Yes, I was a bit MIA for the Minnesota Twins’ season, but who can blame me? It seems the Twins have been MIA for their own season. But I am back for the Vikings’ season preview, but don’t expect many chipper moments from me about it. I had more hope for the Twins’ season.
Minnesota missed out on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but they have another chance to get a potential franchise quarterback with Matt Barkley. Wait, don’t the Vikings have Christian Ponder? Well, he will make a good backup someday.
The Vikings have a chance to be the worst team in the NFL as well, since they might have the worst team in the NFL. I will be going through every position and grade it out. While I think some positions are upgraded, there are key positions that were passed up in free agency and the draft that should have been addressed.
Let’s start with the position that means the most this year….
Christian Ponder is the leader of this group that saw maybe an upgrade over the offseason. Granted, that upgrade came with the release of Sage Rosenfels, whose time in the NFL is over, basically. He did not look that great in the preseason, but McLeod Bethel-Thompson has, so that is your upgrade, with the third-string quarterback.
Granted, Ponder has been getting rave reviews all camp. However, the reviews have been about his leadership and how he has stepped up. I commend Ponder for this, but this reminds me Colt McCoy last year when all of his teammates raved about his leadership and he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
I don’t care if Ponder improved his leadership. That was always a key attribute for him at Florida State, along with always getting injured. So let’s see if he improved on that. Oh, and his limp arm and his accuracy and his god-awful deep ball. Let’s just say at high school games this year I have already used the term Pondered for a bad pass and I have been getting some good laughs for that. Ponder needs to show considerable improvements with his tangible attributes before I care about his intangibles.
Let’s put it this way, Philip Rivers seems to be a huge dick, but his team is always behind him and he is always considered a top-10 quarterback. I think the Vikings would rather have the dick in Rivers than the good guy in Ponder right now.
Joe Webb is a serviceable backup quarterback and the Vikings are actually committed to keeping him as a quarterback, but his development will forever be stalled with how his first two years were handled. Now Minnesota needs to find a way to use his ability. The package Webb was used in last year was awful and I do not think offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is smart enough to know how to use him, so until Ponder gets hurt, what could be a valuable asset is wasted.
Bethel-Thompson is a project, but aren’t most third-string quarterbacks? He is the most accurate of the three quarterbacks and has the best arm, though. So he has that going for him. Yes, his success came against third-stringers in the preseason, but at least he has some potential.
Running backs: A
Bleacher Report gave the Vikings a B at this position. This is why their WWE reporting has always been better than their football reports.
This position is the best on the team. I really do not see a major hole in this unit and it has one of the best one-two punches in the league. However, one of the punches has a little bit of a hole in it with Adrian Peterson because of his ACL tear. However, Peterson says he is ready to go and he will be 100 percent by the end of the season. Plus, Peterson at 75 percent is better than half of the running backs in the NFL.
Peterson will see a bit of a drop in productivity because of his knee injury, but with Toby Gerhart, the team can ease Peterson back. Gerhart can easily be a 1,000-yard rusher and a top 10 running back in the league if he was a full-time starting running back. He has power and good enough speed to make it all work. That’s why Minnesota will not miss a beat if Peterson has to be held back.
Plus, Minnesota has a major upgrade with the third running back in this Matt Asiata guy, who impressed in every aspect of camp. Having a guy like Asiata made it ridiculous that the team ever signed Lex Hillard, who they released. Asiata’s main aspect, though, is his pass protection, which has always been something Peterson has not mastered along with Gerhart. He may have played himself into the third down back role because of that. Also, there is no way he can be as bad as Lorenzo Booker, so he’s an upgrade there.
Unfortunately this meant Jordan Todman had to be cut, who had potential as a return man over the incompetent Marcus Sherels. Todman was injured most of camp but had a successful last game. I thought the Vikings should have kept him over Jerome Felton, who is a mediocre blocker as a fullback. I would rather see Asiata get more fullback time than Felton.
Felton is the one down spot on the running back roster and Ryan D’Imperio has had an injury that basically got him cut. I loved D’Imperio last year, so I thought this was a big blow. The Vikings should have used Rhett Elliason as a fullback instead of tight end, since the Vikings have a lot of tight ends and needed more fullback help. But once again, this is Rick Spielman and the Vikings, they never make the right choices.
I may be old school, but a lead blocker is very important to the running game. Jim Kleinsasser proved that for the last decade and had a down year last year and retired. This year could show how important he was … oh wait, that Tahi 12th-man in the huddle showed that in the NFC Championship game against the Saints.
