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2014 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings

Quarterbacks

Starter: Teddy Bridgewater
Backup(s): Shaun Hill, Mike Kafka

Starting QB: Many people speculated that the Vikings would take a quarterback at #8 overall. Instead the swapped picks with the Browns and drafted one of the top linebackers in the draft. Then they traded back into the end of the first round to get Teddy Bridgewater, the guy many people thought they would take at #8. Bridgewater is a smart passer that is used to scanning the field for the open receiver. He needs to bulk up and get some zip on his deep balls if he wants to be successful at the NFL level, but his competitive streak gives him an edge. Having Adrian Peterson running the ball doesn’t hurt either. Bridgewater should begin the season as the #1 quarterback, as he is a polished quarterback with only Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder as competition behind him. New coaches Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner will not ask a ton of Bridgewater in his first season, driving more of the offense through Adrian Peterson. This should give Bridgewater plenty of time to adjust to the game at the NFL level.

Backup QB: Matt Cassel finished as the top quarterback in Minnesota last season. That should tell you everything. He had just 1800 yards passing in nine games, and finished with just 11 passing TDS against 9 interceptions. Christian Ponder began the season as the starter, but finished with just 1650 yards passing and seven passing TDS. Both were so impressive that the Vikings signed Josh Freeman who flamed out so fast in week 7 that he never played another snap. Cassell and Ponder will compete to be Bridgewater’s backup, but neither should expect to see much action unless something goes terribly wrong.

Running Backs

Starter: Adrian Peterson
Backup(s): Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, DuJuan Harris, Joe Banyard, Henry Josey
Fullback(s): Zach Line

Starting RB: It’s hard to call Adrian Peterson a disappointment considering he finished the season with almost 1500 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. Yet after his 2000 yard rushing performance in 2012, most people expected more. With little or no threat from the passing game, Peterson struggled to get his game rolling last year. His first carry from scrimmage was a 78 yard TD run, but he finished with just 93 total yards in that game. After a 211 yard rushing performance against the Bears in week 13, Peterson had just 18 total carries over the final two games. He injured his foot against Baltimore in the following game and finished out the season watching most of the action from the sidelines. Under Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner, Peterson should continue to dominate. Turner’s offenses typically focus on one workhorse back and that’s just fine with Peterson. He’ll be looking to take the pressure off of his young quarterback and return to his place as the top running back in the league.

Backup RBs: Toby Gerhart is gone, leaving Matt Asiata as back with the most experience after Peterson. Asiata is entering his third season with the Vikings, and his 166 rushing yards and 3 TDS was a career best last season. Jerick McKinnon was a late 3rd round pick for the Vikings this year, but he is really only a change of pace back. Joe Banyard was with the Vikings last season, but he finished the season with just one catch for 11 yards. All will need to prove themselves if they hope to see any playing time behind Peterson this season.

Fullback: Jerome Felton missed the first three games of the season because he was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. In his place, rookie Zach Line performed well enough, but his ankle injury in week 3 gave the Vikings an opportunity to place him on Injured Reserve to make room for Felton who finished out the season as the top fullback. This season, Line will have to beat out Felton is he wants to remain on the roster. Felton restructured his contract in March to stay with the team, so it will be interesting to see which of these two will win the job.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson
Backups: Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, Kain Colter, Donte Foster

Starting WRs: Greg Jennings finished his first season with Minnesota on a down note. Three of his final four games were five catches or less for a combined 125 yards receiving. He shined in the Philadelphia game week 15, but his 804 receiving yards for the season were far below expectations. A portion of that can be blamed on the poor passing skills of the revolving door at QB that Minnesota has last season, but Jennings also needs to step up his game. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson contributed both on offense and special teams last season, and he’s going to be pushing for more of the offense this year with the new coaching staff and quarterback. Jennings still something left in the tank, despite entering his 9th NFL season. His veteran presence will be greatly welcomed in an offense that will be rebuilt around a rookie QB. Patterson is a potential stud in the making, but he has to improve the finer points of his game. He took a while to get rolling last season, but finished strong, posting 15 receptions for 215 yards and 3 touchdowns over his last three games. His speed give Minnesota a legitimate deep threat but QB Teddy Bridgewater is not known for his great arm strength. Patterson will have to work the open field and use his speed and shiftiness to turn medium gains into big plays this season.

