Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep: Minnesota Vikings

vikings

Veteran Additions:
WR Lestar Jean, TE Allen Reisner, G Vladimir Ducasse, DE Corey Wootton, DT Linval Joseph, DT Tom Johnson, ILB Jasper Brinkley, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Derek Cox, S Kurt Coleman.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Anthony Barr, QB Teddy Bridgewater, DE Scott Crichton, RB Jerrick McKinnon, G/OT David Yankey, CB/S Antone Exum, CB Kendall James. Vikings Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Josh Freeman, RB Toby Gerhart, WR/QB Joe Webb, TE John Carlson, DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams, DT Letroy Guion, ILB Erin Henderson, ILB Desmond Bishop, CB Chris Cook, CB A.J. Jefferson.

2014 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
As amazing as Adrian Peterson is, the Vikings had to find a franchise quarterback to help them advance deep into the playoffs. Peterson could only get them so far. He gained a ridiculous 2,097 rushing yards in 2012, yet Minnesota had a quick, first-round exit because it had poor play from the quarterback position. Matt Cassel provided more stability there this past season than Christian Ponder did, but he’s just not good enough to lead a team to the Super Bowl. The Vikings knew this, and that’s why they traded up into the back end of the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater.

Whether or not Bridgewater is the answer is debatable. Many of those on Twitter were big fans and couldn’t believe that their favorite quarterback prospect fell so far into the draft. However, this Web site’s sources have said that Bridgewater was never a highly regarded prospect to begin with, given that he’s not great in any single category. In fact, one team that already had a franchise quarterback graded Bridgewater in the fourth round. Bridgewater doesn’t have many negative traits though, so he should be an adequate starter at the very least. If the Vikings surround him with enough talented weapons, perhaps he can help Minnesota claim its first Lombardi Trophy.

Minnesota has some skilled weapons for Bridgewater to utilize. Peterson will obviously be a big help. The opposition will be focused on stopping him, which will open up more opportunities for Bridgewater downfield. Bridgewater’s No. 1 target will be Cordarrelle Patterson. The 2013 first-rounder started his rookie campaign slowly, but flashed some serious potential down the stretch, including a 5-141-1 outing at Baltimore in December. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner plans to get Patterson heavily involved; in fact, the first thing he did upon getting hired was design 10 plays specifically for Patterson. The former Volunteer will start across from Greg Jennings, who predictably had a disappointing 2013 campaign after chasing money. Jennings, who was a product of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, will never live up to expectations in Minnesota, though he should perform better this upcoming season with improved quarterback play.

The other options in the passing game include Jerome Simpson, who was re-signed to a 1-year deal, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is poised to have a huge campaign. Turner has always transformed his tight ends into big stat-producers – see Jordan Cameron in Cleveland last season – and Rudolph should be no exception. He played in just eight games in 2013 because of a foot injury, so Minnesota’s offense will automatically be upgraded with him back on the field.

The offensive line is important for any young quarterback’s progression, and Minnesota has a solid one. In fact, the Vikings had just one liability up front this past season, which was left guard Charlie Johnson. He’ll be back, but fifth-round rookie David Yankey could push him. The rest of the interior is comprised of center John Sullivan and right guard Brandon Fusco, both of whom are coming off quality campaigns.

The most talented player up front is left tackle Matt Kalil. The No. 4 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kalil has not disappointed as a pro. He surrendered just four sacks in 2013. He’s bookended by Phil Loadholt, a tremendous run-blocker who lived up to the 4-year, $25 million contract he signed last March.

2014 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
If Matt Cassel and Charlie Johnson start for Minnesota, its offense will return every single starter from 2013. The same can’t be said for the defense, however. In fact, nearly half of the starters are gone.

Long-time Vikings Jared Allen and Kevin Williams will no longer be starting on the defensive line. Allen has signed with the Bears, while Williams defected for Seattle. However, the Vikings spent lots of resources on bolstering a front that mostly struggled this past season. For example, they signed former Giant Linval Joseph to a 5-year, $31.5 million contract in free agency. Joseph is a 25-year-old monstrous defensive tackle (6-4, 323) who stuffs the run well and also gets to the quarterback effectively. He figures to provide an upgrade on the line next to 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd, who didn’t play well this past season. Floyd, however, was just a rookie, so he’ll almost certainly improve in 2014.