Offensive Line: D+
Make no mistake about it, even with drafting Matt Kalil as the new left tackle, the Vikings offensive line is full of holes, but there is the potential for this draft grade to go a LOT higher, like into the B-range. However, a lot needs to be done for that.
The only offensive lineman I trust right now is Kalil, but I know he is going to make his mistakes this year since he is a rookie and has to face Julius Peppers twice this year. But Kalil learned from one of the best defensive ends in the game (Jared Allen), so he is already ahead of the curve. The only problem is he does not have a veteran to really show him the way on the offensive line (sorry Charlie Johnson). But Kalil is going to be solid and I think was a no-brainer. He won’t be a Pro Bowler this year since he is the only competent lineman on the team, but next year he has a chance.
Johnson shifts from tackle to left guard with Kalil coming in. Johnson was AWFUL in pass protection last year and mediocre at best in the run game. He got beat on the edge countless times, but that is something that is fixed at the guard spot. When he is locked up, he is physical, but it is unknown how he will be able to match up with the Suhs of the world who can throw him around if he isn’t careful. Plus he is having major trouble picking up the schemes from the preseason even though he is a veteran. If Johnson cannot pick up the schemes, he will be as big as a liability at the guard spot as a tackle.
Once again, Bleacher Report is awful. An A to John Sullivan? This guy gets beaten off the line of scrimmage consistent and he is a horrible driver. If he stands his ground, it is a success. Remember Matt Birk and Jeff Christy? They could not only DRIVE their counterparts but pulled with the best in the league and caught the blitzes. These are things Sullivan is less than mediocre at. The only reason he got signed to an extension was because Spielman loves Notre Dame players for some odd reason.
What’s funny, Bleacher Report said this about Sullivan: Some interior pressure given up through his blocking, missed run assignments and miscommunications along the line were surprising problems. Well, it isn’t surprising because he has never consistently done ANY of those things well.
Brandon Fusco is a major wildcard, but as a right guard, I am OK with it. This is the do-or-die year for Fusco. He was drafted out of Slippery Rock, a Division II college, last year and is a big guy at 306 pounds who is quick on his feet. He is a physical guard that can easily stick with defensive tackles. However, it was the learning curve of Division II to the NFL for him that he had to learn and we will see about that learning curve this year. I like him, but I think it may be a year too early. However, I see a lot of Matt Birk qualities in him and I thought it may have been a year too early for Birk, so no time like the present. He will also have his moments, but he is the best the Vikings have their by far.
Phil Loadholt. Let’s put it his way, the leadership thing has been thrown around with him a lot too. Great, awesome, grand, let’s see if he can actually play in a phone booth instead of consistently getting burned on the edge time and time again. His run blocking is coming along, however, learning the schemes and his footwork is still bad, which sucks because he can be very physical at the point of attack. This is his do-or-die year and honestly I think he dies this year. I just cannot trust his pass protection at all for him toe be a future starter for the Vikings.
Joe Berger is a quality backup as a center, but is below average as a guard, as he showed last year. Last year, I thought Berger was a better blocker and puller at the center position than Sullivan. He consistently got a push on his player, so he is quite the backup to have since Sullivan sucks.
Geoff Schwartz could be a quality backup at the guard spots, but he was injured for much as camp so I definitely would not trust him in a starting spot or as a backup tackle. Mark Asper is a waiver wire pickup who hopefully will not see too much time. He got very low marks by the Buffalo Bills. He is just a guy right now. While I was not high on DeMarcus Love, I would have given him a chance at right tackle for Loadholt. However, he is on the injured reserve with a pec injury. The Vikings do not have a backup at the tackle spot, so cross your fingers that Kalil or Loadholt do not get hurt.
With the addition of Kalil and Fusco at RG, the unit ranks the same as last year. The only positive was Steve Hutchison, but he was injured, so this unit could be better if just those two play well. That’s how bad the line was last year and will be this year.
Tight Ends: B
I really, really wish I could give this a higher rank, but lack of experience and John Carlson keeps it at a B. More on Carlson in a minute.
Kyle Rudolph has improved his blocking, which was huge. This kid could be a star at tight end if Musgrave can figure out to use him. He is not a Gronkoski or Jimmy Graham, but he is a Jason Witten-type of guy who can be consistent game in and game out. Rudolph has great athleticism and great hands. I love this kid, which is a good Notre Dame call by Spielman.
However, signing Carlson was a big, big mistake. Of course, he is a Notre Dame guy. Crap. With all of the needs, spending money on Carlson was not a smart move with other tight ends out there that could have been signed as a backup. Of course, he was injured for much of camp. He is a mediocre blocker and has seen a major dip in production in the passing game since his rookie year. He is the Michael Jenkins of the tight end position, basically.
