By Ryan Downes
This article is part of our 2013 Fantasy Team Preview series in which we are profiling every NFL team leading up to the season, click here for the complete list of published previews. Also, check out our staff rankings for see how we value each player.
In a stunning surprise, the Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs last year, almost solely on the heels and legs of Adrian Peterson. Everyone knows he’s the undisputed #1 RB coming into this season, right? Not so fast! If you haven’t read my amazing and truly genius AP article yet, you need to read it now!
The big news around the Vikings was moving disgruntled WR Percy Harvin to Seattle and signing Greg Jennings. While Harvin was injured for a lot of last season, this swap is a huge loss for the Vikings in their quest to get to the playoffs a second year in a row. But before we delve into the big issues surrounding the Vikings this season, let’s first look at some of the offseason movement around the team.
Added: QB Matt Cassel, WR Greg Jennings, G Seth Olsen, DB Roderick Williams, LB Stanford Keglar, CB Jacob Lacey, DE Lawrence Jackson, DB Greg McCoy, OL Brandon Keith
Drafted: DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB Gerald Hodges, P Jeff Locke, G Jeff Baca, LB Michael Mauti, G Travis Bond, DT Everett Dawkins
Lost: WR Percy Harvin, WR Michael Jenkins, DB Antoine Winfield, LB Jasper Brinkley, OL Geoff Schwartz, P Chris Kluwe, CB Nick Taylor, WR Devin Aromashodu
One Up: Kyle Rudolph, TE – Last season Kyle put up a stellar performance: 53 REC/493 YDS/9 TD. He’s quite a big boy at 6’6″ and 258 lbs. He causes matchup issues for defenders all over the field, but especially down near the Red Zone. Christian Ponder used him as somewhat of a safety blanket last year, and now that Harvin is in Seattle, he’ll need to rely on his young TE even more so this season. In 2012, despite finishing as the 9th best TE, he was a tough player to start. In fact, Rudolph only had one game all season in which he scored more than 2 fantasy points in weeks that he didn’t score. This year, expect him to take another step forward and have a more consistent role in the offense as opposed to just being primarily a Red Zone threat (See our staff rankings). Rudolph might pull your sleigh into the fantasy playoffs this season. Was that too cheesy? Fine. I have red cheeks and a red nose over it. OK, I’m done, that’s my last lame claus.
One Down: Christian Ponder, QB – As John Madden might say- “Now here’s a guy who’s a guy that when he throws the ball, he’s not that good. He’s not really such a good guy to have unless you like a guy who’s not as good as a lot of other guys”. Ponder threw for 2,935 YDS/18 TD/13 INT with a 62.1 CMP% in 2102. While the 62.1% doesn’t sound so bad, looking closer we can easily see that his 6.08 yards per attempt was 31st among 32 qualified quarterbacks, only marginally better than Blaine Gabbert. In 2013 not only did he lose his best offense weapon (outside of AP of course) in Harvin, but, he’s also got a shorter leash as veteran Matt Cassel is breathing down his neck. Not to mention that young receivers Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and converted QB Joe Webb all need touches to develop, so the Vikings will need Ponder to show some improvement to keep him in the lineup. My Prediction: Ponder will not start all 16 games.
1. With Ponder at QB, is any WR on the roster worth owning as more than a Flex option?
In short, no. At least, not to start the season. There really is very little to like here in terms of starting WR options. Greg Jennings is quite overrated as he’s missed 11 games in the past 2 seasons. Even when in the lineup last year, Jennings looked like a shell of himself, averaging only 10.2 yards per catch on his 36 receptions, his fewest of his career. He hasn’t hit 1,000 yards since 2010. That was when he had a top-flght starting QB Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball all around the field out in Green Bay. He’s going from that amazing situation to Minnesota and Ponder. That’s a downgrade if I’ve ever seen one. The number two wideout, Jerome Simpson, has had one season in which he complied 725 yards in CIN, but outside of that he’s been a colossal disappointment after the super athletic wideout was a 2nd rounder in 2008. If you don’t believe his athleticism, you haven’t seen his amazing front flip TD from the 2011 season and you need to watch it right now! But that’s been by far the most impressive thing he’s ever done in his career. The most intriguing option may be the rookie Cordarrelle Patterson (more on him in Burning Question #3 below). The Vikings have several other nice pieces, most notably Jarius Wright and Joe Webb, but none of those other pieces are likely to have a big impact this season. Again, with Ponder at the helm of the offense, this is not likely to change.