Backup WRs: Jerome Simpson was the best of the rest when it came to Minnesota wideouts last season. His pedestrian 725 yards receiving and 1 TD were good enough to frustrate anyone who picked him up after he post 124 or more receiving yards in two of his first four games. He’ll begin training camp as Minnesota’s #3 receiver, but he’s not a lock to stay there. Jarius Wright improved in his second season, posting 434 yards and 3 TDS, but he had just 10 receptions in his final six games. Lestar Jean was a sleeper pick on many fantasy draft boards last season, but his four receptions for the year earned him a ticket out of Houston. They are the best of a group of receivers who will all be given a shot to prove themselves this summer.

Tight Ends

Starters: Kyle Rudolph
Backups: Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Otten

Kyle Rudolph had a disappointing season last year. He injured his foot in week nine against the Cowboys and lingered on the injury report before the Vikings placed him on injured reserve in December. Rudolph has good size and soft hands, and will make an excellent safety blanket for a young quarterback making the transition to the NFL in Norv Turner's offense that emphasizes the tight end. He could easily have the best season of his career in 2014. Early reports indicate that Rudolph is fully recovered and ready to get started this season. In Rudolph’s place, the Vikings used veterans John Carlson and Rhett Ellison. Carlson has moved on to Arizona, leaving Ellison as Minnesota’s #2 tight end. Ellison ie entering his third season with the Vikings, but has never had more the two receptions in any game.

Place Kicker

Blair Walsh: For the first time in several years, all three specialists remain the same for the Vikings. Kicker Blair Walsh followed up his record setting rookie campaign with a solid second year (26 of 30, 86.7%, on field goals). The big difference was he was less busy from long range last year. Jeff Locke is back for his second year as punter/holder. They’ll be working with veteran long snapper Cullen Loeffler. The Vikings have been all over the rankings board in kicker scoring opportunities the past five years, as high as 7th to a low of 32nd. Last year they were 17th.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs [R], Marcus Sherels, Jarius Wright

Cordarrelle Patterson's rookie season as a kick returner was so good that the biggest concern last year was that he might lose returns to an increased role on offense. Instead, he failed to contribute on offense and his average dropped from 32.4 to 25.6 yards per kick return. With the drafting of standout returner Stefon Diggs there may be competition both as a returner and on offense. Cornerback Marcus Sherels is also a capable kick returner, though is more likely to contribute on punt returns.

Punt Returners: Marcus Sherels, Stefon Diggs [R], Jarius Wright

Marcus Sherels turned in a second straight season as a top ten punt returner in the NFL in 2014, but could see competition from rookie Stefon Diggs. Diggs had a 9.4 yard average on punt returns in college, though may be seen as more of a kick returner. Jarius Wright has served as a backup before so is another option.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Matt Kalil, LG Charlie Johnson, C John Sullivan, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Phil Loadholt
Key Backups: T Mike Remmers, G Vlad Ducasse, G Jeff Baca, G David Yankey [R], T Antonio Richardson [R], G/T Joe Berger

