Minnesota Vikings: Stat Projections for Starters and Key Reserves vs. Lions

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent ISeptember 28, 2012

Minnesota Vikings: Stat Projections for Starters and Key Reserves vs. Lions

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    After Minnesota's Week 3 upset of the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings are one of the most talked about teams in the NFL.

    People want to know if they're for real or if they got lucky and caught the 49ers on an off day.

    And to be honest, it's a combination of both.

    The Vikings have some very talented offensive players, but some who are young and inconsistent.  They will have their first opportunity to show their true colors Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

    This is what I expect from the Vikings key offensive players.

Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver

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    Percy Harvin is Minnesota's unquestioned No. 1 receiver.

    Quarterback Christian Ponder and he have a much better feel for each other this season than they did last year; it doesn't hurt that the Vikings have gone out of their way to wisely involve him in the offense more.

    Harvin has caught 27 passes for 277 yards on the season (9.0 receptions and 92.3 yards per game) and eight rushes for 42 yards (5.25 yards per carry). His problem hasn't been getting touches, but he has struggled to get the ball into the endzone.

    With the Vikings facing the Detroit Lions—a defensive unit that allowed Jake Locker to throw for 378 yards with two touchdowns last week—Harvin can, and will, get his first touchdown of the season this week.

    And with Jerome Simpson back this week it gives opposing defenses something to think about. Simpson can't do the things Harvin can as a receiver, so don't worry about him stealing Harvin's thunder.

    Projected totals: nine receptions, 95 yards and a touchdown with 20 yards rushing on three carries

Jerome Simpson, Wide Receiver

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    This is the moment Minnesota fans have been waiting for: the return (or arrival) of Jerome Simpson.

    Simpson should become the instant starter opposite of Percy Harvin after serving his three-game suspension—immediately becoming Minnesota's No. 1 deep threat in the process.

    Currently the Vikings have no deep threat (although Harvin could be if Minnesota would allow him more opportunities to), which means Simpson will get looks immediately.

    He's never been a go-to receiver during his five-year career. Last season was his best statistical season: 50 receptions for 725 yards with four touchdowns.

    During his brief preseason showing, Simpson appeared ready to thrive in Minnesota's offense, which is in part why many have suggested him as a sleeper option in deep fantasy football leagues.

    But keeping in mind this is his 2012 debut expectations need to be kept in check. Expect an impact Sunday but limit the expectations.

    Projected totals: four receptions for 50 yards and zero touchdowns

Kyle Rudolph, Tight End

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    After his two touchdown performance in Week 3, people have taken notice of Kyle Rudolph. He's been added in 20.3 percent of ESPN fantasy football leagues this week and is rated as a top-12 fantasy tight end, according to a survey of ESPN fantasy experts.

    The hype, well let's just say it's justified.

    Rudolph is Minnesota's No. 1 aerial redzone option. When it's time to throw the ball inside the 20, all eyes are on Rudolph.

    At 6'6" and and 258 pounds with 10 3/4-inch hands Rudolph is built to thrive in the redzone and is a very talented outlet for a quarterback in trouble.

    I expect Randolph to catch five passes for 50-60 yards the rest of the season.

    Touchdowns are much more difficult to project, but he's averaged a touchdown per game through three weeks. I would estimate half a touchdown per game the rest of the way.

    Detroit's defense has struggled to cover Tennessee's Jared Cook (four receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown) and San Francisco's Vernon Davis (five receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns). Both are talented receiving tight ends who are comparable to Rudolph.

    Given all that information, I expect Rudolph to have another strong game.

    Projected stats: Six receptions, 60 yards and one touchdown

Toby Gerhart, Running Back

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    While the majority of Minnesota's roster relished in the Week 3 upset of the San Francisco 49ers, Toby Gerhart is exhilarated that it has passed.

    Gerhart rushed eight times for 18 yards (2.3 yards per carry) and fumbled the football three times!

    The rushing numbers by themselves are disappointing by Gerhart's standards, but to fumble the football once in eight carries would be bad. But fumbling on nearly half of your carries is downright embarrassing.

    This was expected to be a big year for Gerhart, but through three weeks he's been very average: 51 yards on 19 rushes.

    Limiting Gerhart has been the speedy return of Adrian Peterson from his torn ACL. That limits his snaps, but when Gerhart's been on the field he hasn't produced like he did in 2011.

    There's no reason to expect Gerhart to do much more than something similar to what he's done the first three weeks. He'll give a very average performance.

    Projected totals: Seven rushes for 28 yards and two receptions for 15 yards with zero touchdowns

Adrian Peterson, Running Back

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    Big things are expected of Adrian Peterson on a weekly basis.

    Had he been ruled fully healthy prior to the NFL season he would have been the No. 1 pick in typical fantasy football drafts. And now that he is fully healthy he remains one of the game's most exciting players to watch.

    On the season he's rushed for 230 yards on 58 carries (3.97 yards per carry), which isn't quite up to the Peterson standard but it's still far better than the average back.

    Based on statistics alone, it would appear the Detroit Lions are among the game's best at stopping the run. Detroit ranks 12th in the league, allowing 94.7 yards per game on the ground.

    But don't be fooled. The Lions faced a Tennessee team battling offensive line and Chris Johnson woes and a St. Louis team with a limited Steven Jackson.

    The San Francisco 49ers, Detroit's other opponent, features a legitimate rushing attack like the Vikings. The 49ers rushed for 148 yards on Detroit.

    Peterson should be in for a big day.

    Projected stats: 21 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown with three receptions for 18 yards

Christian Ponder, Quarterback

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    This is the cog that will make or break the machine that is the Minnesota Vikings offense.

    Quarterback Christian Ponder has been a very bright surprise through three weeks. The most important aspect of his performance thus far: Zero interceptions.

    We'll see how long that lasts as Ponder has lucked out on defenders dropping easy picks.

    But the point remains: Ponder is a much different quarterback from 2011 and appears on the track toward becoming a solid NFL quarterback.

    He has yet to complete fewer than 60 percent of his passes, Minnesota's emphasis on short passes deserves plenty of credit for that, and boasts a 70.1 completion percentage for the year. Most of his passes may be short, but he's still completing them.

    With Detroit struggling against the pass and the Lions' high-powered offense, look for Minnesota to be in plenty of passing situations.

    With Jerome Simpson back, Kyle Rudolph progressing and Percy Harvin being Percy Harvin this will be the first time we'll see Ponder with all his weapons. I expect a strong performance.

    Projected stats: 26 of 36 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with three rushes for 15 yards