Offseason Losses: Toby Gerhart (Jaguars), John Carlson (Cardinals), Josh Freeman (Free Agent), Joe Webb (Panthers)
Offseason Additions: Lestar Jean (on IR already), Josh Cooper
Drafted: Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon
The Minnesota Vikings experienced a far fall from the top in 2013. After making the playoffs in 2012 with a record of 10-6, they followed that up with a disappointing 5-10-1 finish to the season, and placing in last in the NFC North. Problems surrounding the team were all over the field and started with the uncertainty that took over the Quarterback position, and continued with an abysmal defense. Luckily for fantasy owners, we do not need to worry about the terrible defense of the Vikings, and can focus on the offensive weapons they have to offer. Of those options, they have one of, if not the top, fantasy player over the last five years in Adrian Peterson. A new coaching staff is in place for the Vikings, with Mike Zimmer taking over the head coaching duties, and Norv Turner becoming the offensive coordinator. Let’s take a positional review of the relevant positional players on the Minnesota roster.
Quarterbacks: Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder
Last year the Vikings had three different Quarterbacks start games for them during the season. Of those three, Josh Freeman is the only one who is not returning, so they drafted Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick in the first round of this year’s NFL draft. The same uncertainty that surrounded this situation last year, is still there to begin this season with a battle between Cassel and Bridgewater for opening game starter. Throughout the offseason before, and after, Minnesota drafted Bridgewater, they had been saying that Cassel will be the starter. I am willing to believe this, since he looked competent when starting. The difference between Cassel and Bridgewater as this point and time seems minimal in regards to the value of the pass catchers on the Vikings. Neither of these two QB’s should be drafted in fantasy leagues, as Brad Duffendock ranked Bridgewater as number 32 in his rankings, which I completely agree with. The best course of action is to wait and see how this situation plays itself out, but neither QB would rank inside the top 30 for me with the limited upside and potential risk each would bring if chosen as the starter.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata
This is where the majority of fantasy value lies on the Minnesota Vikings roster. Adrian Peterson is in that three player tier with Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy for the first pick in fantasy drafts this summer. When given the opportunity in the analysts mock between Fake Teams and SB Nation writers, I chose Peterson with the number one selection. The knowledge that it would take a major injury to see Peterson be ineffective is the reason I would rank him first. In each of his professional seasons, Peterson has managed to score at least 10 TD’s, and only once rushed for under 1000 yards (970 in 2011 in 12 games). He has only finished as the highest scoring RB once, 2012 season, but he has always finished around the top. Peterson is as solid as they come at the position, so feel confident if given the opportunity to select him in your drafts. In the third round of the 2014 draft the Vikings selected Jerick McKinnon to be the new handcuff for Adrian Peterson. This was a role that previously belonged to Toby Gerhart, but he has moved on now to become the starter for Jacksonville. The strengths to McKinnon’s game is his natural athletic ability and speed (ran a 4.41 40 time). He will never be a 3rd down back in the NFL as he showed very little in the receiving department at Georgia Southern. Even with knowing that, last year showed Peterson’s backup can be valuable in case of injury. The only person in twelve team or shallower leagues that takes McKinnon is the Peterson owner. The handcuffing strategy is one that seems to be misunderstood at sometimes. The backup Running Backs to the stars, like Peterson, are only draftable for those owners because of the limited amount of touches they will receive while the star is healthy. If you take McKinnon when you don’t own Peterson, you will end up dropping him once for someone of the waiver wire. That pick would be better spent on someone else who has better upside, and if he flames out, then use him to pick up a better option on the waiver wire. Last season Matt Asiata had one game to put himself into fantasy football relevancy with 51 rushing yards and 3 TD’s, albeit on a whopping 30 attempts. He is still around, but don’t expect him to get more than a couple touches a game with Peterson healthy. If AP does get hurt, then he would become the backup and goaline back on the roster, which would be on the fringe of being rosterable in most 10 or 12 team leagues.
Wide Receivers: Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs
The Wide Receiver position last year for the Minnesota Vikings saw a shift in top guy half way through the year. At the beginning of the season, Cordarrelle Patterson was having a hard time finding playing time over Jennings, and Simpson. For the first nine games of the 2013 season, Patterson was on the field for roughly 34 percent of the plays. For the last seven games of the season though, he was apart of 60 percent of the offensive snaps. That increase in playing time speaks of the trust the coaching staff gained in him, and his building chemistry with Matt Cassel. As I have said in previous articles, Norv Turner has implemented 10 plays specifically designed to get Patterson more touches. The bulk of his value will come because of the volume of touches he should receive between the targets, and the rushing attempts. View him as a borderline top 20 WR, with upside to explode on the scene as a top ten WR by seasons end. Seems like only two years ago that Greg Jennings was viewed as one of the solid starting WR options in fantasy drafts. Now he goes into barely cracking the top 50 in drafts for the 2014 season. That is what can happen when you go from the very talented Aaron Rodgers as your QB, to the revolving door that has been the Vikings QB. The difference between Cassel and Bridgewater does not change his value going into drafts this summer. He is a guy you can take late in drafts if the receivers you have so far drafted are injury risks, or have big question marks to them. If the receivers you have taken before him are safe options, then look for an upside guy instead. Jerome Simpson has fallen to being the number 5 option in the offense behind Peterson, Patterson, Rudolph, and Jennings, so his value is severely limited for this season. He also has a history of getting in trouble with the NFL, so leave him be on the draft table, and only consider in a 16 team league or deeper. The next two guys were teammates in college at Arkansas. Jarius Wright is the slot receiver who has trouble breaking away from press coverage. I see him as a lesser Earl Bennett, and a guy who may become intriguing in deep PPR leagues if injuries allow him more playing time throughout the season. I have been interested in Greg Childs each preseason, but every year his knee injuries continue to keep him out. So far he has yet to have another setback (fingers crossed), but with the depth of receivers ahead of him now, his chances of ever making an impact on the Vikings, or even making the roster, have greatly diminished.
Tight Ends: Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph’s season last year was cut short by injury, and was replaced with John Carlson the rest of the way. In 2012 Kyle caught 9 TD’s over a full season with 493 yards. Last year was not as strong as he had 313 yards to go with 3 TD’s in 8 games. Given a full season, and the fact that Norv Turner is now the offensive coordinator, expect to see some improved per game numbers this year. In 16 games Rudolph has a very realistic chance of reaching 700 yards and 7 TD’s, with the potential to get more in each. If Bridgewater is named the starting QB for the season, his value goes from being ranked as the number 10 TE from my rankings, to the number 8 guy. That range gives enough room for his injury history, but also factors in his upside with the offensive coordinator that made Jordan Cameron finish as the number 5 TE just a season ago.
With arguably the top Running Back in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings should improve on their five win season with a 7-9 year because of a still improving defense that needs more to take the next step forward. The offense will carry Minnesota, so look forward to some more high scoring games and plenty of possessions allowing for more touches to go around to Peterson, Patterson, and Rudolph. Not including the draft, the Vikings made all of their additions to the defense as the top additions will not make an impact on this roster. Also expect a bit of rebound year for Blair Walsh as he looks to improve on his kicking accuracy from last year, and regain the form he had in his rookie year. Check back tomorrow as I dig through the Detroit Lions roster and take a look at what it holds in fantasy value for the 2014 season.