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2015 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings

Quarterbacks

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

Starting QB: Bridgewater fell into the Vikings lap in the 2014 draft as they traded up at the end of the 1st round and selected him at pick 32 overall. In his rookie season Bridgewater showed flashes that he can be the long term answer to a quarterback problem that the franchise has been dealing with for years. Although nothing earth shattering as far as statistics go, Bridgewater's 2,919 passing yards, 14 passing touchdowns and 209 rushing yards to go along with another touchdown on the ground in 13 games as the starting QB is enough to get the team and city of Minnesota excited for the future of their possible franchise Quarterback. Look for Bridgewater to continue to make big steps in his second season as the Vikings have brought in Mike Wallace at WR to help give him a big play option down the field, and with Rudolph back healthy at TE and Adrian Peterson set to take back the RB position nothing but positive things are in store for Teddy Bridgewater.

Backup QB: Shaun Hill has made a career at being a reliable backup QB for every team he has played on. This year will be no different as he is set to back up Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota. Hill saw the field for 9 games in St.Louis last season averaging less than 200 passing yards and 1 touchdown per game. Behind Hill there is Mike Kafka who has had a hard time sticking on any team as a third string QB. The Vikings also added rookie Taylor Heinicke as an undrafted free agent and he has a chance to compete with Kafka for that third string QB role.

Running Backs

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

Starting RB: Off the field issues really hurt the Vikings and Peterson in 2014 as Peterson only appeared in the teams opening game. From there it was a combo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon that patrolled the Vikings backfield. That was something that was very unique and different for the Vikings as Peterson has been the face of the franchise ever since entering the league back in 2007. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings and Peterson reunite this year and if they can both put past issues behind them and move forward with a positive mind. Peterson has been a top RB in the NFL since he entered the league back in 2007. From 2007 to 2013 he ranked as a top 3 fantasy RB in 5 of those 7 seasons in the other two years he finished as the 6th and 8th RB those years and that was partly because he missed 4 and 2 games those years. If Peterson is given the green light and the Vikings bring him back with open arms it is hard to imagine him not being a top 5 fantasy RB at the very least.

Backup RBs: Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were very serviceable in their timeshare last season. Asiata had 9 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving touchdown and finished with 570 rushing yards and with 44 receptions for 312 yards. With rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater under center, Asiata was a nice outlet for him when he was in trouble. Asiata will unfortunately take a back seat when Adrian Peterson comes back as the Vikings star RB to open up the 2015 season. Asiata could spell Peterson on occasion and if Peterson were to miss anytime he would be next in line to handle the majority of the carries. Asiata will battle Jerick McKinnon for carries behind Peterson and will likely see limited carries causing him to have little impact on the offense moving forward. As long as Peterson is on the field, Asiata is going to be hard pressed to find touches. McKinnon had an impressive 4.8 yards per carry average on 113 carries last year as a rookie. He rushed for 538 yards and added 27 receptions for another 135 yards receiving. If Adrian Peterson is back in a full time role with the Vikings this year, McKinnon is going to struggle to see any early down yardage work and will likely be more of a change of pace back only spelling Peterson on occasion.

Fullback: In a league where the fullback position is longer looked upon as a big part of an offense it is hard to imagine Zach Line to get much on field action in Minnesota this season. He has played in four total games for the Vikings since the 2013 season.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson
Backups: Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, Kain Colter, Donte Foster, Stefon Diggs (R), DaVaris Daniels (R)

Starting WRs: Mike Wallace seemed to be somewhat of a bust in his two year Dolphins stint but when you look at the numbers on paper he actually out performed his final year in Pittsburgh. The Vikings can really use Wallace's speed and he should be able to help a young offensive group grow and make plays together as a team by his ability to stretch the field. The Vikings are an offense in transition and one that likes more a balanced approach so predicting a statline of 70/1000/8 for Wallace would just be out of the question. What he can bring is big play ability for Bridgewater down the field and defenses to have to play the pass and not stack the box against Peterson. In 11 games last year Charles Johnson produced a 31/475/2 statline on 59 targets thrown his way. With Peterson back at RB and Wallace stretching the field with his speed, there should be more room for Johnson all over the field to continue to connect on plays from Bridgewater. It is surprising to mention Cordarrelle Patterson as the third option on the receiving core as he looked to have some of the biggest upside heading into last season. He had one of the bigger regression seasons out of the WRs last season. He only managed to catch 33 passes for 384 yards and a touchdown. He added another touchdown on the ground but that still didn't compare to the 5 offensive touchdowns he scored in his rookie season. A lot of the regression could be how he is being used on the field by the coaches and how he is a bigger part to the special teams unit than that of the offense. He has shown flashes of big play ability and he could benefit from the signing of Mike Wallace.