2. How valuable is the Vikings D/ST as a sleeper pick, while taking into account the drafting of DT Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes.
This is not a very valuable D/ST, despite the mentioned-in-the-question rookie signings. Last year, the Vikings were the #11 fantasy defense, putting up 123 points. The Steelers D was exactly one point behind them. This year, Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes will be seeing their first NFL action. While they certainly could be impact players sooner rather than later, it is a steep climb from college to the NFL game. The speed of the game, the defensive play calling and the magnificent offensive talent will take some getting used to. While it is theoretically possible for the Viking defense to sneak into the top 10, it’s also possible that Christian Ponder turns into the next John Elway. Not very likely.
The Vikings still have one of the best rushers in the league in Jared Allen (seen left), and the Chad Greenway and the rest of the front seven make up a solid bunch. However, their biggest issues will be stopping the pass. Last season, the Vikings were 24th against the pass, and now that veteran Antoine Winfield is gone and little came in to replace him. Expect their struggles stopping the pass to continue. The only reason I find this D/ST somewhat attractive is rookie sensation Cordarrelle Patterson (again more on him later…) who even be an upgrade on the dynamic Percy Harvin in the return game. Patterson was an extremely effective returner both at JUCO and University of Tennessee so if the Vikings special teams are able to free him up for some space, look out!
I’d say the Vikings defense most likely will regress to around #13-15. Especially in a division that will feature three excellent passing offenses in the Packers, Bears (now under West Coast guru Marc Trestman) and the Lions, the Vikings will have a very hard time stopping the pass and should not be counted on as a viable fantasy D/ST.
3. Can Cordarrelle Patterson contribute anything in his rookie year, or is he too raw?
This kid can do it all. While playing at Tennessee, he was a dynamic playmaker, making things happen as a receiver, rusher and returner, totaling 10 touchdowns in 12 games. Check out this profile Sport Science did on Patterson prior to the NFL draft to see what kind of an athletic specimen he is.
The major flaw in Cordarelle’s game is that he is extremely raw. He lacks much high level experience. He only has one year of NCAA experience (2 years of JUCO) and has been below average in his route running. Despite this, not only could he contribute something, but if he can polish his game, he may end the year as the team’s WR2, or even push an aging Jennings for that #1 spot. Just like the Vikings used Percy Harvin, expect them to take advantage of Cordarelle’s abilities by giving him the ball in a wide array of situations and roles.
As Mel Kiper wrote coming into the NFL draft, (while mocking him for St. Louis but the argument still stands):
The misconception around Patterson is that he’s only going to be effective once he masters the craft of route-running. Well, I don’t think that’s true because he’s dangerous any time you get the ball in his hands, and a lot of that can be done with simple routes near the line of scrimmage, as well as targets where he hasn’t even taken a step down the field. You can move him around, knowing he’s big enough to go over the middle on short routes and take hits, and also fast enough to elude many of them. He can beat you deep, but doesn’t have to go deep to create big plays. St. Louis could really use him given what they have.
At this point, the Vikings have to be thinking about using this kid as much as they possibly can. They’ve got a running back in Adrian Peterson that is a beast, but beyond that there are tons of question marks on that offense. However, the Vikings coaching staff has to be thinking about a return trip to the playoffs. To get there, they’ll need a big dose of Patterson. This is a kid I would target as a late round sleeper. The upside potential here is huge. Grab him, stash him and see what kind of start his year gets off to. He may end up being a huge boost for your fantasy squad later in the year.
This year the Vikings have very few fantasy standouts. Adrian Peterson, of course, is going to be the consensus #1 pick (by everyone except myself, apparently). Kyle Rudolph should be a stellar TE pickup in later rounds. And Patterson could end up winning some fantasy championships for those wise enough to snag him late.