The Vikings return all five starters at all five positions and are currently ranked as one of the top units in the league. The line is led by left tackle Matt Kalil, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012. Kalil experienced somewhat of a rough year last season, and it was revealed in the offseason that Kalil had been fighting through a shoulder injury. Kalil has had surgery in the offseason and is expected to be full strength for the start of the season. At center, John Sullivan is a hugely underrated starter, well known for his cerebral leadership in the middle. Sullivan has consistently graded out among the elite at that position and the Vikings have no worries there. At right guard, Brandon Fusco has a sound grip on the starting job. Fusco is known as a solid player who produces, but he can be prone to occasional bouts of inconstancy. Phil Loadholt took a lot of criticism for signing what was at the time the highest paid right tackle contract in the league. However in the years since that signing, Loadholt has cut down on penalties and actually lived up to that contract. It’s not a crazy statement to call him one of the best right tackles in the entire league. So these are the four positions that are easy to pencil in, which leaves Charlie Johnson at left guard. Johnson is often below average and will face competition from free agent Vlad Ducasse, Jeff Baca, and fifth round rookie David Yankey. Yankey was a highly touted prospect who fell in the draft due to poor performance in workouts. But the coaching staff is high on Yankey and he could seriously challenge Johnson for this job. In terms of depth, Mike Remmers is the likely swing tackle, but he will compete with Joe Berger and undrafted rookie Antonio Richardson out of Tennessee. Richardson was another highly touted prospect, but he fell due to injury concerns in his knee. If Richardson is healthy, he could very feasibly make this roster as a backup. Overall this is one of the better lines in the league, and they could actually improve if they get better production out of the left guard position.

Team Defense

Discounting any potential catastrophic injuries, the Vikings are guaranteed at least six really tough games on defense next season. Being in a division with the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears is an unenviable position to occupy. While the addition of Mike Zimmer as head coach should dramatically improve the coaching on this side of the ball, this unit is very much in transition. Retaining Everson Griffen and adding Scott Crichton to the defensive line rotation while also adding Anthony Barr as a strong side linebacker should stiffen up the front seven, but the secondary still has a number of question marks. Xavier Rhodes needs to improve a lot in his second season, while Harrison Smith must bounce back after an injury-filled and disappointing second year in the league. Zimmer is a wildcard. His presence makes it tough to think that this unit will be one of the worst in the NFL, but there are also too many holes to think it will immediately look like the defenses he built with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Linval Joseph, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Brian Robison, DE Everson Griffen
Backups: DT Fred Evans, DT Shamar Stephen, DT Kheeston Randall, DE/DT Corey Wootton, DE Scott Crichton

Starting DL: With Kevin Williams and Jared Allen gone, the vikings will look a little different up front this year. Last year's first round pick Sharrif Floyd saw his playing time increase down the stretch last season and should be ready for the starting role entering his second season. He will likely pair with Giant's 2010 second round pick Linval Joseph who the Vikings added in free agency. Together this pair gives Minnesota a tandem of young yet stout run defenders with enough quickness and athleticism to contribute as pass rushers. In nickel package situations one of them will likely exit so that end Everson Griffen can slide inside to make room for rookie Anthony Barr on the outside. In Brian Robison and Everson Griffen the Vikings have a pair of dependable yet unspectacular ends. With Jared Allen getting a lot of attention on the other side, Robison has averaged 8 sacks over the past three seasons. Without Allen, Robison is likely to see more double teams. Only time will tell how much of a difference that will make in his production. Since 2011 Griffen has been the third man at end but has seen a good amount of action at the tackle position as well. His 8 sacks in 2012 were a career best with Griffen contributing 5.5 last season in that part time role. He could ultimately end up in the same relief role at some point if the team decides to play Barr as an every down end. Early signs however, point to Griffen getting an opportunity to prove himself as a three down player. Minnesota will be younger up front in 2014 but they are also somewhat unproven. Under new head coach Mike Zimmer, this group could flourish. At worst they should be able to hold their own.

Backup DL: In tackle Fred Evans and the versatile Corey Wooton the Vikings have quality veteran depth up front. Evans will work as the third tackle in the rotation with Wooton penciled in as the third end. Wooton can linup inside as well if called upon. In fact he played inside for a good portion of his time with Chicago. Shamar Stephens, Kheeston Randall and Scott Crichton give the team a trio of young developmental guys with enough ability to cover spot duty right now and the potential to develop into major contributors. All in all the Vikings are looking pretty good up front.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Chad Greenway, MLB Audie Cole, OLB Anthony Barr
Backups: WLB Gerald Hodges, MLB Jasper Brinkley, MLB Michael Mauti, OLB Larry Dean

