011 with a terrible knee injury, Peterson came back stronger than ever in 2012. He nearly set the regular season rushing record and finished the year with over 2300 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. He proved that he is one of the top backs in the league, and if he's healthy, he will be a rock-solid player. For 2013, it's difficult to imagine Peterson repeating his 2,000-yard performance again. However, if anyone can do it, he can. Neither Christian Ponder nor Matt Cassel are known as elite quarterbacks and the receiving corps has a lot of question marks. Toby Gerhart is a serviceable backup, but he's no danger to steal more than a few carries a game from Peterson. Peterson will likely be the first pick of your draft this season.

Backup RBs: Toby Gerhart has been backing up Adrian Peterson for the last three seasons. Yet Gerhart's only real contribution to the Vikings same in 2011 when Peterson was injured. With Peterson coming back from major knee surgery, many expected that Gerhart would be a major contributor last year. Instead, he posted his career worst stats, and finished with just 70 touches for the season. He'll be Peterson's backup this year again, but won't see much playing time unless Adrian Peterson goes down to injury.

Fullback: Jerome Felton is on his fourth NFL team in seven seasons. He hasn't had a carry from scrimmage in two seasons, and has only five receptions over that same timeframe. His job is to open the holes for Adrian Peterson and he'll return to that role again this season. Rhett Ellison sometimes lines up in the backfield, but he's more of a tight end than a fullback anyway. He will probably have a couple receptions again this year, but he's no danger to steal any major playing time.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson
Backups: Cordarrelle Patterson [R], Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs

Starting WRs: After seven seasons catching passes for division rival Green Bay, Greg Jennings came to Minnesota this offseason and immediately stepped into the role of number one receiver. Jennings has the most experience of any of the other receivers on the team and is easily a tier or two ahead of all of them in talent as well. The only concern with Jennings is that he has missed time over the last two seasons due to injury. After three consecutive 16-game seasons, Jennings has played in just 21 of Green Bay's last 32 games. Can he stand up to the action he's going to see, especially since he's the clear No. 1 target. Jerome Simpson missed the first four games of last season, and finished with just 26 receptions for 274 yards, and he didn't reach the end zone once. He's listed as the WR2 for now, but don't be surprised if he loses his starting job by the time the regular season rolls around.

Backup WRs: The Vikings gave up four picks to acquire the No. 29 overall pick from New England on draft day. They used the pick to select Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson was the second highest rated wide receiver in this year's draft, and some mock drafts had him going as high as 14th overall. Look for him to have an immediate impact and push for a starting role opposite Greg Jennings by the time the season rolls around. Jarius Wright had a couple good games at the end of last season, but he's a long way from seeing any significant playing time. Stephen Burton has just seven receptions over his last two seasons with the Vikings, and he'll remain buried on the depth chart unless there are a ton of injuries to the guys in front of him. Greg Childs was a fourth-round pick for the Vikings in 2012, but a preseason injury cut off his rookie campaign before it even began. He'll return to the team in the hope of redeeming himself this season, but his first goal will just be to make the final 53-man roster.

Tight Ends

Starters: Kyle Rudolph
Backups: John Carlson

Kyle Rudolph emerged as a legitimate receiving threat for the Vikings last season, and finished the season with half (nine) of the team's total receiving touchdowns (18). His 53 receptions was second only to Percy Harvin's 62. As a fantasy tight end, he even cracked the Top 12 and will probably stay there going into this season as well. The Vikings don't have a vertical passing attack, and Rudolph represents a nice safety valve that Christian Ponder can check down to when he needs to move the ball through the air. Minnesota's best receivers are new to the team, and Rudolph has already established that he's a guy that Ponder can count on. Look for him to equal or even surpass his 2012 totals. John Carlson had just eight receptions in his first season with Minnesota, and he posted just 5.4 yards per reception. With Adrian Peterson averaging six yard per carry, it was better for Ponder to hand the ball off to Peterson than to throw it to Carlson. With the emergence of Kyle Rudolph and the new faces at WR this year, look for Carlson to post better stats than he did last year, but not enough to make him relevant to your fantasy team.

