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2012 Fantasy Football Preview: Minnesota Vikings

Contributed by: Seth Starkey
Last Updated: Jul 27, 2012 11:35 AM


There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that the Minnesota Vikings are still in Minnesota…at least for now.

The bad news is for the most part they are still the same Vikings from last year, when they went 3-13 under head coach Leslie Frazier. 

I know that’s harsh, but let’s face it: in the NFL, fans want success right now.

The Vikings will forge ahead into 2012 looking to build from within, using the puzzle pieces already on the table to put together a team they hope finds success in the future. 

While no prognosticator will tell you Minnesota will be in the running for the NFC North division crown come December, there is still room for some (let’s say, “a dusting of”) hope in what will likely be a “stepping-stone year”. 

What does this mean for the Vikings in terms of Fantasy Football output? Let’s break it down position by position and find out.


QUARTERBACK

In 2011, the Minnesota Vikings didn’t waste much time before knocking Donovan McNabb off the wagon and handing the reins over to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. The idea was to get the Vikings’ quarterback of the future enough time on the field to really kick start the growing process. What we saw in Ponder was how much growth he’s going to need.

Here are the facts. Ponder passed for 1,853 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. I believe the word here is “meager”.  He tied for 26th in the league in yards per attempt (6.1), and tied for 29th in passing percentage (54.3) with Curtis Painter (ouch). Ponder mustered a lowly 70.1 passer rating.  Against divisional opponents, his numbers were even worse: two touchdowns, six interceptions and a 46.5 percent completion rate.

Believe it or not, there was one bright spot though. Ponder led the NFL in red zone passing with a 114.3 rating. I’m still scratching my head over that one. 

Ponder was “rewarded” for his performance when the Vikings used the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to claim left tackle Matt Kalil of USC. Kalil, who never gave up a sack at his position throughout his college career, is expected to provide a long and lasting anchor to the Minnesota O-line. Ponder will have better blind side protection. Will that be a great help to the team heading into the future? Yes.  Will that help Ponder’s numbers improve in 2012? No.

Ponder can only succeed in Minnesota if all the Vikings’ puzzle pieces find a way to fit together. Of course Ponder needs a strong line. He’ll also need Adrian Peterson to stay healthy enough that opponents focus their defensive strategies around his presence. He’ll need a talented receiving corps (see below) that will provide steady targets.  Perhaps most of all, Ponder will need time. 

While researching for this article, I sketched out an impromptu fantasy QB draft ranking. It goes without saying Ponder is well outside the top 20 passers in the league. If you are looking for a potential diamond-in-the-rough, nobody-saw-that-coming quarterback, and your league is deep enough that you wouldn’t be mocked for the pick, I could understand drafting Ponder as a possible bonus keeper.

But consider this. The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder twelfth overall in 2011. Andy Dalton didn’t get chosen until 23 picks later. Don’t make a similar mistake in your fantasy draft by over-drafting on a weak hunch. Do the smart thing and wait to see what 2012 will look like for Ponder.  Minnesota opens against Jacksonville and Indianapolis, so we’ll quickly see what progress he’s made.

The good news for Christian Ponder is he enters the season with no doubt he’s the starter.  Backups include Sage Rosenfels, Joe Webb, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. 


RUNNING BACK

Maybe it was the unsteady passing game. Maybe it was a desire to keep the clock running as fans asked themselves, “Is it 2012 yet?” Maybe it was Maybelline. Whatever it was, the Vikings' ground game ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per game (144.9) for the 2011 season. 

Will they be able to repeat that rushing success this year? For answers, you’ll want to ask Adrian Peterson’s anterior cruciate ligament. The 27-year-old running back tore his ACL late in the season against the Washington Redskins, and speculation as to whether he will be ready for the start of the 2012 season has swung back and forth like a pendulum, and left many people holding their breath. 

Despite the injury-plagued season, Peterson was third in rushing touchdowns (12) and ninth in yards per game (80.8). But the beast has been beaten up, and that alone has caused his stock to fall in fantasy pre-draft rankings. 

Other backs like Arian Foster, Ray Rice, and Chris Johnson are all jockeying for that top spot, and that may mean great things if you have your eye on Peterson. 

Let me break it down for you. Peterson insists he’ll be ready to go full-tilt in Week 1. Team doctors are a little wary of that prediction, and approach it cautiously. Coaches will likely limit his snaps through the first few games regardless of how Peterson or the doctors say his knee is, in order to insure his availability for the full length of the season. 

Fantasy managers will hear this, think they can’t sacrifice not having a No. 1 back for the first few weeks of the year, and let him drop. 

If your league is anything like mine, the teams that win are the ones that are built for the second half of the season. So let Peterson fall a bit. You may even be able to snag him in the second round, leaving your first round open for one of the other running backs or a quarterback. 

Let him see limited carries the first few weeks of the season. You’ll be happy to have a healthy back come fantasy playoff time.

Whatever you do, don’t write Peterson off for 2012. He may have been banged up but the man is a beast (numbers can’t tell you that), and he’d be a steal if he fell too late in your second round. Unless you have a four or five person league…in which case, you need to get some more friends.

Third-year back Toby Gerhart from Stanford will see extra carries early in the season, and is the Vikings' backfield insurance should any of Peterson’s recovery go awry.