Ellison can be a productive blocker and fullback, so he fits in well, even if he was drafted a round or two too early. I like of like him, he has some Kleinsasser in him. Allen Reiser showed some stuff in the preseason and I wish he was the backup tight end over Carlson, more for Carlson sucking. This is a decent group with a LOT of potential.
Wide Receiver: B-
I wanted to rank this group lower, but I could not for two reasons – Greg Childs’ injury and Jerome Simpson’s ability.
Percy Harvin could have a more productive season than last year and if he doesn’t worry about his contract, he is solid and a legit threat as a No. 1 wide receiver, even though he would be a better No. 2.
Simpson, wow. Did you see that hurdle in the preseason? This guy is just an athlete. It’s unfortunate he will miss the first three games, but if he produces in the first three games after it, the Vikings need to lock him up. The only reason he signed a one-year deal was his suspension. Simpson has major potential and is a highlight-reel type of guy. I like this gamble.
After those two, it is a major black hole. Childs was impressing during camp when a bad Ponder pass had him come down awkwardly trying to adjust to the pass and he tore BOTH patelal tendons in his knees. Are you kidding me? Thanks Ponder. His career might be over.
Jarius Wright showed some of his skills in the last preseason game, but before that he was not able to gain any separation from defensive backs. He will see some time as the No. 4 or No. 5 guy and needs to show a lot to see consistent playing time. He has a long time to go to catch up the NFL game, basically.
Michael Jenkins is not a guy you want to rely on and provides a moment here or there, but I would rather a young guy took his reps. However, no young guy stepped up with Childs going down, so he is there as the third guy for another year as a disappointing first-round draft pick by the Falcons. He will have a moment here and there, but just never trust him.
Stephen Burton, this is his do-or-die year and right now he is dying. He had his chance in camp and just never really impressed. He did well on the practice squad and in a limited role, but he has not really progressed from that.
Devin Aromashodu, this guy. He can break the big one at any moment, but he is drop prone. He is never to be trusted and had one of the worst catch rates in the league. There is a reason Chicago gave up on him and the Vikings should’ve spent the money on a better receiver than Aromashodu. And I hate spelling his name.
Defensive Line: B+
This grade should be higher, but I need to see more out of Brian Robison and there is a big black hole next to Kevin Williams.
Jared Allen, with how good this line can be, I can see him making another run at the NFL sack record. Thank Brett Favre for falling down for Allen to not have the record. First-ballot Hall of Famer, right here. No doubt. If he isn’t, come on.
Kevin Williams, he looked like an All-Pro in the last four games after dealing with his suspension and injury early in the season. He looked good in the preseason and I expect a big year out of him again and he is going to allow Allen to get some more looks at the quarterback.
LeTroy Guion and Fred Evans, two disappointments in the attempt to replace Pat Williams. The Vikings should have looked for a free agent but jumped to keep both of these two. They are both quality backups, but as starters, they consistently lose ground and are not quality run stoppers. They are below-average pass rushers, too, with the increase of snaps.
Here is what Minnesota needs to do, move Everson Griffin to the DT spot. Yes, he is undersized, but he is also a better pass rusher than Guion and Evans combined and is not worse at run defense. Plus to give him a breather, you utilize the abilities of Evans and Guion as quality backups.
Robison came on very strong last year and had a better year than Ray Edwards, but he wilted with the prolonged season since he was a backup in the past. If he can play a full 16, he will be a major asset, and with his work ethic, I think he worked on that. He has always been very good in the run game, so this could be a breakout year for him.
Christian Ballard had potential, but he has not been able to shift from the Big Ten to the NFL and I am almost surprised he made the team. He really does not have anything that makes him special or stick out. Just one of those college guys that does not have the physical tools or any moves to make it at the next level.
D’Aundre Reed is still a wild-card defensive end for Robison. He is a seventh-round draft pick who has shown some ability. I don’t know if he will ever be better than a backup, but he seems serviceable for now.
Chad Greenway keeps this at a D than it being lower. Greenway regressed last year after signing his deal. He was worse in coverage and not as quick to the ball carrier. I think the lockout and contract stuff got to him. I think he can come back and be one of the best strong-side linebackers, but will teams run at him with Allen on that side, too? Greenway has to have a return to his top form for the linebacker corps to at least be serviceable.
Jasper Brinkley. Let’s just say the Vikings needed to sign a free agent in the offseason. He seems hesitant returning from a missed year due to injury. He is not good at all in pass coverage and his angles to the runner are not good at all. He is going to be picked on all year and will be a major liability.