Backup WRs: Jarius Wright has played back to back 16 game seasons for the Vikings the past two years that look almost identical. He has a career average of 14.8 yards per catch over 39 career games and is more of a big play game changer than a consistent week to week WR option. Wright had three games in 2014 where he had over 49 receiving yards (132,123,60), so predicting any sort of a big game out of him is extremely hard to do. Wright is further down the depth chart with Mike Wallace coming to town as well and is line to have more of a WR4 role on the team to start the season. Besides Wright it looks to be rookie Stefon Diggs out of Maryland that brings the biggest threat of contributing on offense out of the rest of the depth WR guys. Adam Thielen is another depth player that could make the team and contribute as a WR5 type of player.

Tight Ends

Starters: Kyle Rudolph
Backups: Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Otten, MyCole Pruitt (R)

Rudolph has struggled to stay healthy over the past two years only playing in 17 games combined in that time frame. When healthy and on the field he is a huge asset for the Vikings offense and even more so now with Teddy Bridgewater starting a new chapter in Minnesota. The Vikings are trying to build a steady offense and if Rudolph can stay on the field for a full 16 game season he can help open up the running game, passing game and be a huge problem for defenses when the Vikings are in the redzone. If you combine his past two seasons together (17 games) he had a 54/544/5 statline which would be good for a top 10 TE numbers. Behind Rudolph the Vikings have some depth guys such as Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford that showed last season that they can contribute to a degree in the passing game. MyCole Pruitt is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on moving forward also as he was a star in college posting 81/861/13 last season at Southern Illinois.

Place Kicker

Blair Walsh: Walsh had a strong 35 field goal attempts, but his accuracy rate was the worst among full-time kickers, below even Billy Cundiff, who was out of work by the end of the season. While Walsh did convert 5 of his nine attempts from 50+ yards, which gives him appeal in leagues that give more points for longer field goals, Walsh should be seen as being on shaky ground if he can't improve his accuracy, despite the Vikings bringing in no competition for him via the draft or free agency. Walsh is an unrestricted free agent in 2016, so his career could be at an early crossroads.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs [R], Marcus Sherels, DuJuan Harris

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 Joe Berger, C John Sullivan, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Phil Loadholt
Key Backups: T T.J. Clemmings [R], T Tyrus Thompson [R], G David Yankey, G Austin Shepherd [R], T Mike Harris

When discussing the Vikings' offensive line there are two questions that immediately must be answered: 1) how did this line get ranked so low at the end of last season and 2) why is this line ranked so much higher at the start of this season? The answer to both questions is left tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil had an atrocious 2014, and many onlookers believed the player was a high profile first round bust in the making. However in the offseason, the coaching staff praised Kalil for playing hurt and picked up his option. Kalil was apparently playing on two injured knees and received offseason arthroscopic surgery to fix the problem. Assuming Kalil is healthy (a big assumption, granted), this line could be vastly improved this season. Brandon Fusco, a decent guard, is also returning from injury. A related piece of good news for this unit was the departure of left guard Charlie Johnson. Johnson did not play well last season and Joe Berger (who spent most of last year starting for Fusco) will slide to the left guard position and have the lead on taking Johnson's place. There's a rumor that Fusco could compete at left guard and the Vikings drafted several players, including Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings who could compete for playing time. David Yankey is another interesting player who could be in the guard mix, after a much needed year in the strength and conditioning program. Throw in the All-Pro performance of center John Sullivan and the perennially underrated right tackle Phil Loadholt and the Vikings could have the makings of a high quality unit. But again it needs to be stressed that this relatively high ranking assumes Matt Kalil playing more like he did his rookie year, as compared to last season's debacle.

Team Defense

Minnesota had five outstanding D/ST games in their first year with Mike Zimmer as head coach, and the arrow is pointing up for 2015. First and second round picks Trae Waynes and Eric Kendricks should represent instant upgrades at corner and MLB, respectively. Teddy Bridgewater is going to be even better in his second year, and Adrian Peterson will be back. Together they will engineer game scripts that are more conducive to D/ST production. 2014 first-rounder Anthony Barr could also improve in year two after a strong start to his career, and Harrison Smith gives the team playmakers at all three levels of the defense. Consider the Vikings one of the D/STs most likely to crash the top 10 this year.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Linval Joseph, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Brian Robison, DE Everson Griffen
Backups: DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, DE Scott Crichton, DE Danielle Hunter, DE Justin Trattou, DE B.J. Dubose, DE Leon Mackey, DE Caesar Rayford

Starting DL: With Mike Zimmer at the helm Minnesota's defense and particulatly the front four looked much different in 2014. As a unit they produced 31 total sacks. Everson Griffen emerged as one of the leagues premier three down ends, collecting 12 of them. 2013 first round pick Sharrif Floyd stepped into the starting lineup and proved to be everything the organization had expected. He and veteran Linval Joseph were strong up the middle versus the run while contributing 8 sacks between them. The only player that did not seem to thrive under Zimmer was Brian Robison. The 16 solo tackles and 4.5 sacks were by far his lowest production since becoming a starter in 2010. He will enter camp as the starter once again but will need to prove himself else he could start loosing time to second year pro Scott Crichton and/or rookie third round pick Danielle Hunter.

