Stock Up, Stock Down for Key Minnesota Vikings Heading into Camp
The 2012 Minnesota Vikings are in a unique place in franchise history and need to make sure their young team performs in order to create a foundation for years to come. What follows is a stock report for key players on the Vikings roster.
Having finished 3-13 in 2011, the Vikings have approached rebuilding by focusing on young players to replenish their lineup and have had turnover in key positions, allowing younger players to fill the roles veterans once had.
Some Vikings players have improved their value to the Vikings organization in the offseason, while others have raised questions about their future worth.
We'll start with the most important player on any NFL team, the quarterback.
Stock Up: Christian Ponder
Christian Ponder, the Vikings' presumed quarterback of the future, had shown signs of promise and reasons for concern over the course of the 2012 season. Many of his mistakes can be attributed to his inexperience, so Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman will be looking for marked signs of improvement from the young leader.
Thankfully for the Vikings, Ponder seems to have exhibited growth and dedication through his offseason work.
He's gained 20 pounds of muscle in order to increase strength and is near his target weight. While doing so, he's also maintained his flexibility by maintaining a strict yoga schedule.
More important than that, Ponder has met his goals in OTAs and minicamps, both displaying increased accuracy and better decisionmaking.
He did throw several interceptions during practice, but he's developed chemistry with his receivers and nearly met his completion goals—successfully throwing at least 73 percent of the time, including a celebrated "bullet pass" to tight end John Carlson for a touchdown between two linebackers to cap a two-minute drill.
All indications are that Ponder will carry this with him into training camp.
Stock Down: Jasper Brinkley
Jasper Brinkley has provided more signs of worry than anything else as he attempts to fill in the critical middle linebacker spot in the Vikings' Tampa-2 defense.
He's always been a bit of a question mark because Brinkley is more well known as a hitter than a cover linebacker, an important demand within the system. The eager linebacker has had issues proving his coverage skills in this offseason because he had been sitting out of both the voluntary organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp.
For two separate injuries.
He sat out all of 2010 after undergoing hip surgery and missed all of minicamp because the pain had flared up.
The coaches, however, seem to be under the impression that he sat out for a groin strain that occurred early in OTAs.
Either way, he keeps sending up red flags.
After rehabbing in Winter Park for both injuries, Brinkley declared himself "ready to go" for training camp in Mankato. This doesn't contradict coaches' reports that durability is a concern, but it certainly implies the Vikings may not be as comfortable with Brinkley as they originally thought.
Stock Up: Jerome Simpson
Jerome Simpson has been impressing both the coaching staff and the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
Some may be hesitant to declare Simpson a rising investment for the Vikings because of his suspension, but the team had already planned on Simpson missing the first three weeks of the season when they signed him—a price baked into the cake.
Frazier, normally reserved in his player evaluations, was clearly excited about Simpson's addition to the team. Simpson reportedly keeps making splash plays in camp, including a see-it-to-believe-it snatch against Chris Cook in OTAs.
Both his route-running and knowledge of the playbook are reportedly excellent, enough so that Christian Ponder has also singled him out for praise.
The growing connection between Ponder and Simpson may very well continue into training camp, and hopefully for the Vikings, into the regular season.
Jerome is expected to line up as a split end who goes deep often. His speed has enabled him to shed defensive backs and excel on deep slants, go routes and posts. With additional installation in training camp, he may very well be able to run a wider variety of routes, and present true value to the Vikings.
Given that Simpson is the receiver singled out most often by Ponder in media praise, there's much more to be expected from the former Bengal.
Stock Down: Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin's well-publicized offseason troubles have caused uncertainty both within the organization and among outside observers.
The most dynamic player on the Vikings—perhaps in the NFL—Harvin is a key component of the Vikings offense, with over 1,300 yards in 2011.
During voluntary activities, Harvin stirred the pot by missing some of OTAs and giving vague indications of his unhappiness. He returned for minicamp, but indicated he was going to sit out of many of the practices.
Sportswriters and pundits assumed his discontent was related to his small contract, but Harvin surprised observers once more by indicating that his issue had nothing to do with his salary, once again inviting speculation.
Some thought it may have had to do with his role on the offense; it could have been related to how often he was asked to run up the middle, how many snaps he saw on the field or the frequency of his slot routes.
The very next day, Harvin requested a trade. The Vikings indicated later that day that they would refuse to trade the young playmaker.
While Harvin has clearly created headaches as a player, there's no reason not to believe both parties when they say that the issue is resolved and that he will show up to training camp.
Still, after causing some drama and missing some of the installation of the offense (some of it due to shoulder surgery), Harvin's stock has dipped since the end of the season.