Minnesota also spent a ton of money on one of its own players, re-signing Everson Griffen to a 5-year, $42.5 million deal. The contract was absolutely outrageous, as Griffen had just 5.5 sacks in 2013, proving to be just an above-average performer on the field. Still, he has lots of potential, so he could possibly blossom into a double-digit sack performer. He’ll start across from Brian Robison, who has 25 sacks in the past three seasons. Third-round rookie Scott Crichton will provide depth for now, but he could emerge as a starter eventually.

The Vikings absolutely had to upgrade their atrocious secondary, so they managed to do so by signing former Panther Captain Munnerlyn, who is coming off an outstanding 2013 campaign. There are some concerns that Munnerlyn was a product of Carolina’s ferocious front seven, but he should still prove to be an upgrade over the departed Chris Cook, who was torched regularly in 2013. Besides, Munnerlyn won’t have to cover top receivers; that onus will fall on last year’s first-rounder, Xavier Rhodes, who performed exceptionally as a rookie.

The safety position will also be better because Harrison Smith figures to be available for most of the season for a change. Harrison missed about half of 2013 because of a turf toe injury, and he wasn’t the same when he returned in December. Smith will help upgrade one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. He’ll start next to Jamarca Sanford, who was just adequate this past season. Also, it’s worth noting that head coach Mike Zimmer’s presence should aid the secondary. He constantly got the most out of old or mediocre secondary players as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator.

Zimmer’s defenses love to utilize a pass-rushing linebacker, so it was no surprise that Minnesota chose Anthony Barr with the No. 9 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. Barr is a bit raw as a former running back, but he has tons of potential, and he should be able to bolster the Vikings’ pass rush. The rest of the linebacking corps needs help, however. Barr will start with Chad Greenway, who is coming off a poor season, and Jasper Brinkley, who is a huge liability in coverage. Greenway could improve a bit – he used to be a tremendous player for the Vikings – but he’s on the down side of his career at the age of 31.

2014 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
Minnesota is just 16-58-1 when playing outdoors in the past 12 seasons. That doesn’t bode well for them in 2014, given that they’ll be playing at University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium while their new home is being built. This is a huge deal. Back in 2002, the Bears, who were coming off a 13-3 campaign, were in a similar situation, having to play at the University of Illinois while Soldier Field was being renovated. Chicago didn’t have a real home, and as a consequence, went 4-12. The Saints also struggled similarly when they couldn’t use the Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Vikings will essentially be on the road for 16 games, so victories will be extremely difficult to come by.

Blair Walsh took the league by storm as a rookie in 2012, drilling 35-of-38 tries, including a perfect 10-of-10 from 50-plus. He wasn’t as impressive in 2013. He still managed to hit 26-of-30 tries, but was just 2-of-5 from beyond 50.

Punter Chris Kluwe was deemed too much of a distraction and was consequently dumped. The Vikings spent a fifth-round pick in 2013 on replacement Jeff Locke. He finished in the middle of the pack in terms of net average and attempts placed inside the 20.

The good news, in terms of Minnesota’s special teams, is that it scored three touchdowns last year, thanks to Marcus Sherels and Cordarrelle Patterson. The bad news is that the Vikings surrendered two scores themselves, as they were outgained on kick returns.

So much for a last-place schedule. The Vikings open with the Rams, Patriots, Saints, Falcons, Packers and Lions. Things get easier after that, but a potential 1-5 start with no forthcoming home games could bury them.

2014 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: The Vikings have some hope for the future with Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, but it’ll be a major surprise if they compete for a playoff spot this year, given that they effectively have 16 road games on their slate. They’ll be competitive at times, but another disappointing season could be in the works.

Projection: 3-13 (4th in NFC North)

 

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