Backup DL: Tom Johnson was the third man in the tackle rotation last season and gave the Vikings just what they wanted in that role. He too performed well versus the run while making a significant contribution to the pass rush with his 6.5 sacks. Should either of the starters go down, Johnson would step right in and Vikings would not miss a beat at defensive tackle. Even last year's seventh round selection Shamar Stephen was able to get in on some action in 2014. His role was not significant but it was enough to both give him some much needed experience, and for the coaching staff to gain confidence in his ability. The team was a little dissappointed that Scott Crichton failed to earn a bigger role as a rookie. The third round pick was inactive for most games during the first half of the season and played a marginal role when he was active during the second half. The coaching staff remains optimistic that he will step up in his second season and would like to see him push Brian Robison for playing time. Minnesota added rookies Danielle Hunter in the third round and developmental prospect B.J. Dubose in the sixth as insurance. They also inked a handful of free agents in hope of finding a diamond in the rough. Just as he did during his time as the Bengals defensive coordinator, Zimmer has created a strong and deep defensive line that has quickly become the strength of the Vikings defense.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Chad Greenway, SLB Anthony Barr
Backups: WLB Gerald Hodges, MLB Audie Cole, MLB Michael Mauti, MLB/WLB Casey Matthews, OLB Justin Anderson, OLB Edmond Robinson

Starting LBs: The Vikings have put a lot of effort into improving their defensive talent since Mike Zimmer took over. With the additions of Anthony Barr in the first round last year and Eric Kendricks in the second this year, the team has greatly improved their talen level at linebacker. Barr stepped right in as a rookie and made a positive impact. He is a force at the point of attack and with 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, a pair of recoveries and a score in twelve games a year ago, has already shown plenty of big play ability. He reminds many of a young Chad Greenway. Kendricks will likely enter camp behind Audie Cole on the depth chart but the youngster is clearly the future of the position. After racking up 10 or more tackles in eleven games last year at USC, it will be a huge surprise if Kendricks is not in the lineup come opening day. He may prove to be the best middle linebacker in a Vikings uniform since Jack DelRio. There are some who will contend that Greenway is a player in decline. If that is the case it has not shown up in his game films yet. He will line up at the weak side position again this season and rounds out a Minnesota linebacker trio that is the best it has been in at least a decade from a talent perspective.

Backup LBs: A linebacker position that has been a weakness for the Vikings in recent years is now well on the way to becoming a strength. The starting trio is strong and the team is even showing some solid depth. Gerald Hodges has seen a good deal of playing time over the past two seasons and has represented himself well. Chances are he will replace the 32 year old Greenway at the weak side position in the not too distant future. Audie Cole is a marginal talent for a starting middle backer but he is a tenacious competitor and a serviceable replacement level option that the team can win with if neccessary. After Hodges and Cole the talent drops off to a handful of developmental special teams players, but it has been a long time since this team was five players deep at linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Harrison Smith, SS Robert Blanton, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Terence Newman, CB Trae Waynes
Backups: CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, CB Jabari Price, SS Andrew Sendejo, SS Taylor Mays, FS Ahmad Dixon, S Antone Exum

Starting DBs: One of the staples of a Mike Zimmer defense is plenty of talent and depth at the corner positions. With the drafting of Trae Waynes in round one and the free agent addition of Terence Newman, the Vikings now have a good problem in that they have five starter quality corners. Xavier Rhodes has all the traights to be a great fit in Zimmer's scheme, so he is a safe bet to be one of the opening day starters. Newman is familliar with the scheme and has been a favorite of Zimmer from all the way back when the two were in Dallas together. He has a lot of miles on the tires but still has some gas left in the tank. Considering that he played ahead of some young first round picks in Cincinnati, there is a good chance Newman will line up opposite Rhodes in base packages this season. That leaves the talented rookie to compete with Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson for the slot corner job. Both veterans have plenty of starting experience and Munnerlyn in particular is an excellent fit in the slot. Waynes was highly regarded as the best corner in this year's draft but it will be no surprise if he ends up as the dime corner for a while. This is an excellent problem for the organization to have. 2012 first round pick Harrison Smith quickly proved to be one of the best young safeties in the game. His size and physical approach to the position make him an intimidating presence in the secondary and his 10 interceptions in about two and a half seasons is a good example of his big play ability. Robert Blanton came from nowhere to earn the starting strong safety job in 2014. He is not a supremely talented player but he is a dependable tackler who rarely makes a mental or physical mistake. His presence allows the coaching staff to be more aggressive with Harrison.

Backup DBs: The Vikings are five deep with starter talent at the corner positions. Even sixth and seventh corners Marcus Sherels and Jabari Price will likely end up on an NFL roster if they fail to stick in Minnesota. The safety position is a different story. If there is a position where this defense is thin, this is it. Andrew Sendejo filled in for about half of the 2013 season when Harrison was down. He did an adequate job but would be a considerable drop off from the starters. Taylor Mays is little more than a special teams ace who might see time in some goal line packages, but is too much a liability in coverage to play on early downs. Ahmad Dixon and Antone Exum are developmental players entering their second year.

Last modified: 2015-06-02 12:43:40