Erin Henderson is a guy that does not do anything great, but he does not do anything really bad either. He is mediocre. He is a backup that plays out of necessity. He is a special teams player that is playing because he needs to. He is a good tackler, but he is not very quick to the ball. He is smart, he just can’t make up for the lack of quickness that he has. His pass coverage is mediocre and his run stopping is mediocre. The Vikings needed to keep him as a special teamer last year and this year, but have signed no one to take his spot.
Larry Dean, he is a quality special teamer along with Marvin Mitchell, you just do not want them seeing significant time football field. They both remind me of Heath Farwell (that’s who it was ,right?).
Tyrone McKenzie looks decent as a backup and can move laterally well. Just don’t know if he can cut it as a starter.
Audie Cole. He isn’t that athletic and he isn’t that fast, but he is smart and it showed in the preseason. He can make some plays and breakup plays. He be a better option at middle linebacker than Brinkley. However, he is a seventh-rounder and did it against third-stringers. He needs time, but he seems to be picking up the NFL game well. I kind of like this kid. Make sure he is on special teams.
This was a very hard position to grade because I do not know how much Antoine Winfield has left and he has been injured a lot in the past few seasons. Is Chris Cook ready and mature enough? What the heck can Josh Robinson do? Plus the two cornerbacks – Chris Carr and Zach Bowman – that Minnesota signed were cut.
A trade for A.J. Jefferson was a positive for me, but how much can he provide right away?
I will trust Winfield still. He is one of the best tackling corners in the history of the NFL, basically. IF, and that’s a big IF, he can stay healthy, he could go out on a high note. I think this is his last year. He can play man, he can play zone, he has great instincts and is a hard hitter. I love this guy basically.
Cook, he has the talent. But last year his immaturity got him suspended, which was a major red flag for him. He has the size and speed to stick with players. He actually played Calvin Johnson decently last year, so he has the talent. Can he grow up though? The entire cornerback group hinges on Cook. If he flops, the whole unit goes down in flames. He is the Cedric Griffin this year.
Jefferson, he is a big cornerback who can play man-to-man and zone as a nickel back. I really like this kid because he is a returner as well. With him, the Vikings should just cut Sherels. Jefferson can be a big asset right away for Minnesota and I like this trade for a nickel back who can return kicks.
Robinson is a very fast kid, no doubt. But what can he do? He is very raw, but he does have a lot of ability. However, he overplayed routes more than a few times in college, so he has to fix that in the NFL. He goes for the big play instead of the smart play a lot of the time and that has to be fixed. He dealt with an injury for much of camp, so a lot needs to be seen out of him. I am still skeptical.
Brandon Burton is a fourth or fifth guy that will not kill you, but I think that is his ceiling. Sherels, he is a below average returner and he got just killed last year as a defensive back when pressed into action. He was not much better than preseason and I really do not know why he is on the team. Robinson, Wright, Jefferson and the cut Todman are all better returners.
Harrison Smith is the only safety with talent on this roster right now. Smith is the first rounder out of Notre Dame and was a good choice I thought. I love his aggression, something a safety has not had since Darren Sharper. He is very smart too and can read quarterbacks well. He can play either safety spot and is a good run stopper. He also reminds me of Robert Griffith, so maybe he should play the strong safety spot. He will have his moments as a rookie, but in the long haul, I think he was a great pickup.
Mistrel Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are awful, just awful. Neither one takes good angles at all in the running game and take awful angles in the passing game and they cannot read quarterbacks or the deep ball. The Vikings needed to sign another cornerback and this will be a HUGE weak spot for Minnesota because one of these two has to start. Crap.
Robert Blanton….of Notre Dame…is shifting to the position after playing cornerback all throughout college. He is a smart kid and I think he can make the transition, but dealt with an injury all throughout camp. He needs to learn how to read the quarterback better and play the deep ball better, but he already seems like an improvement over Raymond and Sanford, especially when he gets the position down.
Andrew Sendejo is a special teamer that was better than Eric Frampton at special teams, so hopefully he contributes well there. He does not have much upside at all as an every-down player.
The Vikings have one of the best and one of the most entertaining punter in the league in Chris Kluwe. He can nail it inside the 20 and has great hang-time. I always trust Kluwe and he is one of the funniest guys in the league.
I kind of like Blair Walsh, but he has been inconsistent from deep going back to his time at Georgia his senior year despite having a big leg. He is great inside the 40, but he needs to get more consistent from deep and there have been concerns about his mentality. So I had to put it at B-, but he could be a pleasant surprise this year.
Overall Grade: D+
I do not see much potential at all unless Christian Ponder learns how to pass and the linebackers and safeties learn how to play football. This could be a LONGGGGGG year.