Starting LBs: With a new coaching staff in place and the uncertainty of how rookie first round pick Anthony Barr will be used, it is a little tough to speculate on just how the Vikings will look at linebacker. What we do know is that Chad Greenway is rock solid at either the strong or weak side position. He has seen plenty of action at both spots over his seven seasons with the team. After that everything is speculation until preseason when we will have more to go on. Audie Cole stepped into the middle linebacker spot down the stretch last season and performed admirably. He is not the most graceful or mechanically sound player ever to have graced the position, but the results were good when he was on the field. Cole enters training camp as the favorite to start in the middle. He could be challenged however, by veteran journeyman Jasper Brinkley and/or second year pro Michael Mauti. It is the final starting spot that will garner much of the attention. Barr is expected to have a significant role somewhere. He played mostly defensive end over his two years at UCLA but the Vikings may look to use him at strong side linebacker where he also has experience. If Barr does indeed play linebacker, he will all but certainly put his hand down as an end in nickel sub packages. There is also a chance that he could be moved to end full time, or that he may not be a starter at all right out of the gate. The vikings also have second year WLB Gerald Hodges in line for playing time. We may not know what this group will look like until late in the preseason. What we do know is that coach Zimmer has some talented options to work with.

Backup LBs: The Vikings have good depth at the linebacker positions. Hodges was the team's fourth round pick a year ago and could be in the mix for first team playing time on the weakside. Brinkley is a career backup who spent three seasons with the Vikings before signing with Arizona last season. He is not a candidate for a long term starting job, but is capable of filling in for a few games or even a season if needed. Mauti is an interesting prospect. Many scouts thought he would be a starter in the NFL before an injury during his final college season set him back. He should be fully recovered now and is a dark horse candidate for the starting job in the middle.

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Harrison Smith, SS Jamarca Sanford, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Josh Robinson
Backups: S Andrew Sendejo, S Kurt Coleman, S Mistral Raymond, CB Marcus Sherels, CB Shaun Prater

Starting DBs: The Vikings secondary is somewhat of a work in progress. When he was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, Mike Zimmer always had a corner position that was stocked with talent, and he was able to make do with bargain priced free agents or late round picks at safety. In Minnesota his one real stud is Harrison Smith at free safety. Smith spent half of last season on IR but was on pace for 94 tackles and 6 interceptions over the eight games he played. The injury is a thing of the past so Smith should be back to form in 2014. Jamarca Sanford has proven to be a serviceable strong safety. He too missed time with injury in 2013 but is good to go. Sanford is better versus the run than pass but is good enough overall to hold down the position while the organization addresses bigger problems. It is at the corner position that the Vikings are most questionable. In essence they have a collection of good number two corners with no true star to build around. Free agent addition Captain Munnerlyn is a solid veteran cover man. At only 5'8" and 190 pounds, his skills set is best suited to be either a number two corner or a nickel back. He served in both roles during his time in Carolina. Last year's first round pick Xavier Rhodes will compete with 2012 third round pick Josh Robinson for the other starting spot, with the loser of that battle serving as the nickel corner. Both players are solid cover men who saw a lot of action last season. The glaring problem here is that despite significant playing time and starting opportunities, neither of these players recorded an interception in 2013. This is far from the weakest secondary in the league, but it is a safe bet that the Vikings will be looking to land a playmaker next offseason.

Backup DBs: In Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman the Vikings have a pair of solid veteran safeties behind the starters. Both players have some starting experience and will contribute on special teams, but neither are a threat to push for a starting job unless someone goes down ahead of them. Bengals 2012 fifth round pick Shaun Prater followed Zimmer to Minnesota. Prater was injured as a rookie and saw little action with Cincinnati last season, but he is familiar with the scheme. That will help in his battle with Marcus Sherels for the fourth spot in the pecking order at corner. Both of these players are young and inexperienced developmental prospects that should contribute mostly on special teams if all goes according to plan.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 17:23:43