QB Matt Cassel, WR Greg Jennings, G Seth Olsen, ILB Desmond Bishop.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, OLB Gerald Hodges, P Jeff Locke. Vikings Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
WR Percy Harvin, WR Michael Jenkins, G Geoff Schwartz, ILB Jasper Brinkley, CB Antoine Winfield, P Chris Kluwe.
2013 Minnesota Vikings Offense:
Or rather, the "2013 Adrian Peterson Offense." What the man known as "All Day" accomplished last year was truly amazing. Many, including his own positional coach, expected Peterson to begin his season very slowly, perhaps missing some games in the process. Peterson defied all logic and crushed expectations, nearly breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record for rushing yardage; he gained 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns on a 6.0 yards-per-carry average.
Some expect Peterson to perhaps take a step backward after shouldering a huge workload, but his 348 attempts didn't even lead the league in 2012. It's most likely that Peterson will have another dominant season, though it's safe to say that he'll be 80 to 90 percent of what he was last year, just based on regression to the mean. Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Dickerson and the other greats didn't gain close to 2,100 yards every season, after all.
With that in mind, someone will need to make up that 10 to 20 percent, plus whatever was lost in the wake of the Percy Harvin trade. The Vikings lost their top play-maker when they dealt him to the Seahawks for the 25th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. They signed Greg Jennings to be their new No. 1 wideout, but the former Packer is overrated because he's injury-prone and always had either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to him. Going from those two future Hall of Famers to Christian Ponder is quite a step down.
Ponder will have all the pressure on his shoulders to make up for Peterson and Harvin's lost percentage. He played well at times in 2012, but was extremely inconsistent. For instance, he was a strong 24-of-32 for 221 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over Detroit in Week 10, but he followed that up with a combined 23-of-42, 210 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a lost fumble in two battles against Green Bay and Chicago. Making matters worse, he couldn't play through an injury in the team's only postseason contest. Joe Webb was forced into the lineup, which proved to be disastrous. Scouts and draft analysts called Ponder fragile prior to the 2011 NFL Draft, so he lived down to that description.
Even if Ponder can stay on the field, he'll need to worry about improving his career 6.3 YPA. It'll be difficult for him to do that without Harvin. His No. 2 receiver will eventually be Cordarrelle Patterson, who was chosen in the first round this past April. However, Minnesota's coaching staff is taking things slowly with Patterson because he's so raw. The pathetic Jerome Simpson will likely be the second wideout again this season. Meanwhile, Kyle Rudolph will continue to be a reliable end-zone target for Ponder; the former Notre Dame tight end hauled in a whopping nine touchdowns in 2012.
It's not too promising downfield for the Vikings, but they at least have mostly everything shored up at the line of scrimmage. They spent the fourth-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft on left tackle Matt Kalil, who is coming off a terrific, three-sack rookie campaign. On the other side, Phil Loadholt was re-signed to a 4-year, $25 million contract on March 12. Loadholt deserved the money; though he was heavily penalized, he blasted open huge running lanes along with stud fullback Jerome Felton.
The interior of the offensive front isn't as good, though center John Sullivan is one of the top players at his position. The guards could stand to be upgraded; both Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco underwhelmed last year. Minnesota spent a couple of late-round picks on potential future replacements (Jeff Baca, Travis Bond), but Johnson and Fusco will almost certainly be the starters once again in 2013.
2013 Minnesota Vikings Defense:
The Vikings' front office was extremely busy on March 12. As mentioned, they re-signed Phil Loadholt that day. They also brought back Jerome Felton and several other defenders. Most notably though, they cut long-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield in a completely shocking move. Winfield had been a Viking since 2004 and still performed on a very high level in 2012. The release purely had to do with cap implications.
With Winfield gone, Minnesota had to do something about its cornerback situation, given that 2012 third-rounder Josh Robinson struggled immensely in his rookie campaign. The front office spent its second first-round selection - the one it acquired from Seattle for Percy Harvin - on Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, a 6-foot-1 cornerback. He'll start across from Chris Cook, who can be a decent player as long as he stays out of legal trouble. Robinson, meanwhile, will concentrate on slot duties.