Place Kicker

Blair Walsh: Following a disappointing senior season at Georgia, kicker Blair Walsh rebounded in the NFL as a rookie in a big way - 35 of 38 (93.1%) on field goals, including a record 10 of 10 from 50+ yards. The only question this year was who would be his holder. Punter Chris Kluwe held that job for years, but he was released shortly after the draft. The Vikings wanted to get ahead of the punter rush in this year's draft, and made Jeff Locke from UCLA the first specialist selected. After two years at (32nd) or towards (22nd) the bottom of the rankings in kicker scoring opportunities, the Vikings jumped up to 7th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cordarrelle Patterson, Marcus Sherels

The Vikings lost standout kick returner Percy Harvin in a trade with Seattle before last season, but never missed a step in the return game as they drafted what turned out to be one of the most electric returners in the league in receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The combination of speed and size serve Patterson well as a returner as he was second to only Devin Hester in return yards. Patterson's backup in 2014 again stands to be Marcus Sherels, as Sherels is able to handle kickoffs though showed he is one of the best punt returners in the league as well.

Punt Returners: Marcus Sherels, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson [R]

The Vikings led the NFL in team yards per punt return in 2014, so there should be job security for defensive back Marcus Sherels who handled all of the punt returns last season. Jarius Wright was listed on the depth chart last year as his backup so should have an edge on the job this season as well.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Matt Kahlil, LG Charlie Johnson, C John Sullivan, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Phil Loadholt
Key Backups: T Kevin Murphy, T DeMarcus Love, G Troy Kropog, G Jeff Baca, C Joe Berger

The Minnesota Vikings offensive line is a story about how quickly things can turn around in this league. It was only two years ago, this line was in shambles and the team was picking a left tackle in the top five of the draft. That left tackle turned out to be Matt Kalil, who started all 16 games and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. After the season, news leaked that Kalil was playing the final three games while suffering from pneumonia, and he did give up two sacks during that time. Nevertheless, his toughness must be applauded and Kalil is the cornerstone for this unit. The draft pick of Kalil allowed Charlie Johnson to slide over to left guard, where he does a solid job. Center John Sullivan made the Pro Football Writers Association's All-Pro team, and he was a key ingredient on many of Adrian Peterson's long runs. Brandon Fusco is an extremely capable run blocker who has his weaknesses in pass protection. Nonetheless, Fusco received extra money from the league's performance based bonus system, indicating that he outperformed his contract last year. Phil Loadholt has a similar profile however he has the benefit of being extremely massive and his size covers up some of his pass blocking deficiencies. If there is competition on this line it will be at right guard, where former Panthers starter Seth Olsen lurks, along with rookie Jeff Baca out of UCLA. Baca was a workout warrior at the Indianapolis combine and is known for being a tough guy, among tough guys. Baca is a safe bet for a guy who will start a fight in training camp. Joe Berger backs up Sullivan and is serviceable in that role, while Troy Kropog could be on his last chance, battling DeMarcus Love for a swing tackle position. This line returns all five starters from the end of the 2012 season, for a perfect cohesion score. The Vikings offensive line is especially good in run blocking and when they really get going, will routinely create a new line of scrimmage two yards deep in the defense.

Team Defense

The Minnesota Vikings defense was an afterthought going into the 2012 season. With the uncertainty surrounding Adrian Peterson's health and the lack of confidence in Christian Ponder, expectations were incredibly low both for the Vikings defense and the team as a whole. Well not only did Peterson carry the offense on his rebuilt knee, but he seemingly inspired the defense to up their play as well. The Vikings were top five in sacks and better than average in almost every other defensive category. Minnesota allowed 14 or fewer points in six games last season. This solid play fits well with the team's run-first, game-shortening style. The loss of cornerback Antoine Winfield will likely keep Minnesota from becoming an elite fantasy unit. Still, the Vikings are a solid committee option that can be played with confidence against teams with a weak offense.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Kevin Williams, DT Letroy Guion, DE Jared Allen, DE Brian Robison
Backups: DT Sharif Floyd, DT Christian Ballard, DT Fred Evans, DT Everett Dawkins, DE Everson Griffen, DE Lawrence Jackson

Starting DL: The Vikings defense is led by perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen. Allen suffered a torn labrum last year but did not miss a game and recorded double-digit sacks for the sixth consecutive season. Allen underwent shoulder surgery in January and is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp. Starting at the other defensive end spot is Brian Robison. Robison has racked up 15.5 sacks in his 31 games as a starter. Veteran Kevin Williams will man one of the starting defensive tackle spots. Williams is entering his 11th season in the league, all with the Vikings. Williams is not the pass rusher he once was but is still an effective run defender. Letroy Guion will start at the other defensive tackle spot. Guion is effective in run defense but is likely to be replaced in passing situations.

