To no surprise the Minnesota Vikings are 2-1 heading into their Week 4 matchup with Detroit. What is the surprise is that the Vikings got there by easily defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 24-13, at the Metrodome. The win over the 49ers went a long way to erase the pains of the loss to the Colts in Week 2.
In an entire team effort the Vikings dominated every aspect of the game against the 49ers. The defense rose to the occasion, coming away with three turnovers, including its first interception of the season.
With the win, head coach Leslie Frazier is only one win away from matching last season's total of three. With a much younger roster this season, the difference can be attributed to having an entire offseason of minicamps and OTA's to prepare.
Here's a look at how the stock is moving on the Vikings' key players this season.
Stock at an All-Time High—Quarterback Christian Ponder
After being named the Vikings' starting quarterback in Week 7 of the 2011, Christian Ponder struggled to a 2-8 record with a 70.1 passer rating with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Following Sunday's game against the 49ers Ponder has the fifth-highest passer rating in the NFL at 104.9.
He's thrown four touchdowns so far this season without an interception. In each of the three games he has outplayed the opposing quarterbacks. The combined passer rating against the Vikings in the first three games is 94.4—against one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL last season.
For Ponder the game seems to be slowing down. His pocket presence has improved and he is making good decisions. The only blip of negativity may be his two fumbles.
Stock on the Rise—Tight End Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph, who joined the Vikings from the same draft as Ponder, has become Ponder's favorite target in the red zone. Three of Ponder's four touchdowns have been caught by Rudolph. He is developing into a matchup nightmare for defenses. His one-handed touchdown catch, with strong safety Donte Whitner draped all over him, was another highlight-reel catch for the second-year player.
Before the season is over, Rudolph will be among the leading tight ends in the NFL.
Stock Falling—Tight End John Carlson
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Rudolph is tight end Carlson. The Vikings' biggest signing, five years for $25 million, has yet to make the stat sheet without a catch on the season. Even though he missed most of training camp and the preseason with an MCL sprain, he needs to start proving he is worth the contract.
Stock Dropping Quickly—Wide Receiver Michael Jenkins
Jenkins has nine receptions on the season, good enough. The problem is he has been targeted 16 times. His 10.7 yards per catch is the second-lowest of his career. Never a true downfield threat, he lacks the speed to get the separation at the line. At 6'4" he does not use his size enough to create an advantage in matchups with defenders.
Stock Ready to Explode—Wide Receiver Jerome Simpson
Simpson's stock continues to soar despite the fact he has yet to even step on the field this season. Most of that is from the fact that the Vikings' offense has been playing with one hand tied behind its back with only one legitimate wide receiver in the lineup.
The problem is that like some Internet stocks that went bust once they went public, the same thing could happen to Simpson if he doesn't provide an immediate downfield threat the offense has been missing. In 2011 he had the best season in his four-year career. His 50 receptions were the third most for the Bengals last season, and his 725 yards second to A.J. Green.
Like Jenkins, Simpson has never been a No. 1 receiver on a team—here's hoping he explodes into a star that a lot of people are waiting for.
A Steady, Blue-Chip Stock that Continues to Perform—Wide Receiver Percy Harvin
Last season Harvin led the Vikings in total yards from scrimmage with 1,312 yards. Add in his 520 return yards on kickoffs and he was far and away the most dangerous weapon. Harvin's versatility allowed offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to play him anywhere on the field.
So far this season nothing has changed. He is leading the Vikings with 319 total yards with 277 receiving and 42 rushing. He already has 240 yards on eight kickoff returns. His 27 catches lead all NFC North receivers, three more than Calvin Johnson of the Lions.
The only downside of Harvin's game is his lack of scoring. That's mostly due to the Vikings' approach when they get in the red zone.
A Stock Overdue for its IPO (initial public offering)—Wide Receiver Jarius Wright
Fairly or unfairly a lot of expectations have been heaped on the Vikings' fourth-round draft pick out of Arkansas. Wright led the Razorbacks last year with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In the preseason he went without a catch through three games, but then exploded against the Texans with six catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately an ankle injury has prevented him from making his regular-season NFL debut. The Vikings can definitely use his speed on offense to help stretch the field. Here's hoping there are a couple of successful debuts at wide receiver this week against the Lions.
Another Stock that Continues to Yield Exceptional Dividends—Linebacker Chad Greenway
Greenway has been the Vikings' leading tackler since becoming a starter in 2007. After missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury in his first preseason game, Greenway has not missed a game over the past six seasons—starting 82 of 83 games.
Through three games he leads the NFC North with 33 tackles and is second to NaVorro Bowman for the most in the NFC. He is also tied for the team lead with two sacks and has been playing inspired defense.
A New Stock on the Rise with Early Positive Returns—Cornerback Josh Robinson
The Vikings' third-round draft pick finally got the Vikings' first interception of the season against the 49ers. This was critical for a defense that finished tied for last in the NFL last season with only eight picks.
Stock on the Decline—Running Back Toby Gerhart
This was supposed to Gerhart's breakout season. After Adrian Peterson tore up his knee in Week 16 last Christmas Eve, Frazier repeatedly indicated that Gerhart was going to get an expanded role in 2012. When the improbable occurred and Peterson opened the season as the starter with 17 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Gerhart only had six carries for 18 yards.
Against the 49ers, Gerhart had a nightmare of a game with three fumbles on eight carries. On the season he is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. Of the four players to be credited with a rushing attempt this season, his long of nine yards is the shortest.
Another Stock that Just Keeps Getting Higher—Kicker Blair Walsh
When the Vikings selected Walsh in the sixth round, there were a lot of people questioning why the Vikings would use a draft pick on someone not expected to be drafted—I was one of them.
It seemed that Rick Spielman didn't know what he was doing. Then the Vikings released veteran Ryan Longwell and then didn't sign anyone else to camp. This was surely madness.
Then all Walsh has done is to make all seven of his field-goal attempts with three of them coming from better than 50 yards. Seven of his 15 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.
A Commodity Stock on the Rise—Matt Kalil and the Offensive Line
When the Vikings drafted left tackle Kalil with the fourth pick in the draft, the offensive line immediately improved. With three new starters on the line with right tackle Phil Loadhold and center John Sullivan the only holdovers from last season, the offense much more effective.
The improved play of the offensive line has provided more protection for Ponder. Last season Vikings quarterbacks were sacked an average of three times per game. So far this season Ponder has been sacked a total of six times—with none of them coming at the hands of the San Francisco defense.
With better protection, Ponder is playing much better and the offense is averaging 23.3 points per game.
At this early point in the season there are more players whose stock is on the rise than falling. With a young roster with only seven players 30 or older, the future is looking especially bright as this team comes together.
After defeating who many people felt was the best team in the NFC, the Vikings have shown they have enough talent to play with anyone in the division. Perhaps that prediction of only six wins may be a little low.
Then again, I just look back at the frustrating loss the Vikings had against the Colts.
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