The Vikings had to upgrade another spot in their secondary prior to the Winfield release. Harrison Smith turned out to be a great first-round selection last April, but Minnesota didn't have anything next to him at strong safety. Jamarca Sanford was not an every-down player, while Mistral Raymond is a pedestrian defensive back.
Minnesota's secondary could definitely use all the help it can get from the front four again. The team recorded 44 sacks last season, a number that could increase in 2013, thanks to the first initial-round selection, Sharrif Floyd. The Florida prospect's draft-day free fall was inexplicable; he was projected to go third overall to the Raiders, but somehow slipped to No. 23. He and Kevin Williams will create havoc inside for opposing quarterbacks. Williams notched just two sacks in 2012, but was extremely disruptive and opened things up for the defensive ends.
Speaking of which, three Minnesota ends accumulated eight sacks or more last season: Jared Allen (12), Brian Robison (8.5) and Everson Griffen (8). Allen, obviously the best of the bunch, is entering his contract year. Losing him next spring would be devastating, given how consistent he's been in the Twin Cities. Allen has not missed a game and recorded at least 11 sacks per season in each of the five campaigns he has spent with the Vikings.
The weakest part of the Minnesota defense was the linebacking corps prior to a June acquisition. Strongside linebacker Chad Greenway is a solid player, but Erin Henderson is a two-down defender who was being asked to do too much. The Vikings had a huge hole in the middle, so they signed Desmond Bishop. The former Packer missed all of 2012 with a torn hamstring, but was one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL before that. It's unclear if he can transition well into the 4-3, but he'll still be better than what Minnesota initially had.
2013 Minnesota Vikings Schedule and Intangibles:
Minnesota is just 16-53 when playing outdoors the past 11 seasons, including 0-5 in 2012. Perhaps the Vikings should build an outdoor stadium so they can get used to the elements.
Blair Walsh took the league by storm as a rookie last season, drilling 35-of-38 tries, including a perfect 10-of-10 from 50-plus.
Punter Chris Kluwe was deemed too much of a distraction and was consequently dumped. The Vikings then spent a fifth-round pick on replacement Jeff Locke.
Percy Harvin is gone, but Minnesota still has a potent return specialist in Marcus Sherels, who took a punt back to the house in 2012. The Vikings did not surrender a score to the opposition.
Minnesota has to battle six teams that made the playoffs between Weeks 8 and 16. Think that's tough? Well, that doesn't even include matchups against the Bears (twice), Steelers (in London), Panthers and Giants.
2013 Minnesota Vikings Rookies:
Go here for the Vikings Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Minnesota Vikings Analysis: The Vikings barely clawed their way into the playoffs last year despite seeing their star player have one of the all-time great seasons. Adrian Peterson will need to duplicate that feat unless Christian Ponder improves by a decent amount and the schedule proves itself to not be as tough as it's perceived to be. Given all of that, it's unlikely that Minnesota will be in the playoffs again this year.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: It's all about replacing recently departed players for the Vikings. Percy Harvin was traded, so a receiver is needed despite the signing of Greg Jennings. Antoine Winfield was released on March 12, so a replacement has to be found. Pat Williams hasn't been around since 2010, but Minnesota still hasn't found his replacement. Jasper Brinkley leaving for Arizona has created an even larger hole at middle linebacker, but this was an area that had to be addressed when he was on the roster.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I don't think the Vikings ever imagined that Sharrif Floyd would be available to them at No. 23. Expected by many to go third overall, Floyd's draft-day tumble was inexplicable. Minnesota now has the potential to be as strong in the interior as it was in the Williams Wall days.
The Vikings' other two first-rounders were also solid. Xavier Rhodes fills a need at corner, while Cordarrelle Patterson has tons of upside. Patterson could very easily be deemed a bust in the future - and he'll never reach his full statistical potential because of Christian Ponder's limitations - but he's worth the risk. I'm normally not crazy about teams moving up, but Minnesota could afford it because it had tons of other picks.