Backup DL: With Williams getting up in years and entering the last year of his contract, the Vikings made a move to secure his potential replacement by selecting defensive tackle Sharif Floyd with one of their three first-round picks in the 2013 draft. Floyd is expected to see significant snaps as a rookie and should bring a strong inside pass rush to the Vikings defense. Christian Ballard was placed on the active/left squad list. Should he return, Ballard brings versatility to the defensive line as he can play both tackle and end. Ballard will compete for snaps with Fred Evans and rookie seventh-round draft pick Everett Dawkins. Everson Griffen, who moved from linebacker to defensive end last year, had a career-high eight sacks in 2012. The Vikings added to their already impressive defensive end group by signing free agent Lawrence Jackson to a contract. Jackson has averaged almost four sacks per season in limited playing time during his five year career.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Chad Greenway, MLB Erin Henderson, WLB Marvin Mitchell
Backups: OLB Desmond Bishop, OLB Gerald Hodges, OLB Tyrone McKenzie, MLB Audie Cole, MLB Michael Mauti, OLB Larry Dean, OLB Nathan Williams

Starting LBs: Erin Henderson, who started at the weak-side linebacking spot last year, is expected to be the starting middle linebacker this year. Henderson set career highs with 50 solos, 29 assists, and 3 sacks in his 14 games last season. Lining up at one of the outside linebacking spots is veteran Chad Greenway, who is one of the top outside linebackers in the league. Greenway has not missed a game in six years and has averaged almost 90 solos per year during that time. Tentatively lining up at the other starting outside linebacker spot is Marvin Mitchell. Desmond Bishop was expected to start at one of linebacker spots but he has been injured.

Backup LBs: For the time being, Bishop is being listed as a backup linebacker, but a healthy Bishop would likely have a strong chance to earn a starting job. Bishop has played exclusively as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense but is capable of playing any linebacking spot in the Vikings 4-3 defense. Rookie fourth-round draft pick Gerald Hodges is a solid tackling linebacker that played both outside spots at Penn State. Second-year player Audie Cole is likely to be the primary backup to Bishop. Rookie Michael Mauti, who also played at Penn State, is more of a pure middle linebacker. Mauti is coming off his third torn ACL and may not be ready for the start of training camp. Tyrone McKenzie provides veteran depth and is also a solid special teams player. Larry Dean and Nathan Williams will compete for roster spots.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Chris Cook, CB Xavier Rhodes, SS Jamarca Sanford, FS Harrison Smith
Backups: CB Josh Robinson, CB A.J. Jefferson, CB Jacob Lacey, CB Marcus Sherels, SS Mistral Raymond, FS Robert Blanton

Starting DBs: The Vikings will have a noticeably different look in the secondary this year as longtime starting cornerback Antoine Winfield left as a free agent and signed with Seattle. The Vikings hope to fill his shoes with rookie Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in the 2013 draft. Rhodes has excellent size and athletic ability and is the heavy favorite to start in the spot vacated by Winfield. The other starting spot is expected to be filled by injury-plagued cornerback Chris Cook. Cook has only played in 22 of a possible 48 games during his three years with the Vikings. The free safety spot will be manned by impressive second-year safety Harrison Smith. Smith racked up more than 100 tackles last year and added 3 interceptions and 11 passes defended. Jamarca Sanford will line up at strong safety. Sanford set a career high with 52 solos last year and added four forced fumbles.

Backup DBs: The Vikings have quality depth in the secondary, led by second-year cornerback Josh Robinson, who was a part-time starter for the Vikings last year. Robinson has an outside chance to earn one of the starting jobs but is more likely to be the nickel back. A.J Jefferson is another former starter who adds solid depth at cornerback. Jefferson struggled at times last year and may have been stretched as a starter. Jacob Lacey, who has started for both the Colts and Lions, signed with the Vikings during the offseason. He will compete with Jefferson for playing time. Marcus Sherels is primarily a special teams player and returned punts for the Vikings last year. Mistral Raymond will be the primary backup at both safety spots for the Vikings. Raymond has had trouble staying healthy and has missed 12 games in his two years with the Vikings. Robert Blanton will compete for playing time at safety and will contribute on special teams.

Last modified: 2014-05-15 23:12:30