I was perusing some NFL history on Pro Football Reference last night, as a football junkie is wont to do, and I looked a bit at the leading career touchdown receivers. That's when I was reminded (though never really forgotten) that Randy Moss and Cris Carter played together. Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice also played together. Rice and Tim Brown played together. How weird is that?
Anyway, I was reminded that there were bright days in Vikings history. Many of them, in fact, though they are 0-4 in Super Bowl history and have not managed to make a return appearance at some of the most opportune times: 2009 when it eluded Brett Favre. Their 15-1 record in 1998 failed them. The Vikings have come so close, but have not been able to knock down the door.
Then there are the dark days, and we are either squarely in the middle of them or perhaps breaking out. Minnesota's 3-13 record last season was the first time they'd won less than 5 games since 1984. The Vikings have had poor seasons, but they haven't had many terrible ones. They were terrible last year, even if a bit unlucky.
The days of Carter and Jake Reed or Carter and Moss are over, but the Vikings do have some significant weapons on offense this season and a few players you'll want to target high for fantasy. Let's break it down.
2011 Record: 3-13
Skill Players Drafted: Jarius Wright, WR (4th Round), Greg Childs, WR (4th Round.) Also: Matt Kalil, OT (1st), Rhett Ellison, FB (4th), and Blair Walsh, K (6th)
Dearly Departed: Donovan McNabb, Lorenzo Booker, Visanthe Shiancoe
I thought that drafting Ponder 12th overall was really weird and probably a bad move, but actually came away a little more impressed with him during the season than most. He made plenty of mistakes, but that's what you should expect out of a rookie thrown into the fire known as the Minnesota Vikings. Ponder threw 10 touchdown passes between weeks 5 and 9, but he also threw 9 interceptions. He will need to learn to reduce the mistakes and throw for better than 54.3% accuracy, but I still think that Ponder will have a few above-average seasons.
Maybe a Brad Johnson-y career.
The addition of Matt Kalil at left tackle is really paramount to the Vikings offense improving and providing Ponder with perfect protection. He was sacked 30 times on 291 attempts last season. Pro Football Focus gave Kalil mixed reviews on his first NFL game but that did come against a pretty fierce 49ers defense. It doesn't mean he won't struggle against good defenses, but he should still be an upgrade and continue to get better.
The main issue I see for Ponder is that I don't see him as the type of QB yet that makes the players around him better. He needs to have greatness around him. Outside of Percy Harvin and AP, I don't see that. At all. Could be more of the same as last year if he plays all 16 games.
2012 Projection: 57% completions, 3,000 yards, 22 TD, 23 INT
I wrote a bit about Webb last year, as he really is such a fascinating player. He might be the best running quarterback in the NFL and he can manufacture a play or two, but it would be really bad for the Vikings of Ponder got hurt because I am not convinced that Webb can stay in the pocket like he needs to. If he actually became a starter, he'd be an interesting spot start in fantasy, because he could produce touchdowns.
Also, Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Even with Ponder as your starter, you pray he doesn't get hurt.
He's still only 27 years old. Peterson has to get in some game action and it's likely that Leslie Frazier will reduce his reps this season to protect AP's explosive running style that could get him into trouble, but let's not forget that he missed only one start from 2008-2010. He got hurt in college and he got hurt last year and so far that's it.
His value might have fallen out of the first round of a fantasy draft but there's a big difference between draft value and actual value. His actual value is that few players in the NFL are better. I'm going to say that he plays in 14 games, fully healthy.
2012 Projection: 250 carries, 1,200 yards, 13 TD, 200 receiving yards.
He had five games with double-digit carries last season and averaged 80.2 yards and 4.8 yards per carry in those games. I think he's in line for at least 100 carries again this season, maybe more. Obviously more if Peterson misses some time. That's not rocket science. I failed Rocket Science in college. Why did they even let me take it?
2012 Projection: 125 carries, 560 yards, 5 TD. Necessary Handcuff.
Lex Hilliard, Derrick Coleman, Jordan Todman
For a team that's got a running back with a boo-boo, you'd think that they had better depth. They even signed a 50-year-old former NBA player. The UDFA rookie Coleman had 23 yards on 6 carries in the preseason opener. Todman was signed off of the Chargers practice squad. Hilliard was signed from the Dolphins. Just like Ponder, it would be bad news if the Vikings had to go to their reserves.
It's hard to believe that Harvin, one of the more exciting players in the NFL, would be underrated but number one receivers typically don't put up 967 yards and 11.1 yards per catch. However, you have to look at the total package and Harvin had 1,312 total yards and 8 touchdowns. Along with 87 catches (PPR!)
And Harvin is still only 24-years-old.
He might not be long for Minnesota, but Harvin could definitely explode for some big seasons in his future. Fantasy leagues don't care how you get your yards, so make sure to note the total when evaluating Harvin.
2012 Projection: 90 catches, 1,050 yards, 300 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns.
Things get pretty light in the shorts after Harvin, but Simpson was a low-profile add coming off of a 725-yard season for the Bengals with the play (flip) of the year . He was wildly inconsistent but had three 100-yard games and is impressing people in camp.
2012 Projection: 40 catches, 700 yards, 5 TD
The former first round pick is now entering his ninth season in the NFL and his second in Minnesota. He recently took a pay cut just to try and ensure himself a spot on the team. He had two good games out of 11 last season, and by now he is what he is.
2012 Projection: 25 catches, 300 yards, 1 TD, less money
The man with the funnest name to say in the NFL had a career-year in Minnesota last season but that meant 468 yards on 26 catches. That does mean he had 18 yards per reception, but not sure his ceiling goes higher than that.
2012 Projection: 35 catches, 450 yards, 3 TD
Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton
The injury to Greg Childs opens the door for Wright and Burton to earn roster spots, but that's how thin the Vikings are at wide receiver. Notice a trend developing here? Minnesota is interesting at the top of the depth chart and scary-bad (or at least inexperienced) after that. There is a definite possibility that Minnesota picks first in 2013.
If the Vikings do have a breakout player this season, it might be the 6'6, 260 Rudolph, the 2011 second-round pick out of Notre Dame. He had 26 catches for 249 yards last season, but the departure of Schiancoe means that he should be in line for more action in 2012 and could just be Ponder's favorite target.
The addition of fellow Fighting Irish John Carlson is interesting, but this is going to be Rudolph's time to shine. Does that mean that he's a starting fantasy tight end (800 yards, 9 TD or something) or just a spot starter? I'll be conservative for now but he could be a hot add after a couple weeks.
2012 Projection: 50 catches, 600 yards, 6 TD
He missed last season. He's already had injury bugs to start this season. Hard to believe that he started off his career with 106 catches for 1,201 yards and 12 TD in his first two seasons combined.
That's a wrap on this party boat.