Speaking of the other selections, I was a huge fan of what the Vikings did on the third day, save for their pick of punter Jeff Locke. The best choice was Michael Mauti. He was regarded as a second- or a third-round prospect prior to tearing his ACL. If he can recover, he could definitely be in the starting lineup come 2014.
Minnesota did a very good job this weekend. It fill needs with quality talents and only really reached for one player.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
23. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: A+ Grade
Wow, I forgot Sharrif Floyd was available. I feel like some of the other teams like the Bears, Giants and Cowboys did as well. This is the best pick in the 2013 NFL Draft thus far. Floyd is a stud interior pass-rusher who could have easily gone No. 3 to the Raiders. But as we see every year, great prospects fall because dumb teams are picking at the top of the draft.
25. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: B Grade
Xavier Rhodes was mocked as early as No. 12 throughout this process, so he definitely provides good value at No. 25. However, the Vikings run the type of defense that allows teams to pass on corners in the first round. Minnesota probably should have filled other needs like receiver. That said, this is still a solid selection because Rhodes could be considered the best player available.
29. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: B- Grade
The 29th and 52nd choices are swapped between Minnesota and New England, so the Vikings are essentially giving up third- and fourth-rounders for this choice. They better make it count, so why not go for the home run with Cordarrelle Patterson? Minnesota desperately needed receiving help after losing Percy Harvin. Patterson is raw - which is why he dropped to No. 29 - but he has so much potential. The problem is that the Vikings don't have a quarterback to get him the football.
120. Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State: B Grade
The Vikings haven't picked in nearly 100 selections, but they continue to draft well. Gerald Hodges fits the range and definitely fills a need, as Minnesota's linebacking corps needs major retooling.
155. Jeff Locke, P, UCLA: D Grade
I'm not a fan of drafting a punter in the first five rounds, especially when a punter isn't needed. Maybe the Vikings have grown tired of Chris Kluwe's Twitter antics, but it's still not a reason to take a punter at this point. It's like drafting a kicker in the 11th round of your fantasy league.
196. Jeff Baca, G, UCLA: B Grade
Pegged as a sixth-round prospect, Jeff Baca should compete for a starting guard job eventually. The position is very weak for Minnesota, so Baca could be an upgrade.
213. Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State: A Grade
Maybe I'm biased as a Penn State alumnus, but I love Michael Mauti. He's an instinctive linebacker with tremendous leadership ability; he kept the team together in the wake of the sex scandal. He would have been a second-day pick had he not torn his ACL. It wouldn't surprise me if Mauti eventually emerged as the starter.
214. Travis Bond, G, North Carolina: B Grade
Another guard? Well, Minnesota needed two of them. Travis Bond makes sense in the seventh round.
229. Everett Dawkins, DT, Florida State: A Grade
Kevin Williams will likely be gone next year, so another defensive tackle makes sense. Everett Dawkins was considered a mid-round prospect, so he's a bit of a steal here.
Adrian Peterson took the Vikings on a magical ride in 2012, reaching the playoffs and falling just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record. Unfortunately, it quickly came to an end when Christian Ponder was ruled out of the wild-card postseason matchup at Green Bay. As great as Peterson is, the Vikings' Super Bowl hopes depend on Ponder because this is a quarterback-driven league.