Stock Up: Kyle Rudolph
Kyle Rudolph showed a lot of potential as the second-round pick for the 2011 draft. Over the course of the season, he proved why.
A good route runner and an excellent pass catcher, the young tight end exhibited playmaking ability over the course of the season and made some fantastic catches.
Going into this offseason, Rudolph has further displayed the type of dedication and passion that one expects from emerging players.
Public aspirations for greatness aside, Rudolph has shown physical and technical progression in his game.
Kyle has now fully recovered from a hamstring injury that apparently slowed him down his junior year at Notre Dame and is now experiencing what he calls his first healthy offseason in a long time.
Apparently, the difference in his speed is remarkable, faster even than his 4.75 40 time at his pro day.
His studious offseason and dedicated workouts have increased his technical capabilities as well, improving his blocking, which was a minor concern for him last year. He's even lined up as a backfield blocker for a number of plays while installing the offense.
This faith the coaching staff have in his blocking puts him on an upward trajectory.
Beyond the coaches' support, he has gained the trust of Christian Ponder as well, who has been raving about Rudolph's catch radius and fantastic catching capability. Ponder and Rudolph have developed chemistry, and the Notre Dame alum figures to be a big part of the 2012 offense.
Stock Down: Adrian Peterson
Stock markets penalize companies whose futures have additional uncertainty or might only break even at best. Similarly, Peterson might not have any real unanticipated issues, but it's clear that the only outcomes are either neutral or bad news.
While we knew his stock was depreciated entering the offseason because of his injury, the explosive running back from Texas found an additional set of problems.
While it is unlikely to affect his rehab schedule, legal proceedings can only mean trouble for Peterson, which translates into trouble for the Vikings.
Adrian Peterson is uncontestedly their best offensive player, an All-Pro running back who has been asked to carry his team on multiple occasions.
The evolving developments of the arrest, including initial reports of breathing problems, allegations by the club owner, further allegations by Peterson's lawyer, hospital visits to confirm injury sustained during the arrest and a missing security tape have all created drama from one of the NFL's more reputable players.
To top it all off, instead of dropping the case like many expected, the prosecuting attorney and the police department have decided to move forward and have scheduled another hearing on August 6th, during the preseason.
He isn't scheduled to play during the preseason, and may even miss the first few weeks of the regular season, but the broader issue is that Peterson's lawyer may be correct in that the process could drag on for months if need be.
The bright spot here is that Peterson has been doing well enough in rehab that he outraced the entire team during windsprints in OTAs. While impressive, the larger issue is his ability to maintain quick cuts, and that has not been tested yet.
Eric Sugarman, the team's athletic trainer, is a world-class professional in his field and has maintained the optimistic September 9th start as his projection for serious playing time.
Nevertheless, the court case looms in the distance for Adrian, and this distraction does not serve the Sooner well.
Stock Up: Role Players
Players who fulfilled bit functions or had small roles on last year's team find themselves in good places to make a difference for the Vikings in this coming season.
Stephen Burton played his college ball at West Texas A&M and was drafted in the seventh round in 2011. Generally a death knell, this late-round pick found a spot on the team but didn't contribute much.
He seems to have turned a corner, however. Frazier has indicated that he loves how Burton has grown, and journalists covering the OTAs have agreed—he's more polished, less prone to drops and has much more ability to take advantage of his athleticism. Some have penciled him in as a Week 1 starter.
Everson Griffen has received some attention as well. An incredibly athletic defensive end from USC, Griffen has served time on special teams as a punt gunner.
The Vikings have wanted to take advantage of his athleticism and played him as a stand-up linebacker in 3-3 and 4-2 nickel sets during the season, as well as a roving joker along the line.
Now, the coaches believe in his ability to exploit his agility enough that they've been giving him serious snaps as a linebacker. He's taken to this new responsibility and has shed weight and reportedly gained even more speed for training camp.
Finally, Chris Carr has also been impressive, but this time less for his physical assets and more for his intellectual contributions. Carr has quickly picked up on the Vikings defensive scheme, despite coming from an entirely different system in Baltimore.
He's been teaching the Tampa-2 to the younger players and brings with him experience not only in how offenses attack, but in diligent film work as well.
He's done alright, intercepting a pass during OTAs and generally showing decent skill.
Most importantly, his key skill set will be on full display during training camp, when the pads come on and contact is allowed. As a corner who excels in rerouting receivers and disrupting timing, Carr will relish his ability to make a difference on the defense.
He's currently slotted to play as the nickel corner, although will split outside with Winfield covering the slot.
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