Last year Gerhart racked up 531 yards on 109 carries, but only one rushing touchdown. Still, the bruising back proved a worthy backup for Peterson. Other guys fighting for depth chart positions are Jordan Todman, Lex Hillard, and rookie Derrick Coleman. 



WIDE RECEIVER

Heading into April’s Draft, there was the slim possibility the Vikings might trade down to get bonus picks and set their sights on a receiver like Justin Blackmon. There was also the possibility they might trade up for prodigious quarterback Robert Griffin III.  Obviously, neither of those happened.  While Ponder should be happy to still have his job, he might soon wonder if GM Rick Spielman could do something about the receiving corps. 

There’s obvious talent at the top with Percy Harvin (who doesn’t even want to be in Minnesota, apparently). After that, how deep this crew can go still remains to be seen. 

Percy Harvin may end up being the hardest Viking to place in a fantasy draft. In 2011, he hauled in 87 receptions - which was sixth best in the NFL. Clearly Ponder was finding his go-to target, but Harvin only found the endzone six times.

While Harvin may be one of the most athletically-gifted receivers in the NFL, his fantasy stock can only rise and fall with Ponder’s. It’s as simple as that. Harvin is worth a look as a No. 2 receiver on your fantasy squad. He’s a player potentially on the cusp of stardom, and in a fantasy league (especially one with keepers), that is actually worth something.

The Vikings acquired former Bengal Jerome Simpson in the offseason, and he’ll enter the season as the No. 2 receiver.  In 2011 he made 50 receptions for 725 yards and seven touchdowns. He also made one of the highlights of the year with his YouTube-worthy flip into the endzone. 

The Vikings are hoping to get similar - or better - production from him after he serves a three-game suspension following drug charges. As far as fantasy goes, there’s potential for him as a decent No. 3 WR option. Given his suspension, I would be inclined to wait and watch for him on the waiver wire.

Michael Jenkins and rookie Greg Childs from Arkansas figure to be battling for the No. 3 wide receiver spot on the depth chart. If Childs wins out, you might want to keep an eye out for this young receiver. With his size (6’3”, 219 pounds), he may end up being a consistent target if Christian Ponder learns to spread the passes. 

Devin Aromashodu is also in the mix. Having watched fantasy gurus label him a potential sleeper two straight years in Chicago, I think it’s safe to say that ship has sailed. He only caught one touchdown pass with Minnesota last season.


TIGHT END

Much like with Percy Harvin, the success of the Vikings’ tight ends will depend solely on Christian Ponder’s progress. Minnesota hopes that Kyle Rudolph can step up as a consistent tight end option and further stretch the field. As a rookie last season out of Notre Dame, Rudolph hauled in 26 catches for 249 yards and three scores.  These aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they are something to build off of. 

If Ponder has matured as a passer, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will trust him with more wide open plays.  Rudolph will need to step up as a safety net for an ever-expanding offense. If Ponder’s field vision and patience have improved, so too will Rudolph’s numbers. With Bill Musgrave calling the offensive shots, Rudolph should expect much usage. When Musgrave was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan had no problem finding his tight ends.

John Carlson will see playing time behind Rudolph after missing 2011 with a torn labrum. Prior to that, Carlson amassed 137 receptions, 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He’ll see decent playing time in Minnesota, but his numbers will probably come too infrequently to be a fantasy threat.

Behind Carlson are Mickey Schuler and Allen Reisner, two tight ends who have next to zero production in their young careers. Barring injuries, they won’t see much action besides mop up duty.

The tight end position is one of the shallowest on the depth chart as far as offensive “skill” positions. Rudolph may be the right gift for the fantasy manager who has everything heading into the last round of the draft, but your best bet is keeping an eye on him through the first two games. Like I already said, as Ponder goes so too will Rudolph.

Top Target: Well this is pretty easy. Adrian Peterson will put up stellar numbers this season, even if he’s on a short leash through the first few games. Don’t be deterred by the injury. Use it to your advantage and pick him up when the other managers let him fall too far. If you can pick him up in the middle of your second round, check your calendar: it may just be your birthday. 

Potential Sleeper: Kyle Rudolph. His rookie numbers didn’t blow anyone away, but he has the size (6’6”, 258 pounds) and he has the look of a decent tight end. He may be just what a maturing quarterback needs to find consistency, and could grow into a reliable red zone target.  Bookmark this page: Rudolph’s numbers will take a substantial jump in 2012.

Must-Have Handcuff: Insert “Adrian Peterson nightclub incident” joke here. Still too soon? Then let’s go with Adrian Peterson’s backup, Toby Gerhart.  I’ve stated multiple times that Adrian Peterson will be healthy for the long haul this season, but if you need insurance then Gerhart is the man you’ll want. 

In the NFL, no health is guaranteed and no knee is safe. The Vikings cannot survive without a running game, so Gerhart would take on whatever load Peterson is expected to carry should Peterson go down at any point.

Rookie to Watch: Can I say Matt Kalil? No? Then I’ll go with wide receiver Greg Childs.  The fourth-round pick out of Arkansas is coming into the season with very little fanfare, but should get plenty of experience early on filling in during Jerome Simpson’s three-game suspension. 

He has plenty of size, and if he proves separation ability he could be a consistent target for Ponder.  First, he’ll have to separate himself in camp from veteran receiver Michael Jenkins.

But I’m still going to be watching Matt Kalil.

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