Vikings sign ILB Desmond Bishop
Raiders sign P Chris Kluwe
Vikings cut P Chris Kluwe
Seahawks sign CB Antoine Winfield
Patriots sign WR Michael Jenkins
Vikings sign G Seth Olsen
Vikings sign WR Greg Jennings
Vikings sign QB Matt Cassel
Chiefs sign G Geoff Schwartz
Cardinals sign ILB Jasper Brinkley
Vikings re-sign FB Jerome Felton
Vikings re-sign OLB Erin Henderson
Vikings cut CB Antoine Winfield
Vikings re-sign S Jamarca Sanford
Vikings re-sign OT Phil Loadholt
Vikings re-sign C Joe Burger
Vikings re-sign WR Jerome Simpson
Seahawks acquire WR Percy Harvin from Vikings for 2013 1st-, 7th-rounders; 2014 mid-rounder
Vikings tender CB A.J. Jefferson
Vikings cut WR Michael Jenkins
Two Wide Receivers: Percy Harvin was traded to the Seahawks, so two of these will have to be obtained. Christian Ponder needs someone to throw to. He won't ever develop as well as Minnesota would like if he has to keep airing it out to bums like Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins. The front office should have plenty of receivers to choose from at Nos. 23 and 25 overall. Drafted Cordarrelle Patterson; signed Greg Jennings; re-signed Jerome Simpson
Two Linebackers: Jasper Brinkley is one of the worst starting middle linebackers in football. He's a free agent anyway, as is Erin Henderson, who is just an average starter. Signed Desmon Bishop; re-signed Erin Henderson; drafted Gerald Hodges
Defensive Tackle: Letroy Guion did not get the job done next to Kevin Williams. The Vikings could go after a nose tackle early in the 2013 NFL Draft. Johnathan Jenkins would make sense with the 23rd pick. Drafted Sharrif Floyd
Cornerback: Antoine Winfield has been released. Some corner depth will have to be added. The Vikings, who considered Morris Claiborne at No. 3 overall last April, will have to find a new corner. Drafted Xavier Rhodes
Two Guards: It's amazing that Adrian Peterson nearly broke Eric Dickerson's record running behind two pedestrian guards. Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco can both be upgraded. Signed Seth Olsen
Safety: Harrison Smith deserves Rookie of the Year consideration, but he's the only talented safety on Minnesota's roster.
Right Tackle: Phil Loadholt's contract is up. He's a forceful right tackle who should be retained. Re-signed Phil Loadholt
Quarterback: The Vikings need to bring in someone to at least challenge Ponder. Joe Webb has no future as an NFL signal-caller. Signed Matt Cassel
Fullback: Jerome Felton is one of the top fullbacks in the NFL. He must be re-signed. Re-signed Jerome Felton
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Desmond Bishop, ILB, Packers. Age: 29. Signed with Vikings (1 year, $1.5 million)
Desmond Bishop was released for some strange reason. He's one of the better 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL, though he missed all of 2012 with a torn hamstring.
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers. Age: 29. Signed with Vikings
Greg Jennings is a talented receiver, but he may be overvalued because he's always worked with either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. Plus, he tends to get banged up quite frequently.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs. Age: 31. Signed with Vikings
Matt Cassel has proven that he can take a team to the playoffs if he has terrific coaching and great personnel around him. Everything has to be perfect. But even then, he can't advance in the postseason because of his physical limitations. All Cassel should have been this whole time is a top-notch backup.
Seth Olsen (RFA), G, Colts. Age: 27. -- Signed with Vikings
Minnesota Vikings Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Jerome Felton, FB, Vikings. Age: 27.
Arguably the top fullback in all of football, Jerome Felton paved the way for Adrian Peterson's near-record-breaking season.
Phil Loadholt, OT, Vikings. Age: 27. Re-signed with Vikings
Phil Loadholt was one of the most penalized linemen in the NFL this past season (11 penalties), but he made up for it with his powerful run-blocking and sound pass protection.
Antoine Winfield, CB, Vikings. Age: 36. Signed with Seahawks (1 year)
Antoine Winfield has enjoyed a great career, but it's quickly coming to an end. Turning 36 in June, Winfield was demoted out of full-time duties at the end of this past season even though he had been playing well. Winfield may still have one strong year left in the tank, but as we saw in the AFC divisional round with Champ Bailey, old corners could fall off without any warning.
Chris Kluwe, P, Vikings. Age: 31. Signed with Raiders (1 year)
Some will say that Chris Kluwe was released because he was just 17th in net punting last year, but the reality is that his controversial tweets were viewed as a distraction.